WD re-votes to delay $500K reimbursement

Director Griffin questions reversal of previous board decisions

WD re-votes to delay  $500K reimbursementBy BRIAN COSNER, News Review Staff Writer

After voting the item down last month, the Indian Wells Valley Water District voted Monday to delay the reimbursement of its $500,000 gap-funding advance to the IWV Groundwater Authority.

The authority requested the delay in order to mitigate its proposed $35- per-acre-foot pumping fee (see related story) to cover Groundwater Sustainability Plan development costs for the next two years.

The board of directors voted on the item last week while Directors Peter Brown and Don Cortichiato were absent, and the delay received 2-1 support, but failed to have support from a quorum of the board (three directors). Vice President Chuck Griffin was the dissenting vote.

Griffin approved the delay the second time around, citing a lack of budget information for his initial dissent.

“My closing statements last month were that I wished we could have discussed it more,” he said. “What is frustrating was coming into the water district meeting last month without current budget information. When I made my decision, [the IWVGA] had a $900,000 reserve in place.”

The reserve has since come down from a 20-percent reserve to 5 percent. But Griffin said his issue wasn’t so much with the item itself, but with the precedent of bringing failed items back to the board.

“Several times I’ve asked for something to be brought back and I was told it was voted on and over with,” he said.

Brown and Cortichiato suggested that the item needed to be brought back since all of the board members weren’t present, but legal counsel Jim Worth clarified that.

“The item failed and the decision to bring it back was discretionary,” he said.

Board President Ron Kicinski voiced that he wanted to do anything that would keep the pumping fees as low as possible and said he opposed the authority’s request for $162,000 to hire a part-time general manager.

“I don’t see anything missing that a general manager would fill,” he said. “It’s just another expense item we can take off to lower this fee.

“I feel pretty strongly that some of these costs are either way out of line or that they should be here at all,” Kicinski added, but Brown told him that the Water District meeting was not the platform to discuss the authority’s budget.

“I just want to be assured that this item is going to make an effect on the pumping fee,” said Kicinski. “If in fact we do this – that $35 fee will go down to $25, is that a fact?”

“Yes, that’s a fact,” said Brown.

But Worth corrected Brown and said it is up to the authority to decide how the delay in reimbursement would affect the fee.

“They could adjust the number of months the fee is in place instead,” said Worth. “Generating cash flow quickly I still believe is needed.”

Griffin mentioned that fewer months might actually exacerbate the authority’s cash-flow problems since agriculture – which pumps roughly one third of the valley’s water – uses very little water from October through March.

“Chuck is totally correct,” said Elaine Mead during public comment. “If you cut back the months that you’re charging the fee, you’ve lost your second summer.”

Since the water district was being asked to delay its reimbursement, Griffin also asked board members what they thought about the city asking to be reimbursed roughly $200,000 for administrative costs.

“That’s not what we’re talking about right now,” said Brown, adding that the discussion item was strictly whether or not to delay the water district’s reimbursement.

The item passed unanimously.

— More precedent questions —

Brown and Kicinski recently returned from the first annual Groundwater Sustainability Agency Summit in Sacramento. While the topic was not on the agenda, Kicinski asked to briefly discuss some of their takeaways from the event.

“Again, I’m going to make this comment,” said Griffin before Kicinski continued. “This isn’t on the agenda. I asked if I could give a presentation after attending a similar conference. Three or four times the public asked to hear a report, but the board refused to hear it.”

Griffin was referencing a Sustainable Groundwater Management Act conference he attended last year. He more than once requested to give a report on the topic, but the item was never included in a board agenda.

Monday’s meeting was not the first time Griffin brought up inconsistencies with the board’s decision making. Griffin asked to lead the board as president in 2017 – having then been the only director not to have served as president. Directors re-elected Brown instead, saying the board generally didn’t allow first-term directors to act as president.

But when the board elected its president this year, Kicinski was selected despite it being his first year on the board. Griffin approved the motion, accepting the position of vice president, but not without addressing the variance in the board’s reasoning.

Story First Published: 2018-06-15