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PAWSD, BoCC MoU on hold ... again

A proposed memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the Pagosa Area Water Sanitation District and the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners is again on hold following Tuesday evening’s PAWSD Board of Directors meeting.

The MoU, which has been in the works for roughly a year, was tabled by the PAWSD board at their Jan. 11 meeting after a statement from the BoCC made PAWSD board members question the current relationship between the two entities. The MoU was then tabled again Tuesday night (to Feb. 8) for similar reasons.

Revisiting the item Tuesday night, PAWSD Interim Manager Shellie Peterson informed the board that a current debt-to-tap ratio (as of Dec. 31) had been figured at $5,948 of debt per current water connection in service. A portion of the MoU called for a certified debt-to-tap ratio to be figured based on information as of Dec. 31 of each year.

Director Jan Clinkenbeard then expressed concern over the yearly timeline of the MoU, which calls for the upcoming year’s budget to be provided to the BoCC in November. Clinkenbeard said she wondered why the budget would be presented before approved in December, to which Peterson said it was the only way PAWSD could follow the “spirit of the MoU” and let the commissioners hear any rate increases before the adoption of the budget and that it would push PAWSD to “firm up” their budget earlier, which she said is doable in the average year.

Allan Bunch then quickly motioned for the item to be tabled and pushed back to the Feb. 8 meeting.

“I am reluctant to actually vote on this thing at this time,” Bunch said, adding, “Recent events have caused me to still be concerned.”

Later in the conversation, Bunch revealed that it was the BoCC’s consideration of leasing a piece of county property for $1 per year for the next 10 years (see related article on page 1) that concerned him.

Roy Vega agreed with Bunch, questioning, as he had in previous meetings, the need for the MoU when statute defines the BoCC’s oversight responsibilities and the need to revise the district’s service plan, while the rest was perhaps not needed.

Board Chair Steve Hartvigsen said that other items in the MoU were brought up as ways to improve the communication and working relationship between the boards, saying it would “suffice to do some of that.”

“The sum of the parts is better than putting it aside, in my opinion,” Hartvigsen said.

Bunch noted that the relationship between the two entities is “considerably different” today and that he wondered if the same concerns still exist to necessitate the MoU.

Noting that “the county’s understanding of the value of their property has come into question,” Bunch asked if putting the BoCC in charge of PAWSD’s ability to incur debt was “akin to putting the fox in charge of the hen house?”

Commissioner Michael Whiting said he felt the relationship has improved substantially on both sides, but noted that an MoU is usually used to mitigate trust issues during transitional periods and that leaving an MoU unresolved “puts a question mark on the relationship.”

Clinkenbeard questioned the length of the MoU — until 2035 — noting that perhaps a shorter trial run, followed by either an extension or new MoU, would be easier than having both boards agree to any amendments of the MoU over such a long period of time.

Windsor Chacey added that she would feel comfortable doing what the statutes call for in terms of BoCC oversight, but nothing more.

Conversation then turned to the need for the BoCC to define what would constitute a material change to trigger a service plan update, with Hartvigsen stating that PAWSD’s need to look at its finances would take a front seat to a service plan update.

Vega agreed that the BoCC should give PAWSD their “parameters of expectation,” but admitted that the service plan, written in 1977, was in need of an update and such an update was “not a bad idea for the health of the district.”

With discussion called to a close by Bunch, a unanimous vote tabled the MoU until the Feb. 8 PAWSD meeting.

Also at the PAWSD meeting, a conference call with consultant Al Bledsoe reported to the board that, according to information learned in a separate conference call with Bledsoe, Peterson, a bond broker and bond counsel that afternoon, the board’s idea of having bond covenants relaxed would be a difficult process, if not impossible, while any action considered in noncompliance with bond covenants would likely cause problems in the future should PAWSD wish to obtain another bond.

PAWSD’s financial stability and bond compliance has recently come into question with the controversy of the Water Resource Fee and possible further refund of the fee.

The board also voted with four votes in favor (Chacey abstained) to sever the district’s ties with the San Juan Water Conservation District in the form of ceasing the administrative services agreement between the agencies.

The step represents another change the BoCC, and public, desired — a separation of the two boards. Chacey is the last remaining member of both boards.

Additionally, the PAWSD board voted that, after March 1, the SJWCD would be required to hold their meetings elsewhere unless it were a joint meeting of the two entities (which Hartvigsen said should alternate locations).

The next regular PAWSD meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 8, to be held at the PAWSD offices at 100 Lyn Avenue.

randi@pagosasun.com