The Tuolumne Utilities District Board of Directors approved a balanced operating budget Tuesday night, following months of delays.
The 2013-14 budget passed 3-2, after being held up for about two additional months while the district’s Finance Committee waited for exact calculations on total revenues from the 2012-13 fiscal year.
“It’s about as accurate as you can get on seeing how you ended up last year and how it plays out for next year,” said TUD General Manager Pete Kampa.
Board President Michael Sarno, who serves on the committee, said the reason for the wait was to see how close the district’s projections were to the actual revenues during the first year of a new water rate plan that was approved by a previous board in June 2012.
It turned out that 2012-13 revenues were actually less than anticipated because customers cut back on water use, Sarno said, in response to the monthly bill for an average single-family residential customer increasing about $2.76 a month under the new rate plan.
However, revenues over the past two months are up from where they were the previous year, according to TUD Finance Director Steve Sheffield.
The budget includes a conservative estimate of about $15.3 million in operating revenues this year for the Water and Sewer funds combined, compared to actual revenues of about $15.6 million last year.
Some other highlights of the current budget include:
• About $1.4 million for infrastructure improvements to the water system and about $1.2 million for sewer.
• A $250,000 transfer from water to sewer to pay back roughly $7 million in sewer reserves previously used for water expenses.
• $100,000 to establish a contingency reserve in the Water Fund for unforeseen infrastructure repair and maintenance as necessary during the fiscal year.
• A $550,000, or 17 percent, cut to the services and supplies budget, which was reduced $175,000 last year.
It marks the first time the current board has developed and passed an operating budget.
Four new directors were elected in November as a backlash against the board-approved rate increases and district employee compensation packages, seen as overgenerous.
Kampa said the 17-percent cut to services and supplies was achieved by reducing public outreach efforts, cutting back on copier and paper expenses and trimming some of the travel budget for board-member training and educational conferences.
“I can tell you we are absolutely at rock bottom,” Kampa said of the bare-bones budget.
District customer Barbara Farkas addressed the board to note that the budget also included no cost-of-living adjustment for TUD employees this year, which she said they agreed to forgo “in good faith” until 2014 in order to pass the rate plan last year.
The board voted to hold off on the 2.78 percent increase this year at a meeting in March.
Former Director Ron Ringen blasted the budget and the Finance Committee members who helped develop it for holding off on the replacement of two old maintenance trucks and projects to address decaying water tanks in the Columbia system.
“Wasn’t it you financial gurus that cancelled the small rate increase in a moronic publicity stunt earlier this year that could have helped pay to replace those tanks?” he asked the board.
Rotelli, the lone returning board member from 2012, and Ruanne Mikkelsen, who was appointed following the resignation of Jim Grinnell earlier this year, voted against the budget for different reasons.
Mikkelsen said the plan lacked a strategic vision for the future, and there was not enough collaboration between the board and Finance Committee throughout the process. Meanwhile, Rotelli, who voted against delaying the rate increase earlier this year, argued that the reductions were too severe.
“I don’t think they looked at it hard enough,” Rotelli said in a post-meeting interview. “You can’t just go bare-bones when you’ve got tanks collapsing all over the place.”
Also at the meeting, Kampa announced the “public advisory committee” reviewing the district’s connection-fees will adhere to Brown Act rules from now on, meaning the public will be able to attend the meetings and provide comments on topics discussed.
The first open public meeting of the so-called PAC was scheduled for 2 p.m. today.
Customers criticized the district at recent meetings for a lack of transparency in the process. The committee is comprised of various business, development and agricultural interests and will provide suggestions on possible changes to the fee structure.
Any proposed changes would have to be developed by TUD staff and presented to the full board for consideration.