TAHOE CITY, Calif. — District finances and the future of recreational involvement on the North Shore were the main topics at the Tahoe City Public Utility District candidate forum this week.
Three seats on the board are open, with seat No. 5 being uncontested by incumbent Ron Treabess. Seat No. 3 features a race between Judy Friedman, a TCPUD board member the past four years and current board president, and the owner of the Paper Trail in Tahoe City; and Kevin Fenley, a business owner who deals in maintenance and repair of heavy equipment, and vice president of Ward Well Water Company.
The Seat No. 4 race is between Erik Henrikson, a TCPUD board member for 21 years and an excavation contractor; and Kay Williams, a business owner and the resort manager of Granlibakken Resort.
Henrikson, Fenley, Friedman and Williams answered various questions at Tahoe City Downtown Association-hosted candidate forum Monday evening in the PUD boardroom before about 20 people.
Three of the four candidates agreed the current state of the economy is biggest issue facing the district.
“We have had a declining population, so there's not as many people contributing to the fund of the PUD, and grant money has dried up,” Williams said. “So their fiscal responsibility has to be the first challenge for us.”
Fenley and Friedman gave similar responses, while Henrikson cited the acquisition of private water companies.
“The state is imposing more regulations, making it harder to comply,” he said. “I think that's a deterrent for some water companies and the other ones don't have anybody to pass their water system onto or anybody who wants to buy it. … So I think that's coming. It's going to face the PUD right away.”
As for how the district can reduce spending without cutting services, each of the four candidates had a different suggestion.
“There's actually a couple of ways to do that, and we're already being really proactive in doing that,” Friedman said. “One way of course is to build partnerships, find grants ... Right now, for example, with IT we're outsourcing our IT needs to a local company because it's been determined that we don't need a full-time staff for that. That's a big thing.
“Being responsive to the pension stuff that's going on. … Our employees are already paying a portion of their retirement. We're ahead of the curve in a lot of those ways.”
Besides pension plans, Henrikson said the operations of the district needs to be examined.
“I think we need to look at how we do business here and how we schedule inspections,” he said. “So we focus on consolidating our trips, we focus on things just so we're not running in circles.”
Fenley suggested focusing on the upkeep of equipment in order to extend their lifespans, allowing the district to save money by not having to purchase equipment as often.
Williams, however, said the focus should be on employment.
“Every person I come into contact here is a person who knows their job well, and they know what it takes to do the job well,” she said. “That allows them to have fewer employees per activity ... I feel that they are proactive in looking at salaries and wages and the kind of people they should have.”
Candidates were split on if the PUD should be involved in the “economic stability and revitalization of the Tahoe City commercial community.”
“I think the PUD should have a limited role in the revitalization of the economy,” Fenley said. “The PUD has its hands full with the water and sewer and the recreation we do. Personally, I don't think the PUD should try to become the city government.”
Henrikson agreed, saying the TCPUD role in revitalization should be through keeping rates down, thus giving businesses a better opportunity to survive.
“As for being all things for all people, unless there's a real demonstrated need — and I'm not sure what that would be — I don't think the PUD should be forcing their ways into things that aren't the PUD's business,” Henrikson said.
Friedman said the district should take a more active role in the revitalization of the economy.
“We're losing businesses, and we are a property owner in this town,” she said. “Not just the golf course, but also the community center in town, the Fairway Center. We serve a large constituency and absent (is) anyone else to actually be able to talk with Placer County with the degree of respect that this PUD is able to do. I think we have to play that role. (Yet) I agree with Erik that we don't have to be all things, to all people.”
It's that leadership role the PUD takes on behalf of the community that Williams said she supports.
“We need the leadership that they've taken on many, many, many cases … Because we don't have a city government, these are the things that fall to the people that are strong enough to do it,” she said.
A questioned posed by an audience member asked if candidates thought the PUD should be involved in parks and recreation and other benefit projects such as Commons Beach.
All four candidates answered the question with an affirmative.
The candidates were asked to name the top three things wrong with the TCPUD.
“I haven't really looked into it that way,” Fenley said.
Williams shared that sentiment.
However, those on the board currently — Friedman and Henrikson — did have a few suggestions on how the TCPUD could improve.
“One of the things I think (we could improve upon), and it's a double-edged sword, is that we as the PUD take on too many things,” Henrikson said. “It's hard to get everything done. We just don't say no very often, and I think we need to say no a little bit more sometimes.”
Friedman agreed, adding that the TCPUD also tends to be overtly responsive.
“We serve 7,000 people, and if one person emails us and says what about this, what about that, we'll drop to go and answer and research that questions because if it's important to one person, it's probably important to more than one,” she said.
As for how the candidates would decide upon matters brought forth to the board if elected, all emphasized they would listen and keep an open mind.
“The first thing would be to put aside my immediate thought or idea and listen and gather as much information as possible,” Fenley said. “The more input you can get, I think (it'll) help to make a much better educated decision.”