Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Santa Cruz County grand jury puts finishing touches on report

Posted: 04/27/2011 01:30:50 AM PDT

The county civil grand jury finally put the finishing touches on its 2009-10 report Tuesday, nearly 10 months after issuing a report criticizing everything from the troubled Lompico Water District to the county's library system.

The jury released detailed responses from agencies targeted by the 19-member citizen-led body, which issued its findings last summer.

During the jury's investigation into the Lompico district, one staffer was arrested for embezzlement and the district fired its general manager, who was later charged with falsifying documents.

The Lompico Water District's responses to the report largely agree with the jury's findings, including that it explore a merger with the larger San Lorenzo Valley Water District to help meet future water and infrastructure demands.

"I'm very interested in it and I think the majority of the board is very interested in it," said Rick Harrington, president of the Lompico Water District's board. "My opinion is it's the only real long-term solution to provide a sustainable water supply for the canyon."

Harrington said the district has met with SLV water over the past year and met again as recently as April 18.

The Lompico district, which serves about 1,500 residents and was once regarded as among the best in the county, has long been troubled. During one drought year in the early 1990s, the district repeatedly ferried a truck between Lompico and Felton's water supplier, dumping enough water into the system to meet demand. Its rates are among the county's highest.

Harrington, who recently returned to the board to help right the ship, said the district is slowly catching up on its maintenance. It replaced filters that hadn't been changed in 15 years, fixed a back-up pump and repaired redwood storage tanks. It is also keeping up with its bills.

"One difference between now and year ago -- a year ago, the board president was talking to PG&E about, Please don't turn off the electricity,'" Harrington said. "All the bills have been paid on time since June of last year. These things are paid as they come in."

Last year's grand jury report also focused on Watsonville employee disciplinary appeals, a county-run website for those seeking help with drugs and alcohol, the fiscal impact of the marijuana trade, jail inspection reports and more.

But another major focus was the organization of the county's library system, a controversy that persisted long after the report's release. Earlier this month, the board that operates the library system voted to keep all branches open by relying on more volunteer help.

The board and library staff disagreed, in whole or in part, with many of the conclusions reached by the grand jury, everything from the square footage of a new Scotts Valley library to when an agreement for a new Capitola library was signed.

They offered more substantial dissents as well as, including whether the district severely underfunds technology investments.

A new grand jury report will be issued June 30. Citing secrecy rules, Foreperson Gayle Larson did not disclose the topics.

Larson said she hoped the responses meant the agencies investigated were taking the report seriously.

"We like to hope it has some effect," Larson said.

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