Groveland Community Services District has “ongoing odor issues” around its sewage pump stations due to a lack of resources for regular maintenance and flushing, according to one of the findings from the Tuolumne County Civil Grand Jury’s latest report.
The jury released the 17-page document on the county’s website late last week that details its third investigation of the district in the past three consecutive years. It is releasing reports on agencies it investigated by sections this year as opposed to all at one time.
In addition to smelly sewer-system infrastructure, the jury reported that the district is financially stressed and won’t be able to sustain its fire and park services. Also, the agency hired consultants last year for work that was part of the general manager’s responsibilities and has a history of confrontational and intimidating interactions with ratepayers.
Pete Kampa, general manager of GCSD, and Janice Kwiatkowski, president of the district’s Board of Directors, worked together to draft legally required responses to the jury’s findings that will be reviewed at a public meeting Tuesday morning.
Kampa refuted some of the jury’s findings in an interview with The Union Democrat on Monday, though he acknowledged that the district is financially stressed.
“The statement we don’t have enough people to keep odors under control is not a correct statement,” he said. “Preventative maintenance is happening at industry standard in the wastewater collection system.”
The district provides water to about 3,500 rate payers, sewer to about 1,500, contracts with Cal Fire to staff its fire station, and maintains Mary Laveroni Park off Highway 120 in downtown Groveland.
In the report, the jury cited the district’s 2018-19 budget that stated there’s not enough manpower “to perform standard maintenance” because GCSD staff was “always responding to crisis.”
There are five field workers and no supervisor between both the water and wastewater systems, with one of them constantly tied up reading meters.
A staffing shortage was also discussed in the previous grand jury’s report, to which GCSD responded that the jury “is simply not qualified to understand the intricacies of the operation and maintenance of a water and wastewater system.”
Kampa said the district wouldn’t be able to put enough people on the streets to regularly clean its 15 lift stations that pump sewage to its wastewater treatment plant off Ferretti Road, in part due to the design of the system itself.
Ideally, the plant would be located where more of the system could be fed by gravity as opposed to pumps, according to Kampa. The district is working to update its master plan that was last updated in 2001.
“One of the things we’re going to have the engineering firm evaluate is if there are options that are cost effective to deal with any operational issues related to the lift stations and treatment plant,” Kampa said.
The jury also investigated concerns from citizens regarding Kampa’s work outside the district and use of subconsultants while working as a contractor.
Kampa previously served as part-time general manager under a contract that paid him $110 an hour not exceed $115,000 every six months. However, the board hired him as a full-time permanent employee in May with an annual base salary of $150,000, plus health and retirement benefits.
While working as a contractor, the jury reported that Kampa used subconsultants that were paid out of GCSD’s budget for human resources and public relations work that were part of his duties.
The jury cited Kampa’s former contract that stated any subconsultants performing work that overlaps with his own duties should be paid for out of his own pocket. According to the report, the overlapping work performed by the two subconsultants amounted to nearly $37,000 total.
In the proposed responses to the jury, the district stated it agrees with the finding that consultants were used for such work, but that there was nothing illegal or wrong about it.
“The responsibilities of the general manager are everything related to the district, from the services to the finances to handling personnel matters and everything else,” Kampa said in the interview on Monday. It is normal and customary to have either staff who fulfills many of those requirements.”
The jury also looked into concerns about Kampa’s work outside of the district, which previously included contracts as a part-time manager for four other small utilities and community services districts.
Kampa said he has resigned from all other districts since being hired by GCSD full time except for Saddle Creek Community Services District, which he said doesn’t take up much of his time due to it remaining largely undeveloped.
However, the jury did commend the district on a number things it’s accomplished over the past year — which included training staff, converting paper documents into electronic files and repairing flood damage to Mary Laveroni Park.
There’s a small and vocal group of residents in the district who attend board meetings and steadfastly scrutinize the management, which the jury stated can become counterproductive and exacerbate a “caustic atmosphere” when its only focused on being critical.
A history of acrimony between the district and vocal members of the community has also led to confrontational and intimidating interactions with ratepayers, including one in which a GCSD representative admitted to getting into an altercation with a ratepayer on district property.
One of the jury’s recommendations was to develop a clear reporting structure for handling complaints to help improve public trust.
The district’s draft response to the recommendation stated that it isn’t necessary to make any changes to the current process for complaints from the public, which are handled through the general manager and at public board meetings.
Contact Alex MacLean at email@example.com or (209) 588-4530.