Funding uncertainty remains after IWVGA passes draft budget

Funding uncertainty remains after IWVGA passes draft budgetBy BRIAN COSNER, News Review Staff Writer

The Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority discussed a 2018 budget last week during its monthly meeting. The board accepted a $500,000 advance from the IWV Water District to assist with funding for the next six months, but the question that remained was how the authority intended to pay for the remainder of the work.

Before the meeting began, Technical Advisory Committee Chair Adam Bingham filled the chambers by crooning an a cappella rendition of “The Christmas Song.” The irregular, but warmly received, initiation was complimented by the council chambers’ festive décor. Afterwards, Authority Chair Mick Gleason of Kern County introduced public comment and it was back to business.

“We have a [plan of actions and milestones] that talks about what we’re going to do,” said member of the public Stan Rajtora. “What we don’t have is the other side of the equation that says, ‘Where do we get the revenue?’”

The draft 2018 budget outlines roughly $1.7 million in Groundwater Sustainability Plan tasks over the next 12 months. But payment is specified for only the next six months of tasks — roughly $740,000. The majority of that figure is covered by the advance from the IWVWD.

There was some question earlier this month as to whether it was appropriate for the water district to advance ratepayer funds to the authority. But IWVWD President, and Authority Boardmember, Peter Brown said that’s what the district’s “Alternative Water Sources” fund is for.

“It’s money that we’ve already put in an account just for future sources of water, and it’s totally adequate for us to use it” said Brown. “There’s no loss, and it does benefit the ratepayers specifically because we’re going to be dividing the cost of imported water in the near future.”

The district advanced the funds under the assumption that when a GSP is implemented, area pumpers will be assessed fees and the IWVWD will have a $500,000 credit.

Out of the total advance, $425,000 will be applied to the next six months of costs. The remaining balance will be covered by $50,000 in carryover funds from the previous year and $268,000 in potential Proposition 1 grant money.

The authority is still waiting to hear how much in grant funding it may receive from the state. Water Resources Manger Stetson Engineering submitted the grant application in mid November and expects it to be several more months until the authority knows what it will be getting. No details were presented on how the remaining $950,000 of the 2018 budget would be covered.

Cmdr. Brian Longbottom, China Lake representative, said his primary concern is whether the plan of action has an accurate timeline. “It’s very easy to say, ‘Yeah, we’re going to be there by 2020.’ But I think the most important thing we can do is realistically look at all the tasks and be conservative in our estimate of how long they’re going to take,” he said.

He continued that many tasks, if delayed even by a day or two, would set the whole process back, and the authority needs to allow room to adjust to unexpected hangups.

“Also we really need to know if a task is occurring – how much money we need for that task.” With the new year, Ridgecrest Mayor Peggy Breeden will take over as chairperson for the authority, with City Manager Ron Strand serving as general manager.

The authority’s chairperson is set up to rotate each year among the “big three” member agencies – Kern County, Ridgecrest and the IWV Water District. Gleason will pass the gavel after 18 months as chair.

Because the board met earlier than usual this month, its regular Dec. 21 meeting was cancelled. The authority won’t meet again until Jan. 18, 10 a.m. at City Hall. For more information, see kerncounty.com/WaterResources.aspx.

Story First Published: 2017-12-22