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BoCC statement muddies water with PAWSD board

An ill-received statement from the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners to the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District Board of Directors has put into question a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the two entities.

The two entities and their legal counsel have worked toward passing a mutually agreeable MoU for the last year, following months of tension and a public meeting concerning the BoCC’s statutorily granted oversight powers of special districts.

With the continued rebating of the controversial Water Resource Fee (WRF) on the PAWSD agenda for that evening (along with the MoU), the BoCC met on the afternoon of Jan. 11 (at 1:11 p.m., no less) in order to approve a written statement directed toward the PAWSD board, outlining concerns over the rebates.

In introducing the item on the BoCC agenda, County Administrator Greg Schulte said county staff believed that the PAWSD board may request the opinion of the BoCC (Commissioner John Ranson sometimes attends PAWSD meetings), and the BoCC wanted to prepare an opinion that formally represented the entire BoCC.

Commissioner Michael Whiting read the statement aloud, which included praise of PAWSD for their work with the BoCC and Community Water Supply Workgroup before surfacing concerns of PAWSD rebating WRF before the district’s rate study is complete, as well as concerns over the district’s ability to abide by the loan covenants of the 2008 Colorado Water Resource and Power Development Authority Bond Issue should the fee be rebated.

The meeting was attended by only a few members of the public, including PAWSD Director Allan Bunch.

While the commissioners each spoke of increased communication and a positive relationship between the BoCC and PAWSD, Bunch was not so enthused.

Bunch told the BoCC that, had they picked up a phone, they would have known that the projections involving the bond issue that were requested by the BoCC in the statement had been completed and that a simple phone call relaying the concerns would have been more appropriate.

That evening at the PAWSD meeting, raw feelings over the statement had spread and the statement was brought up during discussion of the MoU between the districts.

“We have some second thoughts about this MoU because of what happened today,” said Director Roy Vega.

“This written document and the words expressed in it do two things to me,” Bunch said, outlining those two things as uncertainty over the cooperation of the two entities and the fact that the BoCC “didn’t feel compelled to pick up the phone and get the answer to the questions.”

Expressing his further disappointment, Bunch said, “This is not an example of cooperation ... I’m not sure what it’s an example of. Exercising authority, perhaps?”

Ranson refuted the statements, noting that the BoCC has met with PAWSD Interim Director Shellie Peterson, the chairs of the two boards regularly communicate, and that the statement intended to represent all three commissioners since Ranson cannot speak for all three at the PAWSD meetings.

Peterson then voiced her opinion that the basic premise of the statement had possibly been misunderstood and it was then clarified that the statement addressed a full rebate of the WRF, not the partial rebates underway.

With part of the misconception clarified, Vega was no happier, voicing that the statement was a misuse of a BoCC special meeting, the BoCC should not have accused PAWSD of risking loan compliance, and the MoU should be rethought.

“Hold off on an MoU. This scares me. I do not know what the relationship with the board of county commissioners is,” Vega said.

“My concern is, as I view this as a public document and, as I said before to someone, I think it’s appropriate to at least give a head’s up to the chair of the board that there is going to be a special meeting,” said Director Windsor Chacey, noting that the situation was a sign to be careful about the MoU. “I felt blindsided.”

PAWSD Chair Steve Hartvigsen said that, while he had had discussions with BoCC Chair Clifford Lucero and knew a statement was forthcoming, it was more comprehensive than anticipated and that, even after the current round of WRF rebates, over $900,000 in WRF collected would remain and could be used for debt payment.

In response to questions from Director Jan Clinkenbeard, Ranson clarified that the BoCC was OK with the current rebates, but the further rebates should be examined before being considered because of bond covenants.

Breaking bond covenants is the lesser of two evils when compared with the WRF, Vega said.

Hartvigsen voiced to his board that he hoped they wouldn’t react too severely to the statement and decline signing the MoU.

Bunch then confessed that he had reacted very negatively, motioning to approve the MoU for the purposes of allowing discussion on the topic.

Vega again voiced his opinion that PAWSD did not need to deal with additional “unnecessary, unwarranted” issues brought about by the BoCC. He continued that the district should forego the MoU and “bite the bullet” to update the service plan.

Bunch stated his opinion that the MoU was to enhance the public’s and the boards’ understanding of the BoCC’s oversight responsibility, as well as to give them additional oversight not stated in the Colorado Revised Statutes, but that PAWSD was meeting all statutory requirements without an MoU in place.

Conversation continued as the clock ticked on, turning to statutory requirements of oversight and the need (or lack thereof) for an MoU to reiterate those requirements, as well as the BoCC’s concerns over PAWSD’s ability to discharge its debt.

In the end, Bunch withdrew his motion and the item was tabled and moved to the Jan. 25 meeting in order to give the directors time to think about all that had transpired.

Tuesday’s meeting, then, should provide an indicator of the PAWSD board’s willingness to work more intimately with the BoCC as the board decides to sign or decline the MoU in question.

The Jan. 25 meeting will begin at 6 p.m. in the PAWSD conference room at 100 Lyn Avenue.

randi@pagosasun.com