Four candidates vying for three seats on the Mid-Peninsula Water District Board of Directors agree issues of concern are oversight, budgeting for the future while keeping prices low and considering economies of scale; however, their ideas for the 18-employee organization differ.
Incumbent Betty Linvill said she has solid financing experience from working in bank management. This is the first time she has participated in the election process even though she’s sat on the water board where for several years. She has a history of pubic service she hopes to continue, Linvill said.
Candidate Mike Malekos is seeking a seat on the board for the second time after having lost to board President Al Stuebing who was appointed by the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors in 2009. He said serving on the water board will be an easy transition from his experience as a gas and electric utility executive. He said he’s not afraid to get down and dirty; going into the field and working with labor crews taught him how to successfully manage employees.
Stuebing was originally appointed but earned his position after being re-elected in 2011. He has a 30-year career in the utility business and helping customers live more efficiently, Stuebing said.
Dave Warden has served on the Belmont City Council for 12 years and is ready to move on as he’s confident in the good crop of Belmont candidates, he told the Daily Journal. As a business consultant for software companies with keen problem solving skills, he felt the water board had become complacent and its election shouldn’t be uncontested, Warden said.
A recent alleged embezzlement scandal by former district employee Catherine Abou-Remeleh forced candidates to discuss personnel and financial management abilities. Abou-Remeleh stole more than $200,000 over three years and was caught after suffering from a stroke.
The embezzlement was the result of a general manager who was too trusting of his longtime coworker, Linvill said. The board hired Tammy Rudock to replace Paul Regan as general manager and is moving forward with more diligent oversight of the small operation, Linvill said.
The district is heavily reliant on costly consultants; a lack of consistent internal inspections in basic operations led to the fraud, Malekos said. He said he would be more hands-on and would implement proper employee training and risk management.
Hiring consultants is not ideal, but objective and sophisticated audits are important for a small organization, Stuebing said. The scandalous negative attention depreciated the board’s public image but, with the help of its new general manager, he will work toward improving its practices, Stuebing said.
The embezzlement was discovered by an outside source and the board is failing to do its job, Warden said. A small set of employees dealing with a $9 million annual budget is dangerous and the board needs to be diligent about working closely with auditors, the general manager and employees, Warden said.
Financial planning and customer costs
The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission is working on repairs to its infrastructure and its rising rates directly affect the Mid-Peninsula’s. Some candidates are considering pairing with nearby water districts to grow economies of scale.
Their district already has ties to California Water Service Company as it shares pump stations and water mains, Linvill said, growing those connections would give them the ability to negotiate better rates with SFPUC.
The district is unavoidably affected by its distributor’s prices and California is requiring a 20 percent reduction in water consumption by 2020, Malekos said. The district needs to prepare for costly repairs to pipes. The board can assist by being transparent with its finances so consumers understand rising prices and teaching them conservation methods, Malekos said. When it comes to economies of scale, the board needs to be careful about with which districts to work, Malekos said, putting its money into a district that has poor credit isn’t fiscally sound.
The district needs to consider its priorities and fixing pipes is a necessity, so a new engineer has been hired to move forward, Stuebing said. Although economies of scale may be a good idea, pairing with other districts won’t change the fact it’s forced to keep up with SPFUC’s raises, nor is Cal Water able to pair with the district, Stuebing told the Daily Journal. Taking advantage of Pacific Gas and Electric’s low evening rates by pumping water at night is an example of ways for the board to cut costs, Stuebing said.
The district needs more thorough research and a long-term financial plan so it can prepare for the costs of fixing infrastructures, Warden said. The district mainly serves Belmont and it should take note of the city’s budgeting plans. Sharing services with other cities will give the district better leveraging, Warden said. Warden also took issue with the district’s budget documents, calling them “pathetic.”
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