PUD candidates look toward the future
[Editor’s note: The following question-and-answer sessions were conducted by the Sierra Sun’s Paul Raymore with Nelson Van Gundy, Joseph Aguera, Bill Thomason, Tim Taylor and Bruce Douglass, the candidates running for the Truckee Donner Public Utility District board of directors.]With five candidates running for three open seats on the Truckee Donner Public Utility District board of directors this year, the upcoming election has become a much more competitive race than in previous years.Although the district is a public agency that rarely generates much interest, it has recently made headlines with its planned broadband venture and its acquisition of the Donner Lake and Glenshire water systems.District board members are responsible for oversight of a 62-person staff and a $25 million annual budget, as well as future planning to meet the growing needs of the town of Truckee. With the new board members starting on Dec. 1 the board will have important decision-making responsibilities in regard to the broadband initiative and a possible reorganization of the management structure of the district.Why do you want to serve on the TDPUD board?Nelson Van Gundy: I remember as a kid, the Rural Electric Association brought power to our farm and what an incredible change it made in our lives. So my service is literally an attempt to give something back.Also, growing up in dryland farming, I’m very concerned about water, and that was my initial interest in actually serving on the board – I had been concerned about water here. We’ve got a unique situation in Truckee – we’ve got an amazing amount of resource, we just have to get it developed. And one of the things we’ve done [in the time I’ve been on the board], we’ve put in three major wells, we’ve got two major pipelines coming in and we’ve put in a major tank. So even though we’ve taken over two water systems in the last four years – both at the citizens’ request – we’re in better shape now waterwise than we were four years ago.Joseph Aguera: I’ve been on the PUD board for about 18 years … and since I’ve been on the board, I’ve seen a lot of projects go before the PUD. And I kind of feel that we’re in the middle of a whole bunch of projects still, like the Donner Lake and Glenshire water systems and these new developments like Old Greenwood and Gray’s Crossing, so I would like to stay in and finish up some of the work that we’ve started. Bill Thomason: Two to four years ago the PUD absorbed the Glenshire Mutual Water Company, and I’ve been a resident out there for 15-plus years. And some people, myself included, just weren’t really happy with the way it was presented to us and taken over. And at that time when the election was coming up, we couldn’t run anybody for the PUD board …I’m the president of the Glenshire Homeowners Association, so I said we need to get someone on the PUD board … I believe that we need someone on the board to represent Glenshire, though it’s bigger than that now and I’m not saying that I’m just going to represent Glenshire. With broadband and everything else that’s going on I will be a representative for all of Truckee.Tim Taylor: I’ve been working in the water industry for 20 years. I worked as a senior engineer for a national engineering firm and basically I’ve worked with districts like this all over the U.S. I think I can offer them a national experience on a local level … Basically I’ve designed water and wastewater treatment plants all over the U.S., and I know the business.Bruce Douglass: I have recently retired… and I’ve got some time available. I like the community and want to give something back to the community. I saw this as a way of doing something which, not only would I find interesting, but would be able to make a contribution.I think when I really first became interested in it was five years ago when the whole broadband thing came up. I have been and continue to be a USA Media/Cebridge customer and I’m not terribly thrilled with the service, so I became interested in that.What experience do you have that will make you an asset to the rate payers of the district?Nelson Van Gundy: I have either worked for or served on boards for most of my adult life. So I’ve got a lot of just plain board experience. And having been in Truckee for 24 years I’ve got a pretty good feel for the issues. I have a pretty broad group of supporters and constituents who are not shy about telling me what they think about what needs to happen. Joseph Aguera: We have a certain way of running the meetings and I am, shall we say, housebroken to that style. With some of the challenges that we have during the course of the meetings, I feel I’ve been there and I can still be an asset to the rate payers by filling that spot that I’ve been filling for the last 18 years. I know the routine and just the way the PUD operates …Bill Thomason: I’ve sat on a lot of boards, but I’m not going to sit here and say I’m a professional board member. In the Rotary Club I was president, ran the board and sat on the board. I spent some time with Wellspring (formerly TGIF), and of course the Glenshire Homeowners Association.I bring a financial background. I’ve been a CPA [Certified Public Accountant] since 1987. I think financial people, CPAs in particular, bring a different perspective to a board: a good perspective. Because it’s all about money, that’s what the rate payers care about.Tim Taylor: I’ve dealt with districts both from the staff level to the board level. I think I can definitely bring that to the table if people are interested in it. I haven’t been involved with this board for a long period of time, but from what I can tell they do a little too much micro-managing of their staff. They need to regulate the policy and let staff do their job. That’s what I’d like to see them do. They should be thinking about five to ten years out, and where they should be taking the district from a planning level, and let the staff do their job.Bruce Douglass: I’m working on the cemetery board now – I’m the chairman of that and it’s interesting, but I think there is even more I can do.I’ve been a businessperson since 1970 when I started working for the American Express company in their management training program. I managed their offices for about 13 years and then went into business for myself. I’ve served on boards of directors for corporations. So I have a good solid business background and I can make sound business decisions.What is your stance on the TDPUD’s broadband project?Nelson Van Gundy: I’m very positive about [the broadband project]. I’m a railroad historian, and the towns that didn’t get railroads 120 years ago aren’t there now; and I think the towns that don’t get large-capacity [Internet service] fairly soon are going to run into that same problem, particularly in this unique climate where so many of our second homeowners are coming out of technological industry and expect to have that kind of thing.Joseph Aguera: I know we’re being stalled on the project and I know there is going to be more stalling going on. I wish that we would have started the project four years ago when it was new to everybody.Of course we needed the information that we have now and we needed the studies and we needed to spend the money for these studies, but I think that, with tongue in cheek, I’ll say that we’re a little late.I’ve had so many people ask me “When are you going to put in that fiber optic network? I’ll sign up right now.” Of course I know we had to wait for the studies and for all these other agencies to give us the OKs and dot the ‘i’s and cross the ‘t’s, so until then we’re just waiting.Bill Thomason: I like the fiber optic technology, but you know the decision was made five years ago and I think the environment has changed now. We’ve got Cebridge and SBC and wireless that are becoming players. If the PUD had [their network] installed within a shorter period of time, I think it would be great. I think it’s going to increase the value of our houses; it’s good technology and a lot of people want it and need it…But if it comes to a vote again when I’m on the board, I would just look at it in today’s market: With these competitors, can the PUD get enough of the market to pay back the $24 million? Can Cebridge get service to everyone? Because I’m not sure that they can, and what quality would it be?When it comes to the board, if I’m on the board… I would take another look.Tim Taylor: My stance is five years ago it was probably a great idea. If they can prove to me financially that it works [I would support it]. I haven’t been able to do the amount of research I would need to get up to speed like everybody that’s already on the board, but I’m having a hard time, just with talking to friends and people who’ve lived here a while, seeing how they can make it working financially without tanking. I think competition is great, but it’s got to work financially.My point of view is that [the current] board is so emotionally charged in it that they can’t see past that emotion. We need to step back and ask: Is this the right thing to do? Is it going to work financially? Is this what the community wants?Bruce Douglass: As long as their assumptions are correct, which I hope they are, I’m in favor of it. I’m not a terribly satisfied USA Media customer, and I think it’s something which would really benefit the community. So I’m in favor of it. I think it’s something that will offer positive growth to the community.What other issue or issues will be the most challenging for the TDPUD in the future? And how would you propose the district deal with them?Nelson Van Gundy: I’d like to see us get at least two, maybe three, more wells and more [water] storage. We’re not in trouble, but with the rate Truckee is growing… we’ve got to stay ahead of that curve. We’ve been proactive for the last several years and I’d like us to stay that way. Fire is our biggest concern in this town generally for the populace, and having water is the critical element in managing that.We’ve also got to expand personnel and do some reorganization, because we’re stressing our people too hard. And that’s been a concern of mine for a couple of years. I think we could have absorbed one water situation, but taking on two [Glenshire and Donner Lake], and just the general improvement, expansion and maintenance, we’ve got to get some more people.Joseph Aguera: We’ve been talking about a new yard, so we can have our equipment and rolling stock and all the transformers and wire and other supplies all that in one place. I would like to see us get into that and start pushing on that. I know that right now the priority is broadband, so as that gets closer to the starting point, then maybe we can concentrate on our yard again.We are going to hire some more people because the town is growing. And as the town grows, we have to grow. If you want that light to go on when the switch goes on, we have to proceed and progress.Bill Thomason: The PUD is thinking of reorganizing. They claim to be short of staff and I think that’s going to be really important because more staff is going to mean more dollars, and where is that coming from?Reorganization is going to be big… and I’m not sure that from the rate payers’ perspective that reorganization will be a good thing. I think it’s more of a PUD management thing; they need it to streamline what they’re doing.They want also to move the board more from a hands-on board to a policy board and I don’t know that I’m really in favor of that – a total policy board. Because then you’re just walking in with a rubber stamp. I think it limits my ability as the elected representative of the people to really deal with the issues that affect the rate payers.Tim Taylor: I think one of the biggest things they have to do is master plan out their facilities for water and power and start setting up their rates and connection fees and start standing behind them. From what I can tell, contractors are worried that things just bounce around; they go out and get a bid for how much it’s going to cost to connect, they put it in their bid for a prospective homeowner, and six months later they go and do it and it’s $3,000 more. I know there are a lot of contractors up in arms about that.One of the biggest other issues is metering. I’m a huge fan of metering because water is not an endless supply. It’s a limited resource and we have to manage it like a limited resource and be able to show that we’re doing it so that people in the future can use it as well… You really have to manage it a lot better, and the only way to do that is meter it. They have absolutely no clue how much water is leaving the system or how much is leaking.Bruce Douglass: Coping with the growth and how to handle that… Reorganization [of the TDPUD] is something that really needs to be addressed for the immediate future. The rubber band has been stretched as taunt as it can go, so I think there needs to be some reorganization done there and I think I can help with that.It’s a very difficult time for Truckee where it’s got to tow that narrow line between overbuilding and controlled growth. We can’t stop growth but it has to be done in a controlled manner which benefits everyone rather than just the few.Is there anything else you would like to add?Nelson Van Gundy: I’m real positive about the future for both Truckee and the utility district. I think we’ve got our plate full of challenges, but I think we have the capacity to deal with them. I cannot say too much in support of our staff – one of the pleasures of serving on this board quite honestly is the quality of our people. Joseph Aguera: I’d just like to say I’d like to finish some of the projects that we’ve started in the past, and I hope that the voters of Truckee will support me in this election.Bill Thomason: I think the board is a management tool of the rate payers, so bringing a certified public accountant onboard is good. You just need different business backgrounds and senses to make a complete board. So I think I could bring that to the board.I also want to encourage feedback both ways – from the rate payers to the board and from the board back to the rate payers… I would go as far as proposing to televise the meetings on Channel 6, but I don’t know if there is a cost issue or if [the boardroom may] just not be set up for it.Tim Taylor: I just really believe that they need some new blood in there to get some new ideas going and to manage the PUD in a way that the board isn’t so tied to day-to-day issues…Bruce Douglass: I believe my business background gives me a unique ability to focus on customer service while maintaining fiscal responsibility. I hope to receive your vote on Nov. 2.
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