Incumbents Rick Harrington, Lois Henry and Bill Smallman are running as a ticket to retain their seats on the board. Three newcomers to the board, Gail Jones, Duane Davis and Cheryl Trapp, are running separately, but all three generally oppose the idea of a merger.
The board of directors has the ability to send a merger proposal to a vote of district ratepayers. Voters would decide if a bond or other funding mechanism should be passed to allow unification with San Lorenzo Valley.
As of this week, the district had not quite $100,000 in its coffers, after being nearly underwater two years ago.
Harrington, a Lompico resident since 1981, said he was postponing a retirement plan to move to Oregon to finish the task of providing a reliable, plentiful, safe and reasonably priced water supply to Lompico.
After serving on the board from 1986 to 1994, Harrington was appointed in April 2010 following Jane Wycoff’s resignation.
He said the district has been making small fixes, such as replacing lateral pipes and repairing the Lewis Water Treatment plant. But it would be impossible, he said, to hire a district manager at a cost of $80,000 to $100,000 per year and also replace failing water tanks without raising already high rates paid by residents of the canyon.
He hopes to move toward a merger with San Lorenzo Valley Water District to meet his top priority: “an adequate water supply for Lompico, even in times of draught.”
In the meantime, Harrington said district leaders were crafting a general plan that is not based on a merger to lay out what the district can do to remain solvent and functional into the future. Still, he sees a merger as the most fitting prospect for the district.
“I am committed to bringing that vote to the community,” he said.
Henry, vying for her second term, said her priority was to make sure the district has safe water.
She has been responsible for much of the legwork of sorting the district’s finances since the board fired the district manager two years ago, and she said she learned much during her time.
“This has been such a big learning experience for me,” Henry said. “I had no idea what goes into being a board member for a water district.”
Her focus now, however, is to move the merger proposal to a stage where canyon voters can decide if the merger makes sense for them.
“The board can stop a merger from happening, but the board can’t make a merger happen,” she said.
Henry said the district has enough money for some smaller projects, but not enough to buy a new water tank or replace all of the faulty lateral lines. She said merging with SLV would allow for quicker repairs, because staff members are available all the time.
Smallman, a 20 year Lompico resident who was elected to the board in 2008, ran for Santa Cruz County supervisor in June but decided to return to the Lompico board to continue to make infrastructure repairs while researching the merger idea.
He said he reached the conclusion that the district needs to merge to make the large repairs it needs and maintain a safe and clean water supply.
“I don’t see the money there to keep this stuff up, even with the high rates we pay,” Smallman said.
A Lompico resident of nearly 15 years, Davis, a systems engineer, previously served as president of the Lompico Community Center for six years.
“People know I am thoughtful on my decisions,” he said.
Davis said had never had a problem with water quality at his home and was pleased with the board’s success in turning the district around financially. However, he does not believe district residents should spend several million dollars for a bond to pay for a merger.
“The district is in the recovery process,” he said. “I’m just saying, let’s give it a little more time
Instead, he said he would like to hire a district manager and increase the storage capacity in the district by purchasing a larger tank to replace the failing Lewis II. He said the district would not have to raise water rates to complete those fixes, but rather be smarter with its money.
Davis said he would promote a Lompico Water employee to district manager and hire another part-time maintenance worker to make sure the staff did not accrue high overtime costs.
If taking those steps failed to get the district running strongly, Davis said he would change his mind about the merger.
“I don’t have anything against a merger, if it’s needed,” he said. “I would like to see if we can survive without a merger. I think we can.”
The executive secretary for the county health director, Jones has lived in Lompico for 12 years and served on the Lompico Community Center Board for four years.
She got involved with the water district when she began to hear about the possibility of a merger with SLV.
“I don’t think our only survival is a merge with SLV,” Jones said. “I think Lompico deserves a chance to fix ourselves.”
Jones said she was not unshakably opposed to the merger, but she thought, like Davis, that the district should start by hiring a district manager and making the needed repairs to maintain the water system without merging with SLV.
She believes Lompico will not need to raise rates any time soon, after passing a rate increase in January that produces an added $80,000 in revenue per year.
Trapp, a real estate field inspector who has lived in Lompico for 12 years, has attended district board meetings during the past several years and hopes to be part of the solution in Lompico.
She said a district manager, not the board, should be running the district, and she opposes a merger with SLV that would place a heavy expense on Lompico residents.
“I don’s see the reasoning to give the water company away and pay an exceptional amount to do it,” Trapp said.
She said she believed the district could complete its “to-do list” without the burden of a 30-year bond that would likely be proposed to pay for the merger with SLV.
She said she would look for solutions aside from raising water rates if possible.
At a glance
A debate moderated by the League of Women Voters will be held at Zayante Fire Department, 7700 E. Zayante Road, from 7 to 9 p.m. Oct. 24.
Factual errors in this story have been corrected.