Groundwater Authority revisits, approves 2019 budget

Groundwater Authority revisits, approves 2019 budgetGA acting General Manager Don Zdeba, Water Resources Manager Steve Johnson, San Bernardino County representative Robert Lovingood, Inyo County representative John Vallejo and IWV Water District representative Ron Kicinski (chair) discuss the 2019 budget — Photo by Laura Austin

------

By BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

After rejecting its 2019 budget last month, the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority discussed and approved an updated budget during its March meeting.

One issue that has proved difficult for the board is the annual rotation of its administrative responsibilities among the “big three” member agencies — Ridgecrest, Kern County and the IWV Water District.

Alan Christensen from the Kern County Administrative Office presented the draft budget at February’s meeting via teleconference. The board tabled approval pending some corrections to various discrepancies and addition of more details to itemized revenues and expenditures.

IWV Water District General Manager Don Zdeba reworked the budget with his staff and presented it at the March meeting.

Early on, Zdeba pointed out that while the budget showed a $963,583 deficit, projected 2020 revenues will presumable even the balance out to a deficit of $80,000 over a grand total of $5,426,990 in anticipated expenditures since the formation of the IWVGA.

“It’s more of a timing issue when the revenue comes in,” said Zdeba. The Authority is now in the slowest pumping season so pumping fees will increase over the summer, and the board has yet to receive more than half of its $2.1 million Proposition 1 grant.

While the Authority is experiencing cashflow issues, Water Resources Manager Steve Johnson has been deferring some payments to his firm Stetson Engineers. Additionally, the Authority will be asked to eventually reimburse some $1 million in advances from the big three agencies after all other expenses are paid.

Kern County’s representative, 1st District Supervisor Mick Gleason, asked Johnson if he had “100-percent confidence” that payments to his firm would be made and that the deferred payments would not affect the workload. The Authority received some $295,715.92 in bills from Stetson in 2019 so far.

“We’re not slowing down,” said Johnson, who said he would continue to work on Groundwater Sustainability Plan tasks and catch up on payments later.

Gleason also asked how close Stetson was to identifying all of the non-de-minimis pumpers in the valley. De minimis pumpers use less than two acre-feet of water for residential use annually and are not required to report their pumping, according to the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. All other pumpers are subject to a $30 per acre-foot pumping fee.

The aim of the fee was originally to cover a $930,000 budget deficit, but Kern County Counsel Phil Hall said the IWVGA Board was authorized to extend the fee until all expenses were met, including but not limited to the anticipated $80,000 shortfall.

Johnson reported that the firm was “90-percent done” with identifying and contacting non-de-minimis pumpers and the only thing left to do was some field visits.

“Do we have a plan for covering the cashflow shortfalls?” asked Inyo County Counsel John Vallejo – Inyo’s primary representative to the Authority. “It looks like we’ve had cashflow issues for two years, and we have a shortfall next year as well.”

“I can’t give a definitive answer,” said Zdeba. “But I think as time goes on … we get a clearer picture of where we’re actually at. And then that will give us some indication of what direction we need to go in.”

He said that the pumping fee and grant reimbursements were sort of “wildcards,” but also the main sources of revenue.

“I’m not sure what this board’s appetite is for approving a clearly short budget,” said Vallejo. “Maybe we can have a discussion of which of these expenditures we might want to prioritize or de-prioritize. But there’s concern on that level in regard to approving a budget that’s just insufficient.”

“I think you hit a good point,” said Water District Representative and Authority Chair Ron Kicinski. “I think you’re going to see this board have a discussion in the very near future about income streams. But most everything here is part of the plan and is a priority. I guess some fo the costs outside of the [plan of action and milestones] aren’t part of the plan, but we find them necessary for support that Stetson is providing.

“I’m tending to believe that yes, we will have an $80,000 deficit by the end of 2020. I don’t think anybody can doubt that income is going to need to come from somewhere … I did ask that staff bring forward options for additional income for the group, whether it be extending pumping fees or whatever it may be.”

The IWVGA meets the third Thursday of each month at City Hall. The next meeting will be April 18 at 11 a.m. For agendas and recordings of Authority meetings, as well as meetings of the Policy and Technical Advisory Committees, visit iwvga.org.

Story First Published: 2019-04-05