In the months leading up to the Dixie Fire, an observer would be hard pressed to find any audience attendance at an Indian Valley Community Services District meeting saving for a few local die-hards and anyone with direct business with the district that month. But in recent weeks post fire, more and more residents are coming out to the meetings. The board itself this coming week will look entirely different than it looked at the beginning of the year.
Since September of 2019, the IVCSD has been operating first without a general manager with the board dividing up tasks for oversight, with the board clerk and employee doing many of the tasks, to a new manager filling in directly after the Dixie Fire (flying out from Florida out of retirement for a week and then never coming back), and now Ted Cassidy has come on board the IVCSD as general manager.
The Nov. 30 meeting gave the public the opportunity to see Cassidy in action and respond to questions from the board (currently comprised of Bob Orange, Kaley Bentz, and Roger Cherry, with Lee Anne Schramel completing her term this week—there will be two board vacancies this week).
Cassidy has been charged with putting the IVCSD’s house in order and making recommendations going forward. His expertise is in hydrology and not necessarily employee management and budgeting, as he commented during the meeting.
“Bookkeepers do things that make my mind fog over,” said Cassidy. But Cassidy also recommended that both the budget and reports be put in ‘layman’s terms’ so that all who desire it can understand what is happening with the community services district.
First on the agenda were committee assignments for the new directors. Bob Orange and Roger Cherry will be the water sub-committee tasked with making decisions concerning the water tanks, pipelines, water treatment plant and filtration system. The committee directors will consider the recommendations of both manager Cassidy and Chief Plant Operator Don Silva.
Kaley Bentz and Roger Cherry will be the directors on the finance sub committee. Outgoing director Lee Anne Schramel highly recommended the new directors delve into finance and budgeting as she acknowledged the details there provided her an education and better understanding of how the system operates when she came on the board.
The general manager, directors, and public in discussion of possible rate adjustments spent the bulk of the evening for customers in consideration of the lack of services and the destruction of properties by the Dixie Fire.
Some issues had been settled prior to the meeting: billing customers for July goes forward, but charging customers who lost their structures in August were not charged as there was no way to separate out how water was used during the fire (customers versus firefighting use). Customers who did not lose their structures were only charged the base rate since it could not be determined if their water had been used for firefighting either. Likewise, Crescent Mills customers are not to be charged for August since untreated water was in the system and the bulk of the month was still under evacuation. Crescent Mills customers will have their bills discounted 33 percent for Sept. 1 through 9 when they were being asked to boil water before use and quality had not yet been approved.
General Manager Cassidy also recommended a discount of 57 percent for Greenville customers with structures for Sept. 1 through 17 prior to quality approval.
The general contention came down in a discussion of customers with burnt or leveled housing continuing to pay their bills. The general manager and the board clerk/office manager Jeff Titcomb both indicated that customers have come to the IVCSD office to close their accounts. The reconnection fee will be $6,574.
“Connection fees are high but they will keep people from disconnecting,” said Cassidy.
The rationale for customers to keep connected is that they are not paying for use anymore (since there is no structure) but rather paying because the infrastructure is there for the customer should they rebuild.
According to the general manager, 480 customer structures were destroyed leaving 381 customers left. Between Aug. 1, 2020 and Aug. 1, 2021 IVCSD’s income was $465,000. That balance is now down $370,000. Insurance settlement claims top $1.4 million, however that goes not to prop up customer revenue but water treatment, repairs to the system infrastructure.
When asked about potential revenue and grants to help prop up the district, Cassidy injected a hope that state Senator Brian Dahle would come through with funding, as Cassidy had spoken with Dahle and was given verbal hope that would be so.
“We can’t bet on a congressman (senator). It’s not fiscally responsible to do so,” said Schramel.
“We’re going to go broke,” Cherry said.
“What are the ways we can pay that honor where people are right now,” asked Schramel. Cassidy gave examples of other municipalities and water districts where median family income is much higher than Greenville (which is roughly $26,500).
“We have to bring in more money. We can sell our water locally to ranchers,” suggested Schramel. Some Indian Valley ranchers have reached out to the district about the district selling its water locally.
“Sales would stop if it reached a threshold,” said Schramel.
“It’s not a huge number coming to disconnect,” said Cassidy adding, “Some people will make emotional decisions. For those customers without structures the base monthly fee will be roughly $78 or roughly $936 —for a service the customers cannot use at this time.
“What about seniors on a fixed income?” asked one audience member during public comment.
This visibly riled customers in the audience. One family got up and left shaking their heads.
“My moral compass says ‘no’” said director Kaley Bentz.
“There’s got to be money out there somewhere. We can’t make people pay for something they aren’t getting,” said director Cherry.
“Either you are going to make us go broke or you are going to go broke,” said one woman in the audience who spoke of her family having multiple burnt out structures —they would then be billed a monthly fee for multiple properties.
A discussion of directors with audience participation ensued considering waivers for financially distressed customers.
“If you couldn’t pay the fee you probably aren’t going to rebuild,” said Chris Meyers of Meyers Construction.
“People are in dire straits,” said former director Lorraine Cassidy.
The discussion continued on trying to find income for the district to keep it solvent—without which the state would have to step in. In the end the directors voted to keep the reconnection fee and keep fees for customers with burnt out structures but at a reduced rate. The amount of time that should be (the general manager recommended 18 months) had not been determined but many suggested from the time a permit was pulled the 18 month rate should start.
In the end only director Roger Cherry voted against the reconnection fee.
Elsewhere in discussion was the upcoming budget of the fire department. Since the departure of fire chief Tony Balbiani last year, board director Bob Orange has more or less been acting fire chief, and filled into the position without pay. In continuing to be a volunteer fire chief, the fire budget can reallocate funds to reflect the lack of fire chief pay.
Other talk during the meeting included a question of cutting personnel to save money, however there are only five employees, three of which make near to minimum wage. The new general manager’s salary was not disclosed at the meeting.
Only one director adhered to COVID mask wearing protocol, director Schramel. No one else in the room followed the protocol.
The next IVCSD meeting is tomorrow, Dec. 8 at 6 p.m. at the Taylorsville Historic Hall in Taylorsville.