KINGS BEACH, Calif. - The district's current level of involvement in recreation and its infrastructure were the main topics at the North Tahoe Public Utility District candidate forum Monday evening.
Three seats on the five-member district board will be decided upon this November. Seat No. 1 features a race between Phil Thompson, a general building and general engineering contractor, and Ernie Dambach, owner of a technology business and current president of the North Tahoe Business Association.
The race for Seat No. 2 is between Tim Ferrell, a civil engineer who has served on the NTPUD board for four and a half years, and Teresa O'Dette, founder, president and mortgage consultant of O'Dette Mortgage Group and an exiting member of the North Tahoe Fire Protection District Board.
Seat No. 5 is between John Bergmann, owner of a graphic arts, print and bulk mail service who has served on the NTPUD for nearly 10 years, and Ramona Cruz, a certified public accountant who is the director of accounting and employee services for the Tahoe City Public Utility District.
O'Dette, who was out of town, was the lone candidate not present at Monday's forum at the North Tahoe Event Center.
Four of the five candidates agreed that recreation would be the one thing that they would improve and/or change about the PUD, with Bergmann saying otherwise.
"Where we need improvement is at our middle management and upper management levels in succession planning," Bergmann said. "I'd like to see more mentoring, and I'd like to see more employee training."
As far as how the candidates would improve recreation and how they would fund it, the candidates gave different responses.
"I would go back to the public and ask for the Mello Roos (California's Community Facilities District Act) to be increased," Ferrell said. "I think that's (been) a nice stable funding to serve our district for a long time. It's not enough. I'd actually go back to our constituents and I'd say, give us another $40, $60 a month per parcel per year."
Cruz said there are three places where she sees funding can come from: user fees, grants or taxes.
Both Dambach and Bergmann noted the promise in forming partnerships, with Bergmann focusing on partnerships with other agencies, while Dambach focused on private entities.
"I think we have a lot of opportunities to bring more private partnerships in, to bring events and sponsorship (in)," Dambach said. "We can possibly get grant funding, private donations to get the events started, and once those events are started, they become revenue generating and self-sustaining."
Thompson said more community involvement is needed in terms of telling the district what programs residents would like to see in the community, so the district can focus its efforts on them.
The candidates were asked how they would keep rates "reasonable," while updating the district's "aging" infrastructure.
"Determining water and sewer rates is a very thoughtful process ... it's thoughtful in that it takes a long time to do it," Cruz said. "You have to evaluate your operation along with your capital needs, and the voters also have to approve those rates ... I have to say I think 2010 was our last rate increase, and so it may be time to start looking at what the next five years of rates are going to be."
Both Bergmann and Thompson agreed the district should take advantage of the current economic times in updating the district's infrastructure.
"To aggressively use the capital improvement dollars that we have ... to build and rehab and initiate technological advances in the water and sewer departments as quickly as possible," Bergmann said. "Right now building and borrowing is cheap, relative to what it has been."
Dambach, however, said the district should maintain the status quo.
"I would say we are doing a very good job being fiscally prudent in terms of how we are replacing our infrastructure as we are moving forward ... and I would like to make sure that moves forward in that same manner," he said.
Ferrell agreed that being fiscally prudent is key.
"To make sure we spend every dime efficiently, and make sure we watch every nickel," he said. "That's what we do coming out of this district."
The candidates were also asked what their position is regarding possibly merging NTPUD and the Tahoe City PUD.
"First of all, it's a very hypothetical question in that there's not an answer for it," Thompson said. "If a study was done that said it's best for us (NTPUD), then I would be in favor of it. If it's not best for us, I wouldn't be interested."
Ferrell agreed with Thompson.
Cruz and Bergmann also agreed with each other, stating that both communities would have to be in favor of the merger.
Dambach emphasized the importance of the public being well-informed on the matter before any decision is made.
"We want to make sure that if something like that was going to move forward that it would be thoroughly investigated - the cost and benefits weighed - and most importantly communicated to the general public ... so the public can make a very well-informed decision," he said.
As for the most important role the NTPUD plays, all candidates agreed that it's operation of the district's water and sewer systems.