IVCSD: Full board, full decisions

By Meg Upton

   Indian Valley Community Services District swore in its newest board member, Susan Doran on Wednesday, Jan. 26, marking the first time in 15 months the IVCSD had a full board.

    “There has been times we haven’t had a quorum. Lots of different backgrounds here. I look forward to it [the new board]. This is great,” said chair Bob Orange.

   Kevin Rainville, along with and Scott Wagner of CalOES gave a brief presentation on the FEMA process for IVCSD, and similar entities, stating that there are four phases in achieving a grant award from FEMA, the first being to identify all the damage. On Jan. 2, the IVCSD damage inventory was submitted to FEMA thus ending Phase 1. Damage inventory consisted of 16 different damages into 11 separate projects of structures, equipment, and contents.

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   In Phase 2 the CalOES representative and the General Manager Ted Cassidy are attempting to prioritize those projects. Cassidy remarked that he was inclined to get the smaller projects out of the way first.  “Want to do the easy ones first to give them to FEMA,” said Cassidy.

   “The workload your team is facing right now is enormous. Might take til July,” said Rainville, “a consulting engineer will be thousands of hours.”

  Projects run the gamut of sewer and water stations to melted pipes from Round Valley Reservoir to the Cemetery to burned equipment in the fire station and the parks. Rainville recommended that a board director be on each project.

   “Think about your organization and planning on how you are going to keep track of everything at the same time,” said Rainville.

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   It also came to light that many of the hours worked during that first month of the Dixie Fire have not been compensated.

   The deadline for Phase 2 is Feb. 24 but, with the expectation of granted time extensions. Rainville, and then Wagner, went on to explain that not all states have an entity like CalOES to help function as a go between. Wagner wanted the board and audience to know Rainville’s function.

   “He’s assigned to you, working between you and FEMA along with CalOES doing everything to protect you so that you don’t miss any funding. This is not typical. I pulled him fulltime to work with you,” said Wagner.

   “You have 10 years worth of work to do in 36 months. We are going to spend a good chunk of 2022, 23 and 24 getting these projects done. Be prepared for the long haul,” said Rainville.

   There’s already been some scuttle with FEMA, for example as general manager Cassidy acknowledged.

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   “FEMA. Tried to say Hunter and Lewis (volunteer firefighters) weren’t experts on the fire station [and that ] there wasn’t a second floor of the fire station building. Kevin went to bat for them. States that don’t have this kind of help get shafted. Kevin is helping us get through this,” said Cassidy referring to Supervisor Kevin Goss.

   Next Don Silva gave an update on operations. The Greenville water plant finished construction of temporary structure and is now waiting for some parts (supply chain issues). Another generator is in place.

   Cleanup of lots is starting again now that the snow is melted and a water line on Main Street was “ripped up.”

   Silva also let the board know of tools lost in the fire, including his own personal tools.

   “We lost the tool to bore under roads. That’s in tool list we are putting together. Insurance will cover a portion of the loss,” said Silva. He also spoke of the rebuild being an opportunity to move lines. Some lines were in people’s backyards and can now be moved under roadways instead.

   The sewer pump at the Taylorsville site needs replacing.

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   The IVCSD election of officers would typically take place in January, but as chair Bob Orange is the only one on the board who wasn’t new, the board voted to revisit the election of a new chair until June, but did elect director Kristi Gorbet as vice chair.  Orange stated he was willing to keep on until then while  Kaley Benz stated that it wasn’t “prudent for any of us to take over right now given present circumstances.”

   The IVCSD’s accountant, Mandy McGarva was not present to respond to questions on the board packet finance sheets. The finance committee plans to meet to with her to explain what goes under which line item. For example, ‘professional services’ seemed over budget but it is where the general manager as a contractor is paid from and not the employee line item.

   Then came a lengthy discussion about the current fees allocated to all IVCSD customers for services (whether or not those services can currently be used). Because Indian Valley Community Services District was set up to bill only the residents and businesses using the water and sewer (and not, for example, those on wells but who also shop at businesses in downtown that used those services), the burden of the district is placed on those on the service, (and not for example a tax which would have spread out the burden to all residents). Each customer resident bought into the system as a district owner whether or not they now receive services. Since billing resumed late last year, residents have had a base fee of $78 whether or not their property was uninhabitable. This has been a source of much frustration in Indian Valley.

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   “There is no way people can pay this right now,” said director Roger Cherry. The reconnection fee for those that abandon service was set by the general manager at $6,500 as a disincentive for people to cancel their IVCSD accounts.

   Taylorsville resident Laura Kearns commented that fees should be waived.

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   “It’s not their job to pay for something they are not getting,” she said.

   Board clerk Jeff Titcomb explained that “as a parcel owner you own all the assets. You own districts. I continue to pay mine on three lots in case I want to sell it. If you don’t want to follow the law then go change it.”

   “It pays for the fire station and fire hydrants,” said Benz.

   So far, 15 housholds have disconnected from the district.

   “Why am I paying for services I’m not receiving? I’m asked that every day,” said Orange. “People who are landlords are doing this for more than one space and they don’t have the rental income to cover. They didn’t cause the fire I feel for them.”

   There was also discussion about what the state’s responsibility could be to come in and help. General Manager Cassidy had a discussion with state senator Brian Dahle’s office back in October and November about the district’s needs post fire. At previous meetings Cassidy had emphasized Dahle’s willingness to help the district get on its feet.

   “They helped out Paradise substantially,” Orange said, “I want to reduce our rates; show them we have compassion. I feel strongly for them. Lots of stories out there.”

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   Directors Doran and Cherry voiced agreement with Orange. Doran suggested inviting the state senator to a meeting.

   “If we go bankrupt we go bankrupt,” said Benz.

   “The service fee is a blunt instrument and hammer. If we reduced it to nothing we’d lose all that revenue,” said Cassidy.

   From the audience, employee Towers asked if anyone had followed up with Rotary.

   “John Banks made an offer. Made an offer to pay half of people’s fees with Rotary. No one has contacted him,” said Towers. Cassidy shot back that he hadn’t heard that.

   “We need to make a symbolic gesture—50 percent reduction. I know it isn’t good but I want to help our people I’d like to cut it in half. That’s my motion,” said Orange. Cherry seconded it.

   In the end the reconnection fee was also cut back to 50 percent.

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   The board voted to resume full charges to those with burned out lots once they are able to use water and sewer on the premises, but not without reservations as to the impact it will have to the district where only 200 households are connected and 688 properties are currently leveled.

.  “As long as we are fully aware what path we are going down. As long as we know we are going down a dark path. We are in a bad spot and now we will be in a really bad spot,” said Benz.

   “It helps hearing the legal stuff. People need to know that. We claim ignorance. There needs to be better PR better communication,” said Kearns.

   There was discussion on what date these changes would be implemented with a decision of the date the IVCSD received abandonment paperwork for those customers (and not the actual date of the fire).

   “We are just righting our wrongs here,” said director Benz.

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   Bob Orange gave a brief report as interim fire chief regarding engines being ready for pick up from Redlands and San Ramon and new radios to be picked up in Reno. Volunteers have not been able to do trainings in Quincy area because they didn’t want to leave Indian Valley unattended on Tuesday nights.

   “We’ve had significant fire calls two out of every three nights,” said Orange.

   He then moved on to discussion about where to put the fire department building permanently (it’s temporarily on the five acres directly outside of Greenville that was gifted to the IVSD by the Tucker family). Orange indicated talking to both ambulance services and the sheriff department on a combined building or complex.

   Doran, whose background is in engineering, spoke up about needing site evaluations for potential sites.

   In the discussion that followed, chair Orange seemed to champion such consolidation of ‘city’ services in one area, while others wanted more study on a variety of potential placement. All acknowledged it would take a big lot to encompass all entities.

   An ad-hoc advisory committee for fire department location with all entities to make decisions at the present temporary locations was formed with Doran and Orange sitting on it to work with other agencies about the feasibility.  Director Cherry offered up the idea of looking into the old school building lot that housed the American Legion in recent years.

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   Board clerk Titcomb reported that the issue of signers on the two bank accounts is getting cleared up. All old signers removed and current directors would be put on the two accounts.

   The general manager gave a brief report on debris removal estimates he’d worked on with insurance adjusters but no final numbers from insurance companies yet. Also, trees identified as beetle kill trees are not eligible to be part of cleanup.

   Cassidy has been looking at potential water tank sites in Indian Valley and has been in discussion with four different land owners and visited one of the sites which he deemed ‘perfect.’

   “He [the owner] goes to our church. He’s a good guy. I know him,” said Cassidy.

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   Director Doran reminded that, “a feasibility study needs to be done on each site. We need that information before site selection.” Following this comment Orange rescinded his seat on the water committee in favor of Doran for her engineering background.

   The meeting wound down with Laura Kearns, who is the IVRPD pool committee chair, explaining that the IVCSD has an MOU with the pool committee that had not been renewed because there’d not been a general manager and that it now needed attention going into the 2022 pool season.

   The meeting ended in a closed session regarding employees.

   Despite the rise in Covid in Plumas County—and in particular Taylorsville which has seen school closure in the past couple of weeks, no one was masked at the meeting in Taylorsville.