The need to haul off tons of sewage sludge will force Murphys Sanitary District to draw on a “capital reserves” fund in the coming year to cover an estimated $225,000 in removal costs.
The district buried the sludge on site dating back to 2002 in violation of state law. Nitrate and coliform contamination was subsequently found in monitoring wells, posing a threat to nearby groundwater. The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, a state agency, sent the district a notice of violation earlier this year and warned the sludge must be removed before Oct. 15. Otherwise, the district could face hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.
During a special meeting Monday to discuss the budget that will take the district through June 2013, tentative figures showed a $132,370.58 shortfall in a $1,064,243.38 budget.
The district is expected to cover any shortfall with funds held in a “capital reserves” account that contains $388,373. However, former board president and district resident Beth Hartline questioned the district’s ability to utilize that fund, saying a 2009 rate increase from $40 a month to $60 expressly called on the added funds to be used for capital improvements to upgrade the system.
“The fund that it goes into should be identified,” General Manager Julio Guerra said, but district staffers were unsure whether that had properly been done.
Hartline requested that the district consult an accountant as to what is required.
Guerra said he is confident there will be no issue with funding the haul-away from reserves.
In addition to the increased revenue from the rate increase, he said the district has about $180,000 tucked away from a 2000 settlement with Weatherby Engineering for installation of an inadequate tertiary treatment system it can draw on.
The price tag for the sludge removal drew the ire of resident Mike Peccia who said he plans to show how it can be done for less, triggering a heated exchange with Guerra.
“It can be cheaper than $225,000,” Peccia said.
“Not by reputable operators,” Guerra countered.
“Yes, it can,” Peccia said.
Director Tim O’Flinn asked if Peccia had any companies in mind to do the work.
“I’ll get some,” Peccia said.
“It’s a little late now,” Guerra told Peccia.
“It puts us in the hole,” Peccia continued. “There’s other ways.”
“I beg of you to come forward with an engineering-approved proposal before Oct. 15,” Guerra said. “Can you take it directly to our engineer? Don’t waste our time.”
However, amidst the exchange, at least one board member could be heard to say they “would take a look at” whatever Peccia came up with.
Heated discussion and disorganized meetings have been frequent for the district as of late and Monday was no exception. The board swore in Fred Kett as the replacement for Cynthia Trade, who resigned from the board on April 9, and promptly split 2-2 in a vote on President Pat Davies’ motion to table election of officers to the July 9 meeting.
Davies and O’Flinn voted to table while Kett and Delma Harris voted to appoint officers immediately.
Director Ryan Van Cleave was absent due to an out-of-area medical appointment.
Harris then moved to appoint Kett as board president, unseating Davies, but her motion died for lack of a second, after Peccia protested from the audience that “this is not ethical. It’s not legal.”
Davies seemed taken aback by the motion and Harris insisted that the agenda item permitted replacement of sitting officers and not just the filling of a vacant vice president slot.
With her motion failing, O’Flinn nominated and Harris seconded Kett’s appointment as vice president, which passed 4-0.