The Community Services District's role in creating community parks, the possibility of no rate increase this fiscal year, and addressing issues in the new water treatment plant dominated the February board meeting and other recent CSD sessions.
Should CSD be in the Parks Committee?
The board debated the CSD’s role on the Parks Committee for an hour and a half at its February meeting. In the end, the board voted 3-2 to begin the process of repealing a community park fee it doesn’t collect. A motion to withdraw from the committee altogether failed.
CSD legal counsel Dick Shanahan began the discussion by saying over the past year he has been trying “to clarify the district’s role in the parks issues here in Rancho Murieta. What’s evolved over the decades here is parks funding and development and operation and maintenance is primarily a private function. ... The district’s role in parks is therefore very limited.”
The CSD, the only public agency on the five-member Parks Committee, has one representative. The Rancho Murieta Association has two seats, and development representatives hold the other two.
The Parks Committee oversees park projects and the parks fund, which consists of per-lot contributions from developers and smaller, matching RMA contributions. These funds are part of a program to develop parks that RMA entered into with the owners of undeveloped land on the North and South in 1990 and 1991. The CSD is a signatory to the parks development agreements but has no funding obligation.
Shanahan said RMA has been collecting the fees, and CSD’s community park fee “only exists essentially as a backstop to insure enforcement and collection of the private fee by RMA under its various contracts with landowners and developers.”
He advised the board to “Either get rid of that fee or get it in such a place that it’s solid, it’s defensible, when you send that bill you know you can collect it.” His recommendation was to limit participation by CSD on the Parks Committee to an advisory role, and leave the money side to RMA.
When he came to the podium to speak about the fee, developer representative John Sullivan identified himself as representing Rancho Murieta Properties, Rancho North Properties, the Retreats and Cosumnes River Land.
“We’re not in favor of you repealing the ordinance,” he told the board. “I know it’s $3 million over the course of the next decade that we would be paying or building in-lieu of paying and I think the enforcement mechanism although unused is important to have. ... I really think this multiple homeowners associations and friction with RMA and these park issues can be overcome, but it’s going to be a lot of people dropping their ego at the door to make it happen. And right now I just think it’s a big Us versus Them, a conflict with North versus South, RMA versus Rancho North, one side of the highway versus the other side of the highway, the commercial property versus the residential property. It’s just very unhealthy. ... We have no trouble with the district setting up a trust fund and paying those fees into the district and then having them paid over to RMA or agreeing how the in-lieu construction is done.”
Unpaid parks fees were a topic at the January Parks Committee meeting, since about $70,000 in neighborhood and community park fees owed for the developers' 22-lot Retreat project hadn’t been paid. They were due when the final map recorded in August under the terms of the Mutual Benefit Agreement.
Sullivan, a member of the Parks Committee, said the invoices had been billed to the wrong corporate entity. He disagreed with an RMA proposal to apply the neighborhood park fees to the long-delayed development of the 2.5-acre Greens Park on the South instead of using them on the North, and then suggested the five-acre detention basin in the Murieta Gardens project as “a potential passive-rec/active-rec project." He noted the Parks Agreement allows for in-lieu funding of parks, meaning using the detention basin for a rec field could be a substitute for cash payment of parks fees.
He added, "Well, understand that everything south of (Jackson Road) in the commercial area is not in any parks agreement. But with 78 lots designed over there, and a one-acre park ... going in as part of the hotel, we’re going to end up with kiddie play structures in there. The 78 houses will have access to that. I think the 78 houses would like to pay their ongoing monthly park maintenance fees and have reciprocal privileges in the community.”
At the CSD meeting, Sullivan returned to access issues, saying, “We’ve tried to have a conversation with RMA regarding equitable treatment of all the lands so that all these parks and all the trails can be shared amongst all the property owners whether they’re inside the gates or out. There is an easement granted to everybody who lives in Rancho Murieta to go inside the gates and use the park facilities but theoretically they’re supposed to pay a fee. That’s supposed to be a contribution agreement.” He said the 1997 Letter Agreement offered “a method un-annexable property would pay for lakes, parks and recreational facilities in the properties on the North and an administrative fee to go with that.”
The 1997 Letter Agreement, a tentative settlement of a lawsuit, was superseded by the Mutual Benefit Agreement as the final settlement.
President Jerry Pasek said, “My view is that RMA should be stepping up to the process that says yes, indeed, community park or neighborhood park within the bounds of Rancho Murieta will be handled by RMA and they will collect the fees associated there with it. And then we can get out of the picture.”
Pasek and Mike Martel voted against repealing the community park fee. It passed with the votes of Mark Pecotich, Betty Ferraro and Morrison Graf.
Pecotich, the CSD representative on the Parks Committee, displayed versions of Exhibit E, the pedestrian and trail system map of the Parks Master Plan, adopted in 1991.
“To the credit of the developer, he’s continuously adjusting the model,” Pecotich said. “I view Exhibit E as, well, let me just put it out there, the primary amenity in this community. I think it’s statistically proven that it’s more important than a community center and more important than a golf course. And I have data to support it.” He said the trails are to be built by the developer and maintained by RMA.
Sullivan and the RMA board wrangled over the trails plan at the RMA's February meeting.
Prior to being named to the CSD board, Pecotich was a founder of the Murieta Trail Stewardship, which has worked to get agreement from landowners and local authorities for an extensive trails network created by community volunteers, most of the trails on land owned by the current developers. He also headed a group of volunteers who built the Riverview Park bicycle pump track in 2013.
Pecotich said he wants the board’s opinion and position on trails, also on North developer fees only going to North parks, adding that, as a South resident, “Personally, I’m of the opinion that I’ve been paying into Stonehouse (Park) for ages. So my park money has gone to the North mostly forever.”
Pecotich said he viewed CSD as the swing vote on the Parks Committee.
Pasek said the main problem on the Parks Committee in the past was 2 to 1 voting majorities by RMA, and the developers were disinterested and never there. “Now you have a different situation this time -- 3 to 2.”
Martel said, “I believe personally that the Parks Committee has been managed and operated not according to the rules ... I think we should get out of the Parks totally. ... RMA and all the developers or whatever should figure this thing out.”
Following the vote on collecting the parks fee, Martel said he wanted to take a consensus vote of the board “that we get out of the parks committee altogether.” Without a second, the motion died.
GM raise, bonus for no-increase budget
President Jerry Pasek announced that the board voted unanimously to amend General Manager Darlene Gillum’s contract at its last closed session after concluding that Gillum “is doing an excellent job.”
The contract amendment provides a 3.5 percent pay raise retroactive to Jan. 1 and payment of a $5,000 bonus if the 2016-17 budget Gillum prepares and recommends doesn’t increase the average monthly bill for residential customers and is adopted by the board.
Pasek said he, Director Mike Martel and the other directors had been looking forward to a budget that doesn’t raise rates “so we gave her an incentive to see if she can achieve that.” Martel termed the monetary incentive “an investment.”
Pasek said the average monthly residential bill for CSD water, sewer, drainage, security and trash collection services totals $173.15.
Director Mark Pecotich said having no increase was “a wonderful goal,” but he wanted to be vigilant about addressing aging infrastructure and reserving for the new water treatment plant and did not want to let things go “for the sake of not increasing rates.” Pasek responded, “It’s not the case where there’s zero funding going into reserves even if we had no increase.” “You’re going to sell a lot more water with no additional expenses coming up very, very soon,” Martel said, because of “the hotel and that kind of stuff there, there’s going to be a cash flow coming in.”
Martel said the CSD had $10 million in reserves before starting construction of the water treatment plant. At the end of January, the district’s reserves totaled $4,944,331, according to a memo in the meeting packet from Controller Eric Thompson. Residents pay a flat $6 a month charge to repay the CSD’s $4.3 million share of the $12.8 million plant.
Martel asked Pecotich if, in a no-growth situation, he would consider raising salaries “on the backs of the residents because we’ve done that for a few years now where we’ve given everybody a little raise, and we’ve done some other stuff for health care and other stuff.”
“Employees are your resource,” replied Pecotich. “There’s a cost-of-living increase that I think goes along with inflation that’s baseline....” Martel said he was concerned about the residents’ cost of living. “I’ve been here 30 years and I haven’t seen many employees leave the RMA, the Country Club or the CSD,” he said.
After Pasek noted the discussion was getting off-track, Director Betty Ferraro made a motion to approve the amendment to the general manager’s contract and the five directors voted in favor of the raise and bonus option.
The following week, when Gillum presented preliminary budget assumptions and cost impacts at a workshop for the board, the no-increase budget goal seemed within reach.
The department-by-department budget overview covered revenue, operations and net loss or income. Revenue losses due to conservation were offset by additional revenue and savings elsewhere in the initial budget review, which included pay-for-performance wage increases of 1 to 3 percent for non-represented employees. The installation of solar power was expected to offset added energy costs for the new water treatment plant, while the new hotel will add about $12,000 to the security budget due to the higher security tax rate for developed property.
New costs included $14,500 to fund an organizational study of the security department by a consultant and $13,170 for dam liability coverage.
2015 Security review
Security Chief Greg Remson presented a slideshow presentation of 2015 security operations that began with a picture of the new North Gate, “which is still working out very well.”
The mission of the department is “to protect life and property and to also provide prompt, courteous and professional service to the public within the Rancho Murieta Community Services District,” Remson said.
The department staffs the North and South gates and patrols the community.
The 24-hour gate operation has eight full-time officers, one part-time and one temporary officer. Their duties include enforcing Rancho Murieta Association gate policy, checking in visitors, dispatching patrol officers, answering telephones, issuing barcodes, assisting walk-in customers and communicating with local law enforcement and fire personnel. “They do a lot more than some people think that they do,” Remson commented.
Five patrol officers and one patrol sergeant provide overlapping patrol coverage to carry out their primary responsibility “to proactively deter crime and rule violations, and to respond to calls for service.”
“We continue to use the off-duty sheriff’s deputies, primarily for holidays and special events,” Remson said. “The VIPS community patrol is still working. We’ve got only one primary VIP left, but she’s there a couple of days a week.” Volunteers In Partnership with the Sheriff are trained citizen volunteers who assist the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department by serving in clerical, technical and community service positions.
“Patrol officers completed their state-required training and we continue the in-house training with both the gate and patrol officers, and then we work with RMA Compliance on speeding and stop sign and parking (violations),” Remson told the board.
Among the goals for 2016, Remson listed the use of technology, “including surveillance cameras, to monitor the public areas of the community for crime and rule violations.” The department is also working on updating resident information in the security computer program.
The security presentation has information about the kinds of calls and the amount of patrol time spent in different areas. The presentation is available here.
2015 Field Operations report
Paul Siebensohn, director of field operations, subtitled his annual report “Liquid Assets Review: From Source to Course” because the CSD diverts water from the Cosumnes River, stores, treats and distributes it. Wastewater is collected by the sewer system, treated and then discharged on the Country Club's courses.
The CSD began filling the reservoirs on Dec. 13. “We’ll probably be taking about the same amount as last year, about 2,000 acre-feet,” Siebensohn said. River flows were well above the threshold for pumping, he noted. “As of today, we’re at 96 percent full to our spillways, so we’re doing very well. We’re way ahead of the game.” Pumping from the river takes place annually from Nov. 1 through May 31. Amounts and pump times depend on river flow.
The production of treated water depends on user demand and the weather, Siebensohn said. For 2015, the district exceeded its 25 percent water conservation target, achieving a rate of 28.72 percent compared to consumption in the base year of 2013.
A graph of water consumption from 2008 through 2015 shows a decline in usage through 2011, then an upward trend through 2013. An inset lists month-by-month daily per capita consumption for Rancho Murieta and neighboring water districts.
On the distribution and maintenance side, Siebensohn said 63 water leaks were repaired last year and 152 water meters were replaced. He said a lot of the water leaks are occurring on supply lines that have developed cracks. “The majority of our water leaks are on Units 3 and 4 on the North,” he said. He characterized the number of meters that were replaced in 2015 as “very high.”
Siebensohn said 402.2 acre-feet of wastewater flowed into the treatment facility and 329 acre-feet of reclaimed wastewater was supplied to the Country Club for irrigation in 2015.
The presentation is available here.
Water treatment plant update
The new, $12 million water treatment plant recently began a 30-day test period and has experienced “growing pains,” Paul Siebensohn, director of field operations, reported. “A lot of the logic that lies behind the systems that basically allow the plant to somewhat think for itself – it’s not thinking well for itself and needs a lot of control and input. ... We’re producing water for the system to facilitate this acceptance test, and we have to make sure that it is functioning and producing the water to meet the demands of the community,” he said.
Plant 2 was kept in stand-by mode in case there were issues with Plant 1, “and we have been running into issues with Plant 1,” Siebensohn said. The problems are being tracked and brought to the plant’s contractors for resolution. One of the complications is the plant is “an odd design” since it was built in the footprint of the original plant, he said.
When directors began asking about warranties for the plant and Director Mike Martel speculated that the problems meant it was “a lemon,” General Manager Darlene Gillum stepped in. “It’s not that the membrane treatment process is not working correctly,” she told the board. “Right now, it’s getting the SCADA system and getting the automated processes working without so much manual intervention.”
SCADA is an acronym for Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition, which means an automation control system
In other business...
The two-day a week watering schedule remains in effect since the drought has continued and state mandates have been reaffirmed. As a non-urban water agency, Rancho Murieta is required to meet a 25 percent overall reduction in water use compared to 2013 or limit irrigation to two days a week.
The board approved the selection of Director Betty Ferraro and Director of Field Operations Paul Siebensohn as representatives on the Rancho Murieta Association’s midge fly ad hoc committee.
After a six-month trial, the board unanimously approved a return to committee meetings instead of holding a second full board meeting each month. The meetings of the Security, Improvements, Finance, Personnel, and Communication committees are typically scheduled to run half-an-hour to an hour, and are open to the public.
Monthly sewer maintenance activity included hydro-cleaning over 21,000 feet of sewer line and performing camera inspections of 300 feet. Daily flows to the wastewater treatment plant averaged 146 gallons per sewer connection in January.
Daily per capita water usage was at 77 gallons for January, and water production was down 2.62 percent compared to January 2013.
The CSD is planning a ribbon-cutting event for its new, $12 million, high-tech water treatment plant April 28.