Saturday, June 2, 2018
[Santa Cruz County] San Lorenzo Valley Water District challenged by grand jury findings
SANTA CRUZ >> The San Lorenzo Valley Water District since 2016 has struggled to address divisive issues, management of Lompico Assessment District capital projects and support for the Lompico Citizen Oversight Committee, the Santa Cruz County civil grand jury reportedThursday.
In the report, “Encouraging the Flow of Information to the Public,” the 19-member citizen group that is empaneled for a year concluded: “Better communication on difficult matters, an informed and effective assessment district oversight committee and an unwavering commitment to public access, will enable greater transparency and may restore trust and foster better relationships within the (San Lorenzo Valley Water District) community.”
The grand jury has legal authority to examine special districts, and city and county governments; its findings are meant to improve government operations.
“District changes to meeting practices reduced public access to the debate and decision-making process and compromised the community’s understanding of the issues,” the grand jury reported Thursday. “Criticism tested the capacity of district representatives to maintain civility.”
District President Charles Baughman said the district Board of Directors will discuss the report at its meeting 3:30 p.m. June 1 at 13057 Highway 9 in Boulder Creek.
“The board has not discussed the report,” Baughman said. “I can’t provide comment on the report.”
Baughman said he appreciates the grand jury’s work over the past year and its review of more than 15,000 pages of documents the district provided during the grand jury’s inquiry.
Baughman said he looks forward to receiving comments from the public and the Lompico Assessment District Oversight Committee.
The grand jury issued a 2014 report, “Time to Restore Trust between Voters and District,” alleging the water district lacked transparency. In response, the district “made a number of positive changes to expand access to the workings of the district, including providing better information in its annual reports and arranging for Community Television of Santa Cruz County (CTV) to record video of all regular Board of Directors meetings.”
The district added new senior staff in 2015, completed annexation of the Lompico County Water District in 2016 and, in fall 2017, increased water rates to fund a 10-year capital-improvement plan to upgrade district infrastructure.
The $2.9 million merger lumped Lompico’s 480 customers with 7,445 San Lorenzo Valley Water District customers to buffer expenses for upgrades to aging tanks and pipes. During the 2016 merger, Lompico residents with one hookup were slated to pay $5,786 over 10 years, about $48 per month, in property tax bills mailed twice a year.
The grand jury recommended the water district to produce an annual report about the status of the assessment district budget and schedule annual public study sessions to review the annual report.
“The board and (the Lompico Assessment District Oversight Committee) should work in concert to create a charter for LADOC that describes in detail the committee’s responsibilities and its authority to fulfill its oversight role,” the grand jury reported.
Adequate professional, technical and administrative support should be provided to the assessment district, the grand jury reported.
All district Board of Directors meetings should be recorded and posted online for public access, the grand jury reported.
And training should be offered to the board and committee members on “how to communicate with the public on contentious issues,” the grand jury reported.
May 31, 2018
Santa Cruz Sentinel
By Michael Todd