CPUD board raises water rates, swears in board member

The Chester Public Utility District board of directors approved a water rate hike for residential and commercial water users during its regular meeting Nov. 28.

The final agenda item of the evening dealt with increasing water rates to both residential and commercial customers, after the district hadn’t seen a rate change since 2002.

The meeting was open to public discussion, but no one showed up to object to the proposed increase.

Motzkus said he had totaled the number of “protest letters” sent to the CPUD office, which fell short by a wide margin.

A total of 15 protest letters were received, he said, of which just 11 qualified due to technical issues, mainly that no name or assessor’s parcel number was included in the letter, which is required by law for a protest letter to be valid.

With 1,249 water users in the district, a 50 percent plus one vote against was required to block any increase.

After reviewing the few protest letters against raising water costs, the board voted unanimously to raise water rates by 66.25 percent, effective Dec. 1.

Motzkus then reminded the board that an annual adjustment to water rates could be based on changes in the California consumer price index — inflation rate — or 3 percent, whichever is less. The board would consider a rate adjustment during each annual budget preparation.

General Manager’s Report

Chester District General Manager Frank Motzkus said he met with Almanor West and Prattville-Almanor fire departments Nov. 1 to exchange information on whether the various departments, including Chester Fire, might consolidate or choose instead to form a Joint Powers of Authority — or neither — in order to share resources and perhaps simplify operations and increase efficiency.

Motzkus said he would be meeting again with representatives from the three departments Nov. 29 to discuss future action.

Retirement luncheon Motzkus noted that Helen Murray, the district’s previous office secretary, moved her retirement date up from early December to Nov. 6, and that the potluck luncheon in her honor was a big success. “We wish Helen the best,” Motzkus said.

New district employee Kelly Sanders is now trained and has taken over Murray’s duties. She and Cheryl Johnson have reorganized the office assembling desk reference manuals for each office desk and forming an updated records retention system.

Johnson is busy processing the Office of Emergency Services invoices and waiting for the fiscal year 2016/17 audit results from Pehling & Pehling of Truckee.

Sanders is working on automating the ambulance billing and ground emergency medical transportation paperwork, working with Chester Fire Chief Joe Waterman.

Board vacancies

Steve Trotter was sworn in at the meeting to continue as a board member. He ran unopposed in the November election and will serve a four-year term.

Motzkus announced that two board seats are currently vacant and the district is calling for anyone interested in becoming a board member to submit a letter of interest to the CPUD office for consideration. The only legal qualification to sit on the board is that an interested party must be registered to vote in the district.

Other business

Marcy DeMartile of the Plumas County Elections Office, and Sloane Dell ‘Orto, of Streamline, a firm that provides website services, gave presentations at the Plumas County Special Districts Association meeting Nov. 16.

DeMartile covered the election process, and advised that board members running for a board seat need to remember to submit all necessary paperwork well in advance of an election to be officially placed on the ballot.

Dell ‘Orto provided training and demonstrated the various functions for those still unfamiliar with the new district website, along with showing Karen Lichti, CPUD public information officer, some shortcuts to increase efficiency when using the website.

Community survey

Motzkus said the SCI workgroup got together Nov. 16 to answer a number of questions that the SCI Consulting Group requested, before the survey firm could move forward with its Local Funding Measure Public Opinion Survey and Feasibility Analysis in preparing a special assessment on property owners for the Chester Fire Department.

SCI is a public financing consulting firm that focuses on revenue enhancement services for public agencies, such as the CPUD, including planning, designing and successfully establishing revenues for capital improvement needs and help with maintenance costs through special assessment levies.

Motzkus had previously stated that any increases in property assessments charged to the taxpayer could include the purchase of new fire, emergency and/or rescue vehicles to replace older models that needed constant repair.

He added that by Thursday, Dec. 4, the company should have all the information it had requested and could move forward with the district-wide survey, which will cost the district approximately $30,000 and take several months to complete.

Wastewater grant application

With help from the Kahlen Group, an engineering firm, all paperwork has been completed and submitted to the State Water Resources Control Board regarding the wastewater collection system-planning grant, Motzkus remarked.

If the grant request is successful, he told the board they could see a maximum of $500,000 for the planning phase, which would include inspecting 10 miles of sewer lines to determine how many of the lines need repair and up to $8 million in grant money for any necessary upgrades to the CPUD’s wastewater collection system — if the district is found to be eligible.

Because the grant is earmarked to help disadvantaged communities, Motzkus felt confident that the district was likely to see a major portion of the grant monies awarded early next year.

Winter preparations

Maintenance Supervisor Andy Capella and his crew have been busy preparing for winter operations, said Motzkus, working on replacing the automatic controls at the Vision Lake and 4th Avenue lift stations.

He said recent hire Liam Bengaard has shown himself to be well adept in his position as seasonal maintenance worker, while Allen Homme has passed his Grade 1 wastewater operator’s exam.

Fire Chief’s Report

Waterman was not in attendance at the board meeting, leaving Capt. Chris Dean to present the fire chief’s report to the board members.

Dean said that the staff had been attending ongoing training after having recovered from a busy fire season that has now slowed considerably since cooler and wetter weather has set in.

Dean reiterated that Johnson has been processing many of the documents needed by OES to receive reimbursements for work performed by Chester district fire personnel during fire season.

New GEMT fee

Senate Bill 523 specifies that ambulance providers must now be assessed a 5.1 percent Ground Emergency Medical Transport “quality assurance” fee for transports. The funding generated by the new fee is supposed to make up 100 percent of the difference in Medi-Cal and Medicare payments to providers, said Dean.

The bottom line is that CFD will probably have to increase its ambulance billing rates to adjust to the 5.1 percent hike, he said.

Silver Fire lawsuit

Dean informed the board that there is nothing new to report regarding the pending Silver Fire lawsuit, which had previously been struck down, but had resurfaced after an appeal to the State Supreme Court was filed.

Waterman had conveyed to the board in a prior meeting that he believed the district has a very strong case and will ultimately prevail.

New recruits

Two additional volunteer firemen are currently in training, Dean announced, adding that the CFD is always in need of new recruits, between the ages of 18 to 55.

Automating patient care

By early December the automation of the patient care reporting system should be completed.

VFA grant

Dean said the Volunteer Fire Assistance grant, a federal grant administered by Cal Fire, has been awarded to CFD in the amount of $18,873.24. That’s a 50/50 match, he pointed out, with CFD paying half that total amount. The grant went toward mobile radios and software.

Fire engine repair

A vendor in Janesville is repairing fire engine 7251 at a cost of $3,800, Dean said, adding that should resolve most of the vehicle’s major issues and allow the engine to operate through the winter months and into the summer.

However, the board is considering whether it might be desirable to sell the fire engine instead given its age, once it is repaired and roadworthy.

Emergency response time Reading from a report, the average response time by CFD for emergency calls is 5.62 minutes, noted board member Steve Trotter. That’s the time from dispatch to arrival at the scene Dean clarified.

Fire crews remained on-site an average of just over 45 minutes per fire incident until an all clear was declared and crews returned to the station.

Turnaround times for ambulance service were not mentioned at the meeting.

The next CPUD board meeting will take place Tuesday, Dec. 19, at 3 p.m., in the CPUD main conference room at 251 Chester Airport Road.