The Mid-Peninsula Water District is having its first contested election in years with the addition of Belmont Councilman Dave Warden into the four-person race for three open seats.
Joining him are incumbents Betty Linvill and Al Stuebing, along with challenger Mike Malekos. Longtime director David Altscher is not seeking re-election after first joining the board in 1999. Among the issues in the race has been a recent embezzlement scandal, reaching economies of scale and ensuring water is provided to its customers primarily in Belmont, but also in portions of San Carlos and unincorporated San Mateo County. The candidates were asked to answer the following questions in about 50 words.
What is the biggest challenge facing the district?
Linvill: Our biggest challenge is keeping user rates low. Our water is purchased solely from the SFPUC and their current retrofitting of the regional water system is necessary but costly. We have cut staff and reduced operating expenses in an effort to keep rates in check. This is a priority.
Malekos: Above all, stability of rates. Additionally, the board should concentrate on restoring confidence to its customers and the public at large. It should ensure that capital projects are done efficiently and on time. And, that safe high-quality water is provided at a fair price.
Stuebing: Continued access to affordable, high-quality water. Demand on Hetch Hetchy is increasing and supply will likely decrease. We need to maintain our contracted rights to keep our supply of water. And we need to continue to use water more efficiently. My experience in energy efficiency will help here.
Warden: The district’s biggest challenge is to balance the increasing costs of maintaining an aging infrastructure with the need to keep water and service rates from exploding. We need to continually explore cost reduction strategies in lieu of never-ending rate increases as well as to create a longer term financial plan.
Do you feel as if the district has taken the proper actions since the recent embezzlement situation?
Linvill: When this came to light a forensic audit was promptly ordered and insurance reimbursement of our approximate loss has been paid. A certified fraud examiner and a new CPA were also engaged. The 2013 audit results will be reported at the next board meeting. We invite the public to attend.
Malekos: This begs the question, “how did this happen?” I agree with measures taken; however, they did not go far enough. The embezzlement occurred as a result of a failure to institute fundamental risk management principles. Outside consultants were retained to establish basic operating policies. If elected, I’d serve as “watchdog.”
Stuebing: Yes. With guidance from experts in the field, we have installed financial controls that will prevent future embezzlement. Further, we have a new general manager, a new administrative services manager and new auditors. All are focused on using these controls for the protection of the district and its customers.
Warden: Additional financial controls are now in place; a new auditor has been hired. However, I’m critical of the complacency that created such vulnerabilities in the organization. If the responsible manager had not taken ill, she would likely still be stealing money! Furthermore, budgetary transparency and financial reporting deficiencies still remain.
Are there ways the district can better reach economies of scale?
Linvill: We belong to BAWSCA for economies of scale. This agency represents us, along with 23 other Bay Area cities and districts, in the purchase of water from San Francisco. On the expense side, we belong to the Association of California Water Agencies for Legislative, Regulatory and Water Management and sustainability issues.
Malekos: I’d explore whether it’s more efficient for the district to merge with a larger water utility. Large utilities operate at lower costs and have the ability to spread expenses over a wider customer base. The result is a reduced cost of service and the potential for reduced rates.
Stuebing: There are options worth exploring, like sharing equipment or combining with another agency, but scale itself does not mean greater efficiency. Water rates in Belmont are about the same as Palo Alto’s and Redwood City’s and lower than Burlingame’s — larger cities with the same water source and similar territories.
Warden: The water district, with its 17 employees and $10M in revenue, should rely on other agencies to be cost-effective. The district should seriously consider sharing finance and other administrative roles with other agencies. For example, the Belmont Fire Department saves over $500,000/year by partnering with San Mateo and Foster City.
Occupation: Incumbent, commercial banker
Education: MBA United States University and graduate Pacific Coast Banking School
Experience: Board seats including former SF Financial Women’s Association Treasurer, former Treasurer of Richmond Area Multi-services, Inc. nonprofit mental health agency, S.F. Director and past president of Mid-Peninsula Water District since 2007
City, years of residence: 15+
Occupation: Retired utility executive/Financial services professional
Education: BS, business administration and finance from University of San Francisco. MBA from University of Phoenix.
Experience: Employed 20 years in utility operations which included management of office personnel and field crews; 10 years in financial services. Former member: Belmont Finance Commission, Belmont Library Task Force, Cipriani School Site Council
City, years of residence: Belmont, 18 years
Family: Married with three children
Occupation: MPWD Director
Education: BS Mechanical Engineering, UC Berkeley
Experience: Thirty years of utility leadership experience, most recently as PG&E’s Director of Account Services
City, years of residence: Belmont, 30 years
Family: Married, with two daughters
Occupation: Belmont business owner, medical software consultant
Education: BA Computer Science, UC Berkeley; California substitute teaching credential
Experience: Mayor, city of Belmont (2002, 2005, 2012); councilman, city of Belmont (1999-2007, 2009-present)
Years of residence: Belmont, more than 40 years