Candidates weigh in on possible water system purchase |

Candidates weigh in on possible water system purchase

Adam Jensen
Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune / South Tahoe Public Utility District board of directors candidates, from left, Julie Threewit, Ernie Claudio, John Runnels, Mary Lou Mossbacher, Dale Rise and Duane Wallace meet for a public forum on Wednesday night.

How to manage a possible purchase of Lukins Brothers Water Company was one of the many questions posed to six candidates vying for three seats on the South Tahoe Public Utility District Board of Directors at a Wednesday forum.

Dan Lukins, owner of Lukins Brothers Water Company, which serves more than 900 customers on the northwest side of South Lake Tahoe, has approached the district about a potential purchase, according to Dennis Cocking, spokesman for the utility district.

Purchasing the water company and getting its antiquated systems up to desired standards could cost between $24 million and $26 million, Cocking said during a phone interview on Thursday.

Greater firefighting capability and increased reliability for customers in the Lukins coverage area could result from a sale to South Tahoe Public Utility District, but without a variety of new funding sources, Cocking seemed doubtful a purchase was even plausible.

How candidates feel about purchasing the water company, and how they might fund such a purchase, attracted an assortment of responses from the candidates on Wednesday night.

Buying the water company should be considered, but if a vote was held today, Seat One candidate Julie Threewit would vote “no,” the business woman said on Wednesday. She cited the liability associated with buying the company as her reasoning.

Contacting the public utility district’s customers for input while looking for financial assistance would be the way to approach a purchase of Lukins, according to Threewit’s Seat One opponent, Ernie Claudio.

“There’s no doubt that Lukins is a money pit,” said Seat Three candidate and local business owner, John Runnels. “In the long run we’re going to have to pick it up, but we have to make it the best deal for the district.”

Runnels was the first of the candidates to mention placing greater financial responsibility for the purchase of the company on current Lukins users, rather than the public utility district as a whole.

That concept was mentioned by two other candidates.

Seat Three incumbent, Mary Lou Mosbacher, agreed in part with Runnels, saying Lukins customers have enjoyed lower rates than South Tahoe Public Utility District customers, and the bulk of the district should not be burdened by the rate increases that could accompany a purchase of Lukins.

She said she would take a look at a potential purchase and come up with the fairest deal for the community.

The theme of placing more of the financial burden of purchasing the company on Lukins customers continued with Seat Four candidate Dale Rise, who said a purchase of the water company could potentially be funded through grants, as well as getting current Lukins customers to pick up some of the balance.

Rise’s Seat Four opponent, incumbent Duane Wallace, said a purchase of the company would only be appropriate under specific conditions.

“Unless there’s a redevelopment district with the city, which is a possibility, I don’t see that happening,” Wallace said.

Elections for the South Tahoe Public Utility District Board, as well as the Lake Tahoe Unified School District Board and the Lake Tahoe Community College Board of Trustees will be held on Nov. 6.

The public utility district’s second and fifth seats are not up for election until November 2009.

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