With contested races at the water and fire district, the All Point Bulletin asked candidates in these races to answer some questions clarifying their positions. Wayne Knowles and Arthur Reber are vying for the position on the Point Roberts Water District board temporarily being held by Ron Clark. Madeleine Anderson is running unopposed to retain her seat. At the fire district Judson Meraw is challenging incumbent Stan Riffle for his seat.
Questions for candidates to the water district:
Wayne, you are involved in one way or another with some of Point Roberts’ biggest water consumers. The Cottages at Seabright Farm, the Point Roberts Marina and the Point Roberts Golf Course. How would you address potential conflict of interest concerns when matters involving these entities come before the board?
Wayne Knowles: I was a consultant to the golf course a few years ago, but I’m no longer involved. I am an equity partner in Cottages at Seabright Farm and I am the VP of development for the marina. If a situation came up involving the marina or Seabright and my vote would unfairly give me an advantage, I would have no other choice but to declare a conflict of interest and not be allowed to vote.
Currently, the water district has a two-sizes-fit-all rate structure. There’s a rate for commercial/government users and a rate for residential users. Businesses and government users pay a substantially higher rate, which results in a “robbing Peter to pay Paul” situation where taxpayers pay higher taxes to the fire district, for example, so the fire district can pay higher rates to the water district. Would you support either a three-tiered rate structure that would offer a middle-tier rate for government and nonprofit entities, or else place the latter in the household rate classification.
Madeleine Anderson: We commissioners and our manager regularly review the rate structure. We have had many conversations about who and how much should be charged. It is my understanding that for the fire department in particular, quite a small portion of their actual budget is actually for water purchase. All things considered, we feel that our solution is fair.
Wayne Knowles: I think it is ridiculous that we pay over $700,000 a year to GVRD [Greater Vancouver Regional District] and use about a third of this amount. I definitely would support a revised rate structure that would result in the elimination of “robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
Arthur Reber: I’m not prepared to take a stand on this issue right now. Not having been on the Water Board previously I haven’t seen the full costs and/or benefits to all parties presented clearly.
In addition, when the value of the Canadian dollar rose to par and beyond the U.S. dollar (making our water bills for Canadian water higher), the board commissioned a rate study that resulted in increased water bills for residents. Now that the Canadian dollar has dropped far from that highpoint, would you support dropping the costs to consumers?
Madeleine Anderson: In our frequent conversations and reviewing of the rate structure and our increases from GVWD, we establish our own rates after much consideration. One item in particular that affects our decisions is the fact that our predecessors had not set aside adequate amounts of reserve for depreciation and replacement of our aging infrastructure. Therefore, we are obliged to make up for this. We always make sure that the rates are justifiable. The value of the Canadian dollar, as you are well aware, fluctuates. We have endeavored to keep our rates reasonable and base our decisions considering all the factors on the long term and in everyone’s best interests.
Arthur Reber: This is a complicated issue as the relative values of the two currencies shifts constantly. It might be possible to establish an exchange rate that would be used for specified periods (e.g., three-month period). If such a rolling procedure could be used it would be helpful.
Questions for candidates to the fire district:
The fire district has declined to take its allowed 1 percent increase in taxes since voters approved a substantial increase in the levy. Is it time to start taking that annual increase or are current tax revenues enough for the department to serve the community?
Judson Meraw: I suggest the district use an independent auditing firm (like FCS Group) to review the income and expenditures to assure the long-term viability of the fire district. FCS produces reports intended to make government responsive to community needs and show how to better spend the money.
The district should create a new local accounting report, publicizing all local money raised and spent locally (or not) and post this accounting in the All Point Bulletin monthly. A 17K roofing contract, a septic system installation, a bookkeeper, and more were all awarded to outside suppliers, contractors and staff without contacting all potential local resources. After all, it’s the community’s money.
With a refocused approach to open a discussion with community members, before making critical decisions that affect the long-term viability of the community.
I would factor what the community wants and what the report recommends with what the fire chief says, and then filter it through what I believe makes a community sustainable and a fire district effective, as well as what all the commissioners think, and then decide. Only then.
Stan Riffle: Indeed we haven’t taken the allowed annual 1 percent levy increases thus far. I cannot speak for my fellow commissioners but I feel given the current budget needs that we must start taking the increases in the future.
A number of important decisions have been made by fire commissioners (such as agreeing to a long-term contract with the fire chief without receiving legal counsel) and without allowing questions or input by the public. How would you ensure that the public has adequate opportunity to address the board and provide input before commissioners take action?
Judson Meraw: I would add a community input section at the beginning of each meeting, ushering in a new era of openness and involvement by the community, and hold special public meetings in the cases of new capital expenditures.
In addition, I would listen to what all the commissioners think, and filter their findings through what constitutes a locally responsible organization.
The district should add to the corporate mandate of the organization to include community benefits and organizational involvement in the greater community. This should include performance clauses, review thresholds and community members’ ideas and concerns. The fire district should also use legal council before making a decision.
Stan Riffle: The best way the public can be informed about upcoming fire department matters, decisions and the like is to review the video of the previous meeting, which is posted within days on our website (wcfd5.com). The public can also attend our meetings. We are posting the agenda for our upcoming meetings several days before the meetings occur on the meeting room door, rather than just the required 24 hours in advance.