Saturday, July 9, 2016
[San Mateo County] Grand jury suggests consolidation
Officials with the two Midcoast sanitary districts are questioning some of the findings and recommendations presented in a civil grand jury report.
Released June 29, the San Mateo County civil grand jury studied six independent special districts that handle sanitary operations. Among them were Granada Community Services District, which also has parks and recreation powers, and Montara Water and Sanitary District.
The report found that the system for collecting and processing sewage among these districts is inefficient and expensive. It recommended that districts find ways to consolidate operations with neighboring municipalities as a cost-saving method that could lessen their reliance on countywide property taxes.
Moreover, the civil grand jury found that these districts aren’t prepared to handle large-scale emergencies that could affect their systems and called on them to develop plans for such an event. The grand jury also noted issues related to the boards of directors, namely the oft-uncontested elections and lack of term limits that mean little turnover and insular thinking, according to the grand jury.
The group called on these districts to adjust their rates over the next five years so all costs are recovered from customers, establish term limits by next June and to improve information online by the end of September, among other recommendations. It also stated that board members from the two Coastside agencies, staff and Half Moon Bay City Council members should form a committee to evaluate consolidation and issue a report with recommendations and a plan by September 2017.
The report, however, stopped short of asking the Local Agency Formation Commission in the county to initiate a service review to examine the issue further. LAFCo already recommended that the Midcoast districts consolidate in October 2008. Two years ago, it required that the then-Granada Sanitary District contact the Montara district about forming a consolidation committee as a condition of its conversion into a community services district. The El Granada agency did so, but Montara Water and Sanitary District’s board voted against the idea.
Jim Harvey, president of its board of directors, said it nixed the committee proposal in 2014 because the district was busy getting new tanks built and working with the California Coastal Commission to end its water connections moratorium. While he said the district would be in touch with GCSD, Harvey said input for its new strategic plan has indicated a lack of support for consolidation.
“A lot of people have made it clear that they want to remain independent,” Harvey said.
The feeling may be mutual within Granada Community Services District. Its board president, Matthew Clark, says navigating the financial aspect of consolidation would be tricky.
“I’d personally be willing to be a part of (a discussion), but I don’t think it’s a fruitful field,” Clark said. “The fiscal problems probably make it insurmountable. We have parks and recreation and sewer and solid waste authority; MWSD has solid waste, sewer and water authority; and the city has all the powers of a city. So how do you integrate those?”
Assistant General Manager Delia Comito also noted that a study of consolidation alone would likely cost $20,000. She took issue with a couple facets of the report — the critique of low rates and the purported lack of emergency preparedness.
“What are we going to do if there’s a catastrophic earthquake?” Comito said. “We don’t maintain the sewer lines, Sewer Authority Mid-Coastside does. We can only do what we can, and we don’t have crews to respond. We rely on SAM.”
Clark also added that Sewer Authority Mid-Coastside addresses emergency preparedness for Granada Community Services District.
Regarding their respective boards, Harvey pointed out that Montara’s has the lowest compensation rate of the six districts studied — $75 per member per meeting — with no health benefits. He also refuted the notion about uncontested elections, saying he only recalled one time in the last 15 to 20 years MWSD had one.
Harvey has been on the board 15 years, one of three longtime members. Dwight Wilson and Bill Huber were elected in November 2013.
“There have been large contributions made by long-term members in general, but there are always new elections,” he said.
Clark, meanwhile, was elected to GCSD’s board in 2003, and there was no opposition in the two subsequent elections. Both Midcoast sanitary districts have moved their elections to even years in an effort to get higher turnout.
“Yes, there are longtime people on the board, but when someone moves away or resigns or doesn’t run for re-election, we always have a hard time finding candidates or people willing to be appointed,” he said.
The governing bodies addressed in the report must respond to the grand jury findings and recommendations within 90 days. They are not required to act on the recommendations.
Montara Water and Sanitary District’s board will discuss the issue at its Thursday meeting, which begins at 7:30 p.m. in the district’s administrative office. The full report is available online at sanmateocourt.org/grandjury.
July 5, 2016
Half Moon Bay Review
By Julia Reis