By Meg Olson
Following a flip-flop by commissioner Bill Meursing about building a central shop and office for the water district on Benson Road, district manager Dan Bourks said he will consider retiring, and Meursing is looking at resigning.
Meursing announced at regular board meeting on April 14 that he wanted to see a thorough cleanup and inventory of existing facilities before the district moved forward with the project. He has long supported the inclusion of the new shop in the district’s capital improvement plan and the conditional use permit in place for the project so his comments came out of the blue for the manager and fellow commissioners.
“I feel irresponsible committing a large amount of money until we determine how much space we really need,” he said.
“We did that,” responded fellow commissioner Scott Hackleman. “That’s why it’s in the district’s comprehensive plan. Were you irresponsible when you approved it eight years ago?”
“Maybe I was more on autopilot,” Meursing replied.
Commissioners approved the current comprehensive plan in 2007 and the state did so in 2008, but the proposed facility was also included in previous plans.
“The issues and priorities that made it logical at that time still exist today,” Hackleman said. The district pays rent for its office and stores equipment and materials in several locations on the Point. “Part of the idea behind the building is to make things more efficient,” Hackleman said.
Commissioners approved an agreement with the fire district in 2014 to connect with their new drain field, and the septic system for the new facility has been installed. The district applied for the conditional use permit in 2013 which was approved by the county hearing examiner in 2014. Bourks said the district currently had approximately $20,000 invested in the project.
Meursing first appeared to be souring on the project at the district’s February 10 meeting, when an initial quote for engineering, design and project management costs came in at $179,000, over a third of the project’s estimated total budget. “Anything over $50,000 is out of the question,” Meursing said. “It’s insulting.”
Bourks has since met with another engineering firm to try to get the cost down.
Hackleman pointed out that ratepayers have already been paying for the new facility through the connection fees, which fund the capital improvement plan approved by commissioners. “That’s been part of our fee structure for over a decade,” he said. “What do we do, start refunding?’
“We could invest in our existing infrastructure,” Meursing said.
“That’s already included in our fee structure,” Hackleman said. “You can’t collect money for one purpose and then spend it on something else. When you sign something that’s good for 10 years, it’s good for 10 years. A contract is a contract.”
“I don’t give a hoot if we signed that comp plan eight years ago,” Meursing said. “Things have changed. I can’t change my mind?”
Bourks, who had remained silent during the discussion, said he was now qualified to draw a pension and would get back to commissioners in 30 days about the possibility of retiring now. “It’s tough working like this,” he said. “I’m tired of this.”
“I don’t understand where you’re coming from,” he told Meursing, and the meeting was hastily adjourned.
[Edited: April 24, 4:10 p.m.]
Hackleman said he received a call from Meursing after the meeting and spoke with him the next day. He said Meursing shared his own frustration and said he planned to resign and focus his energies on his role as a fire district commissioner. This conversation between a quorum of commissioners outside of a public meeting and addressing water district business is a violation of the state Open Public Meetings Act.
Meursing would not confirm his plan to resign. “If and when I do,” he said, ”that’s between me and the board.” Under the Open Public Meetings Act that resignation would need to occur in public session.