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BoCC, PAWSD MoU falls through

After nearly a year of effort spent to craft a memorandum of understanding between the Archuleta County Board of County Commissions and the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District, the potential agreement has been scrapped.

A letter to PAWSD board President Steve Hartvigsen read aloud at Tuesday’s BoCC meeting indicated the commissioners’ reasoning for withdrawing the MoU. The letter was in response to an e-mail from PAWSD Board of Directors Vice President Allan Bunch that asked what the county would expect in a service plan update by the special district.

In part, the letter stated, “In his email, Mr. Bunch advised us that PAWSD had ‘tabled’ the proposed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) pending a response from the Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) about what the County would require in a service plan update by PAWSD. After careful thought, the BoCC is withdrawing the MOU from consideration for adoption.

“Furthermore, we feel it would be inappropriate for us to advise PAWSD on how to amend its Service Plan,” the letter states.

The letter goes on to state that it would be inappropriate for the BoCC to direct the service plan update due to their “quasi-judicial role in approving any proposed amendment.”

“If the BoCC tells PAWSD how to do it, then the BoCC could hardly act impartially in considering whether or not to approve it,” the letter states.

The letter also states that commissioners believe it would be ill-advised for the BoCC to “assume a role where we are actively engaged in the conduct of managerial affairs, such as how to amend one of your governing documents.”

In concluding the letter, it states that the BoCC looks forward to receiving the district’s petition for a service plan amendment.

Commissioner John Ranson expressed that, while he was disappointed that the time and effort given to the MoU did not pay off, he believes the withdrawal of the agreement was the right move.

“I think it’s exactly the right thing they should have done,” Bunch said in a Wednesday interview. “It gets things back on the basis it should have been on since day one ... We are two separate managerial agencies that need to take care of our business.”

A rift between the BoCC and PAWSD began in the fall of 2009, when the BoCC began requesting financial documents from PAWSD, expressing concerns over PAWSD’s spending, Dry Gulch Reservoir assumptions, service plan and more.

The rift then deepened last March, when the BoCC began requesting that PAWSD provide the county with an annual report.

The two boards met in a public meeting in March 2010, where the idea of an agreement or memorandum of understanding between the two boards was mentioned by PAWSD Attorney Jim Collins.

Since that time, both boards have seen personnel changes, with additional staffing changes at PAWSD with the departure of Manager Carrie Weiss and Special Projects Manager Sheila Berger.

Through the changes, MoU negotiations continued, being called into question early this year by PAWSD directors Bunch and Roy Vega, who felt the consideration on the part of the BoCC to lease a portion of county-owned property for $1 per year called into question the BoCC’s oversight ability, while an ill-received letter from the BoCC to PAWSD about financial concerns also put questions in the minds of the PAWSD board.

PAWSD board members also questioned the need for the board to agree to more oversight than is present in state statute.

Finally, the PAWSD board tabled the MoU to wait for word from the BoCC as to what the BoCC would expect in a service plan update.

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