Lompico Water District’s fate to be determined by bond vote
After decades of mismanagement, the Lompico Water District is faced with thousands of dollars in debt, a leaderless board of directors, and an aging infrastructure that is in desperate need of care.
Without the maintenance that the pipes and tanks have needed over the years, the equipment hasn’t aged gracefully, and has fallen so far into disrepair that many of the district’s day-to-day operations have to be conducted manually.
“Some of the things are a little scary,” says Pete Norton, chair of the Lompico Water District Citizen Advisory Committee. “When they took us on a tour, I thought it was amazing what they have to do to run this district. They have a crew running up and down a hill multiple times a day to turn pumps on and off manually. They have people going up to the top of certain tanks and pouring liquid chlorine into the hatch. Things like that that are just funky.”
To bring the district back to good standing and make all necessary repairs to bring the water district’s equipment up to state requirements, the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors created a special all-mail ballot election to vote on a $3.2 million bond measure, Measure N. The last day to vote is Tuesday, Feb. 24.
If the 30-year bond is approved by two-thirds of Lompico residents, their water district can start taking steps toward merging with the San Lorenzo Valley Water District. Lompico’s neighbor would then provide the administrative leadership that the small district has lacked for years.
“Lompico has been operating without a general manager for some time now, and that’s not the way it’s supposed to be done in any water district or any special district,” says 5th District Santa Cruz County Supervisor Bruce McPherson, whose district includes both San Lorenzo and Lompico. “I think what’s on the ballot is in the best interest of Lompico for sure, and it will be fine for San Lorenzo as well.”
Opponents of Measure N, like Sherwin Gott, think the water district could get a better deal. After conducting his own independent research into the prices of the pipes, valves and tanks needed, Gott states that the district only needs about $1.5 million, and not the $3.2 million stated in the bond.
“I don’t think it is right to charge the community of Lompico more than what it costs to do the work,” says Gott, a former Lompico water board member who lost a re-election bid last November. “And as a member of the community who has to physically pay the cost, I only want to pay what it actually costs.”
Gott called equipment vendors in the region to come up with his estimates, but he did not include the expense of continued maintenance or contingency costs like permitting, engineering, and administrative expenses associated with building.
Norton says that no project goes through without extensive planning and permitting beforehand—especially in Santa Cruz County. “Everything goes over budget,” he says.
Gott says he is not opposed to a merger with the San Lorenzo Valley, but believes that the use of state grants would allow the Lompico Water District to repair its equipment without the passage of Measure N.
“Consolidation may not be a bad thing, but at this price, it doesn’t seem right,” says Gott.
State funding is available for water districts in need, and funding was, in fact, gained for the emergency intertie over the summer. That pipeline connected the Lompico Water District with the San Lorenzo Valley Water District when Lompico’s water supply waned due to the lack of rain. Other grant funding has been applied for—specifically for consolidation with San Lorenzo Valley—but the attempts were unsuccessful.
Lompico could potentially acquire more state grants for repairs and consolidation, but the process is highly competitive, and can take years. Because Lompico’s water system is currently in poor condition, the California Department of Public Health is requiring that the infrastructure be repaired for safety reasons—if not by the end of the 2015, in the next few years.
If the merger and bond go through, the changes will put an end to one of the more dramatic special districts in Santa Cruz County.
For years, the Lompico Water District’s board meetings were often filled with snide remarks and intense arguments—with sheriff’s deputies sometimes called in to restore order. The small mountain water district also served as the focus of two grand jury reports in 2010 and 2012. The report in 2010 recommended that the merger between San Lorenzo Valley and Lompico occur as soon as possible.
If Measure N is not approved by Lompico residents, the district’s board of directors has a five-year budget drawn up to try to make all of the necessary repairs as well as hire a manager, but it means raising the district’s rates by about $100 each billing cycle, which would also have to go to a vote.
“The district is required to bring in enough money to meet its needs, so we would have to raise our rates,” says Lompico Water District board member Merrie Schaller. “If the people protested it, the state could say we abandoned the district, take us to court, and we would end up in receivership. Then, the state would decide what we’d have to pay, and we’d have nothing to say about it.”
If the bond measure does pass, the Lompico Water District board of directors would immediately begin making repairs and preparing for the merger with the San Lorenzo Valley Water District, which charges a lower water rate than Lompico. For the first five years, Lompico residents will be subject to an additional surcharge, but Schaller points out that even with the diminishing surcharge, the bills under the San Lorenzo Valley Water District would be cheaper than if the bond is not approved.
“[If the bond passes] I think people will realize that the sky isn’t going to fall and we’ll just write our checks to San Lorenzo Valley Water District, and they’ll be smaller checks,” says Schaller.
N – Shall Lompico Water be authorized to issue bonds in the maximum amount of $3.2M to construct water system improvements?
Would also levy an annual special tax up to a maximum of $517 for a single-service property and $1,034 for a multi-service property..