Chester PUD board looks at financials and FireWise efforts

The Nov. 19 regular meeting of the Chester Public Utility District board members began with a closed session to evaluate the performance of General Manager Frank Motzkus.

Although the directors did not disclose the results of the meeting after reconvening, board chair Steve Trotter did say the board received Motzkus’ goals and objectives for next year, adding that the board’s evaluation process would continue at the board meeting scheduled for January, which Trotter said he anticipated would be “a good meeting.”

During his tenure as general manager, Motzkus has been instrumental in updating many of the district’s policies and guidelines to reflect changes in the law; applied for grants to fund capital improvements and to improve services to the community; brought attention to board members on a number of programs to reduce expenses to the CPUD, including comparing providers to save money on insurance rates and other district costs; attended official county meetings through the year outside the district to provide necessary information to the board; and maintained an open door policy to community members and staff.

Public comment

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One of the audience members expressed his concerns to the board regarding the need for more defensible space against fire around many of the properties he sees near his home, as well as his desire to see more dead or dying trees removed that could be a fire hazard.

He asked directors if a Fire Compliance Officer would be available to address the problem by checking properties that are overgrown with brush and debris, raising last year’s Camp Fire as the basis for his apprehension.

“I don’t see anybody going around tagging properties,” he said. “I’d like to find out if any personnel from the fire department is actively inspecting properties,” and enforcing “Firewise” guidelines.

Interim Fire Chief Brian Layne invited the audience member to contact his office so he could answer his questions.

Financials

A few questions were raised by Treasurer Royce Raker, particularly about a line item in the Financials Report for $11,000 paid toward office equipment.

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Motzkus explained the monies were used for new computers and software for the front office bought during the year, and was listed in the current month’s Financials Report to assist the auditor.

Other expenditures on the report that Raker noted included a 50/50 matching grant in the amount of $9,000 for field radio equipment used during fire season, and $7,686 spent to replace broken down Variable Frequency Drives used in lift stations in the wastewater division.

Also discussed was the renewal of the district’s CD account held by Plumas Bank at a 1.95 percent interest rate for a term of 12 months.

Additionally, the board briefly raised plans for a ballot initiative for a future fire assessment paid by property owners to close the gap in the fire department’s budget. No details on the parcel tax increase were as yet forthcoming and the board then voted unanimously to approve the September 2019 and October 2019 financials report as presented.

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General manager’s report

Motzkus informed the directors that the district had received the second and third grant installments from the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) in the amounts of $16,515 and $8,000, respectively, to catalog proposed upgrades to the sanitation system by the Kahlen Group, an engineering firm.

A fourth request has been processed and additional funds are expected to arrive soon, he said.

The grant money is earmarked toward the costs associated with the project-planning phase to overhaul the wastewater collection system.

Once approved by SWRCB, a final multi-million dollar grant  would pay for major capital improvements to the wastewater system.

Street lighting

The CPUD received a street lighting reimbursement from the county for the January-June timeframe, said Motzkus, adding that the final reimbursement for street lighting for the July-December timeframe should arrive in January or February.

For a number of years, the district has relied on Plumas County Public Works to pay 25 percent of the cost of street lighting, billed twice a year.

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Now that those subsidies are set to expire forever, and rather than relying on transferring funds from other divisions in the district to keep all the streetlights operational, the board is considering the need to find additional funding sources to cover the difference that the district pays for street lighting.

Liability coverage

Motzkus said he has switched the district’s auto/liability coverage to the George Peterson Insurance Agency, who was able to get the same coverage as ISU Insurance Services but for $1,700 a year less.

The new provider is Volunteer Firefighters Insurance Services (VFIS).

New trash contract

Motzkus informed the board that he met with Diana Ramirez of Waste Management and received a draft of a new contract with the district.

He said the draft contract is under the same terms with some legal language added for clarity.

Also proposed in the new contract is an increase in the franchise fee paid by Waste Management to the district from $2,500 to $5,000. The current contract ends Dec. 31.

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Building improvements

The CPUD is undergoing drainage improvements around the administrative and fire station buildings. The construction work is expected to take two weeks to complete, he said.

Operator position

The application process has been closed, Motzkus said, for the full-time operator position.

CPUD Lead Supervisor Allan Homme has met with and toured the facilities with each candidate. Oral interviews are tentatively scheduled for the first week in December.

The lead supervisor role is to oversee the day-to-day operations of the water and wastewater divisions of the district.

Fire chief’s report

Interim Chester Fire Chief Brian Layne noted that after getting a number of mechanical issues resolved, fire engine 7222 is back in service.

Initially it was believed that the engine suffered from a catastrophic main water tank rupture and might end up being sold for parts, as repairs were deemed too expensive.

But later it was found that a failed water pump was the real culprit, and the fire engine has been recertified for active duty.

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Ambulance service

Layne said he met with Care Flight Ground and Peninsula Fire Department regarding Indian Valley Ambulance Service transition from PHI Air Medical.

Grand jury review

Two weeks prior to the board meeting, Layne and CFD Capt. Chris Dean were interviewed by the Plumas County grand jury about Plumas County evacuation plans he said.

Reimbursement efforts

The CFD is still owed money from the USFS and other agencies for services rendered during past fire seasons.

Layne told the board members that he has continued to maintain contact with Congressman Doug LaMalfa’s office during a recent conference call in an effort to recruit him in the effort to persuade the Fire Service to send all back pay to the fire station promptly.

Grant rejected

The long-awaited FEMA’s Assistance to Firefighters Grant for the purchase of a Chester FD Type III fire engine was declined, as was a grant request for new fire hose, Layne lamented.

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Kincaid Fire response

Chief Layne said Engine 7221 responded out of county to the Kincaid Fire with two full-time fire personnel, one volunteer and one per-diem employee for a total of 11 days before returning back to base.

Invoices received

Despite waiting many months for full reimbursement by the USFS for services rendered by CFD, the department did receive $124,136.36 in fire money in November.

Additional revenues

The district received $500 from a rental property it owns located in downtown Chester, another $500 from CalFire rent at the firehouse for personnel, also $1,906.03 as an Employment Development Department refund, plus $60 from conference room rental and $15 in notary fees.

Responses and ambulance billings for October:

There were 36 total calls for service in October, including four fire responses, 11 calls for EMS in Chester and five outside town; public assistance totaled five, there was one false alarm and one hazardous situation, along with five inter-facility flight transfers to airports for emergency treatments, plus four team deployments. Zero traffic collisions were reported.

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The district billed out $44,970.70 for ambulance services in October and received $16,133.10 in payments.

October response times after dispatch averaged just over six minutes for emergency vehicles to arrive at their destinations (Ambulance times were not included).

The next CPUD board of directors meeting will take place Tuesday, Dec. 17, at 3 p.m., in the CPUD/CFD conference room at 251 Chester Airport Road in Chester. The public is invited to attend. The office number is 258-2171.

SIDEBAR:

FireWise Committee update

Chester Public Information Officer and FireWise Committee member Karen Lichti was not present to update the board on the FireWise campaign, but CFD Capt. Chris Dean read her notes instead to the board members.

He said that November was the time to apply for renewing the district’s FireWise USA status, based on the number of dwellings in Chester and the investments made by property owners in “hardening” their homes against wildfire through the creation of defensible space.

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The minimum amount that must be invested by all owners reporting their efforts is $31,990.94.

To meet that number, Lichti asked people to complete the “Hours Worked and Dollars Spent” form. The committee is also allowed to include the community workday in the equation, along with time spent undertaking community and Fire Safe Council meetings.

Chester was able to report 1,628.5 hours worked and $16,295 spent on cleaning up properties. An estimated 254.75 cubic yards of vegetation was removed.

This gave Chester a total investment of $58,493.46 to report to FireWise USA, more than meeting the minimum requirements.

The committee continues to work on ideas for next year, and invites community members to attend for feedback. Dates will be announced early 2020.

The public can follow the Chester Fire Department on online at “Chester Fire.”

For more information on district news, the CFD and the FireWise program go to: www.chesterpud.org.

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