GA owes $500K to Stetson

Meanwhile, engineering firm requests advance from water district

GA owes $500K to StetsonBy BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

The Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority has an unpaid balance of some $500,000 with Stetson Engineering, one of its consulting firms. The news came from IWV Water District General Manager Don Zdeba, who also acts as GM for the Groundwater Authority, during Monday’s IWVWD meeting.

Zdeba also announced that Stetson President Steve Johnson – GA Water Resource Manager – made a request for the water district to provide another $500,000 advance to the GA to help the board pay its outstanding invoices. The firm has deferred past invoices while the GA waited on grant funding to come in, but Johnson said the lack of cash flow was starting to impact his business.

All of the IWVWD boardmembers opposed the request, and no motion was made to grant the GA additional funds.

“What is the benefit to our ratepayers,” asked WD Director Don Cortichiato. “To me, that’s the critical question.”

Since its inception, the GA has had cash flow issues. Its primary funding source has been roughly $2.5 million in federal grants, of which only $1 million has been dispersed.

The WD already agreed to advancing $500,000 to the GA in 2017, with the agreement that the authority would waive the first $500,000 owed from the water district once additional fees are established.

“This will help the GA immediately, but it’s just going to come back around when the augmentation fee hits,” said IWVWD Director Ron Kicinski. “The GA won’t get an augmentation fee from the district, and it’s just going to put them right back in the same situation again. Right back in the same boat.”

“I have a hard time understanding how the people who will pay most of the fees already are going to collect from the people to whom they’re paying the fee,” said David Saint-Amand, board vice president.

“The water fistrict does not owe Stetson anything,” said Board President Chuck Cordell. “It’s the GA that hired them. They need to stop and reassess and maybe not continue on with $150-200 thousand per month in bills.”

“I see no upside to this,” said Director Stan Rajtora. “The GA just needs to figure out how they’re going to do their budgeting and finances, and then just do it.”

“I think the GA has a responsibility to figure this out with the funds they have,” said Kicinski, who serves on the GA board as the district’s representative. “Yes, it’s going to result in additional fees. But I’d rather it come from that direction. All we’re doing is putting a Band-aid on the problem.”

Zdeba clarified that this was not a formal request from Stetson, but “more of just a feeler,” and that the GA itself was not the one making the request.

“There are going to be additional fees beyond the pumping fee now – larger ones,” said Kicinski. “But none of those are decided. There’s a lot more out there in the future, and we don’t know what’s going to hit us.”

“I would suggest the board write a letter to the GA telling them you’re not happy with the way things have gone,” said resident Mike Neel, who called in during public comment. “An employee of the GA board going to the Water District begging for money, obviously seeing no avenue that they’re going to be paid from the GA. I would suggest a letter saying, ‘Get your act together, boys. Cease these activities if you can’t stop spending money.’”

No motions were made and no action was taken on the item.

The IWV Groundwater Authority will meet at 10 a.m. on Thursday, May 21, at City Hall. Meetings are still physically closed to the public, but stream online on the City’s YouTube channel. For information see iwvga.org.

Pictured: IWV Water District Director Don Cortichiato -- News Review file photo

Story First Published: 2020-05-15