Election 2014: Tahoe City PUD board candidates sound off | SierraSun.com

Election 2014: Tahoe City PUD board candidates sound off

Margaret Moran

TAHOE CITY, Calif. — Rate increases, sources of revenue and recreation were among topics discussed by the five candidates running for Tahoe City Public Utility Board District board at Tuesday's political forum.

Lou Reinkens (incumbent), Dan Wilkins (incumbent), John Pang, Stu Dalie and Paul Joslin are vying for two, four-year seats in the Nov. 4 election.

Joslin was not present at the forum.

Below is a sampling of some of the candidates' comments given at the forum on the larger issues, presented in random order:

On the proposed five-year rate increase …

Pang: I think the balancing of an aging infrastructure with quality services and government mandates is always a challenge, and to try to find that and make it affordable for everybody is always another challenge. I think the PUD has hired a pretty decent consultant from the reports that I've read, and I think if you talk to the people and listen to the experts that you should be able to come up with a good solution, if this is not the perfect one.

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Dalie: I think initially using the term aging infrastructure might be the wrong approach. I think really the right word is deferred maintenance. When you talk about deferred maintenance, what you talk about is accountability for managing a system and putting in place measures that quantify and identify a system in a sustainable fashion. While it's partially taken place, more operations and maintenance should take place to help facilitate more reasonable approach as opposed to rate increases, which happened five years ago and are now potentially happening again. I think putting in place good strong management tools can help minimize the need for increased rates.

Wilkins: I do believe the current plan is fair, and I believe it's based on good science. What I believe in even more strongly is the need to revisit that plan on a year-by-year basis in the annual budgeting that occurs. That's a practice that the current TCPUD board has implemented over the past five years. The rates that we advertised five years ago, we have held the actual rates 20 to 25 percent below that because we set the rates each year based on what the annual need is as opposed to just setting the rates at the level that was projected as being necessary based on projections at the time that the Prop 218 process was established.

Reinkens: As Dan pointed out, we do have a capital plan that's tailored each year. … Our capital needs are adjusted to fit our revenue stream, and our revenue stream has been running good with respect to sewer and water and the rates, as he said, our actual costs are running less. We're not at the rates that were approved. We've been below for over five years, and we do have a progressive maintenance system, which Stu said we don't; we do. It's called preventive maintenance. It's active.

On other potential revenue sources for capital projects …

Wilkins: Grant funding has been a strong suit of the district. (The) challenge with grant funding is it's not reliable. Some years you may get it, other years you may not, and if you get too beholden to that, you can't maintain a structural replacement plan for a district like this. Other sources of revenue in terms of revenue that's directly within the control of the district, (is) the general property tax, and if water and sewer systems were failing, which wouldn't be imminent, but over the long term could occur, we would in all likelihood have to look at moving property tax from parks and rec services to water and sewer services. (It's) not something I would propose, but in terms of other sources of revenue that's a place to look.

Reinkens: I have much the same feeling as Dan on this. The money that we get from the taxes can be used … The grant funding that we're getting, one you have strings tied to it, and sometimes they're good and sometimes they're bad. You're still going to have to float money, you're going to have to get loans in order to construct because they only pay on completion. … We've done that in the past, and we would use bank loans and other loans to bridge the gap in our funding.

Pang: I always used to tell my fellow board members down in Meeks Bay that sometimes you have to grow the pie, and it's not always easy, but cuts can only go so far. You might have to increase user fees, which is always a tough one, but something that has worked in the past with some experience that I've had with other nonprofits when grants disappear. You might have to try another form of benefit assessment, which is a different type of election, but it can work with a little less of a vote. You might have to Band-Aid some of the old system for a little longer until you can be successful in raising some more funds. … You might have to educate the public and try again, and I've seen that happen and work successfully with local districts in elections here. And, again, increase your partnerships.

Dalie: I think there's a couple different options there. No. 1 as Dan had mentioned, going back and looking at the tax base is certainly something that's reasonable to help out given that situation. Ultimately, for different revenue streams, I think you are going to have to cut certain services, and I think you have to take a very fine tooth comb and engage the public and be very transparent and ask the question, "What's important to you?" I think needs to be done right now — define the difference between what a need is for the district and what a want is for the district, and listen to what the people have to say. While the staff have recommendations, they're sometimes in conflict with what people are asking for, so that discussion I think really needs to take place to help facilitate that process.

On level of involvement in parks and recreation …

Reinkens: It depends on the available funding. I think right now we're funding at a good level. … I think recreation is what makes it nice to live (here). I think we have to continue with it as best we can and as efficiently as we can.

Pang: I think that being too involved in recreation is in the eye of the beholder. Some of use grew up on recreation programs, and I guarantee it kept me out of a lot of problems as a kid. I think that there are a number of folks here that moved to Tahoe for the outdoors and recreation and the opportunities. Recreation is also key for the community. It's vital for a good society. … I think we have to contact the public, find out what they really want about recreation, ask them if they think we're too overboard with it or not involved enough. …

Dalie: I don't think we're too involved. … Being a former scout master, being a little league coach, I know the benefit of youth and sports … and all the different activities that are involved in park and rec, but there are certain areas I think where there's smaller programs that have very little participation that if you did a simple cost benefit analysis, you can say, "This really doesn't make sense."

Wilkins: Sewer, water, and parks and rec actually are mandated services for the PUD when there were decisions made on how property tax dollars should be spilt up between different governmental agencies. One of the reasons that the PUD has a higher property tax share than it otherwise would is because we are mandated to provide parks and recreation services, so it's not an option to provide those. The question is at what level. I believe the level we are providing on that is appropriate. I believe that the management protocols we have in place, which is to evaluate participation in our recreation programs and maintain the programs with high participation and either modify or eliminate programs with low participation, is the proper approach to managing the parks and rec program. At the end of the day, recreation is about community building, things like the Easter egg hunt, Commons Beach concerts. It brings community together. It builds the community. It's a very important service that we need to maintain.