Thursday, June 30, 2016
[San Mateo County] Civil grand jury: Consolidate sanitary districts
The county’s six independent sanitary districts need to consolidate operations and cover their costs with user fees rather than property taxes, according to a report released Wednesday by the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury.
The report took particular exception to issues related to the districts’ boards of directors. Although directors are publicly elected, the report finds that most elections are uncontested, voter turnout is low and there are no term limits.
The civil grand jury recommends establishing term limits, eliminating employment benefits for directors, educating the public on how the districts are governed and encouraging new candidates to run.
Although the civil grand jury found no evidence of fiscal corruption, it noted there are “many opportunities for overspending,” because of inefficient operations and questionable management practices at the sanitary districts.
Its report states that the sewage systems themselves are aging yet there are insufficient plans for modernizing. The report predicts that users will face sharply rising rates as the need for upgrading becomes crucial.
There are 45 separate agencies in the county responsible for collecting and treating sewage.
The report studied the six special districts that have boards of directors elected by voters, five of which rely on countywide property taxes to subsidize their operations.
The districts studied were the Bayshore Sanitary District, East Palo Alto Sanitary District, Granada Community Services District, Montara Water and Sanitary District, Westborough Water District and West Bay Sanitary District.
Together, the districts serve 115,000 residents and cover small areas scattered along the northern coast and the Bay.
The civil grand jury is also recommending that the San Mateo County Local Agency Formation Commission initiate a service review of the Westborough Water District to examine whether its operations might be more efficient and effective if they were consolidated with another agency’s operations.
The report notes that San Mateo County’s sewer agencies experience more sewage overflows than urban neighbors such as San Jose and central Contra Costa County.
In addition, the independent sanitary districts are not prepared to handle emergencies such as earthquakes, floods or landslides that could affect their systems. The civil grand jury called on the six districts to develop plans for coordinating resources in the event of a large-scale event.
June 30, 2016
The Daily Journal
Journal staff report