Issues – Positions – Thoughts

I would like to provide some answers to questions, information and insight on leadership for the Clark Regional Wastewater District.  Please feel welcome to send me your input, either by email or phone, at westsnwest@comcast.net or 360.609.0749.

I see the CRWWD Board as having four major roles:

  1. Hire the General Manager and ensure the tools to do the job are provided.
  2. Set the vision and policies for the operation.
  3. Watch the expenditures like hawks, to ensure our tax dollars are spent efficiently and effectively.
  4. Be the connection to the community, encouraging the public to feel they have access to the process.

What role can the Board play in ensuring that development costs don’t have a negative impact on the rising cost of housing?

One of the strengths of Clark Regional Wastewater is their fiscal responsibility.  The CRW is not required by Washington State law to prepare a budget, but the District Board adopted financial policies many years ago that required preparation of an annual budget to use as a long range financial planning tool.  This budget takes up a significant amount of time and effort of the CRW staff and is presented to the Board multiple times over the course of each year to ensure feedback and transparency.  The budget, adopted annually, is developed as part of a larger six-year capital forecast budget that keeps CRW focused on the capital and operational needs that will require funding in the future.

These financial policies have served the district in good stead and helped make accurate projections for everything from Capital requirements, to staffing levels, salaries, service costs, treatments costs, and debt costs.   Almost 75% of operational costs are in Treatment costs or Salaries and benefits.

The CRW has a philosophy to be friendly to builders and developers. They recognize that higher development costs result in higher prices for homes and commercial buildings and that those costs are passed directly to the residents of Clark County.  There are several strategies CRW uses to help keep development costs at affordable levels.  Clearly, new infrastructure generates costs and a standard way to obtain revenues to cover those costs is by charging SDC’s.  CRW’s goal is to minimize the upfront SDC costs.

CRW policy is to pay 100% of the costs of all permanent pump stations and force mains.  In addition, the District pays a share of the larger gravity system elements which are the costs for lines that are larger/deeper than they would otherwise need to serve a development.  These are a significant portion of the infrastructure cost for adding capacity that do not get passed through to builders and developers!   They are covered through monthly sewer charges and amortized over a longer time.

The six-year capital budget I mentioned above is  a tool the CRW uses to be certain they are collecting enough revenues in sewer fees today to pay for those projects in the future. It also ensures development costs have as minimal an impact as possible on housing costs.

What is your plan to implement capital improvements and other necessary expenditures without drastic increases in monthly rates for existing ratepayers?

As mentioned above in question #1, the District operates under very solid financial policies.  They have been involved in long range planning for well over three decades.  One result was the Discovery Clean Water Alliance. This partnership between Clark County, Clark Regional, Battle Ground and Ridgefield was implemented in 2013.  Regarding capital and facility planning, CRW is currently updating its General Sewer Plan to address infrastructure needs and to support urban incorporation by Clark County and Ridgefield.   They do this in conjunction with the County as they update their comprehensive plan to remain in compliance with the Growth Management Act.  There are a lot of moving pieces to gather all the data required to create accurate planning forecasts.

More detailed sub-basin plans are developed to handle extending service to individual parcels.  CRW administers an Active Capital Program to maintain and expand the sewer collection system.  The capital program includes both restoration and replacement projects as well as developing infrastructure that adds capacity.  CRW has their own in-house team to help manage these projects, which keeps costs down.

CRW utilizes the County GIS program and its in-house Maintenance Management System data to identify sewer lines that are most likely to cause the greatest environmental harm, if failure were to occur.  This helps keep CRW capital costs minimized and rates lower.

As you can see much of the successful financial and planning framework for future expansion in North County is already in place.  I have been impressed with the work of General Manager, John Peterson, and his Finance Director, Ken Andrews, for the work they have done over the past ten years.  I believe it is their leadership that is primarily responsible for having put this framework in place.

As elected Commissioner of CRWWD, I would support the staff in continuing the excellent work they have been doing.  The six-year capital forecast will continue to be updated annually and rates set to provide the capital needed as we grow.  Our treatment plant in Salmon Creek has been a seventy-five-million-dollar investment over the past thirty years. It roughly processes 8 to 10 million gallons a day and has the capacity to process up to 15 million gallons.  Another capital piece that is in place to handle additional growth without having drastic rate increases for rate-payers.

With this positive report on the budget and financial process of CRWWD you may wonder why would I be running to replace Commissioner Kiggins?

To be honest, Commissioner Kiggins has been a diligent public servant.  He attends regularly (other than some health problems last year), is prepared, is supportive of the GM and staff and has been a team player.  So why make a change?

Considering the immense impact the CRWWD and their partnership with the Discovery Clean Water Alliance will have on the growth wave in North County over the next ten to twenty years, it surprises me that there is not a huge amount of interest. Especially from the building and economic development community, who already have a plateful of issues related to growth, permitting, and inefficient bureaucracy.  I think the challenges of the future require a standard of representation for the CRWWD to be at a much higher level than the past 18 years.  This goes back to #4 above, being the connection to the community.  As a general rule, this Board as a group has been weak on that.

The population of the District has almost doubled since Commissioner Kiggins took office in 2000.  Current voter registration is over 64,000, and the customer base is about 90,000.  The potential impact on the residential and business community, factoring in areas that could come on-line from unserved areas of the County, with the growth of Battle Ground and Ridgefield pushes that toward 200,000.  That is well over half the North County population!

The District has been very proactive on a range of operational issues that will be priorities over the next few years.  One is succession planning, regarding replacing retiring employees and the general challenges of attracting good talent that all business organizations need.  Who is working on succession planning for the Board?  In business, sports and politics, we often find drop-offs in performance if we wait too long to make a change than if we move in a timely manner.

As it is currently, three Commissioners are retired and the average age is 76.  The odds are high that we will see quite a bit of transition over the next couple election cycles, for a variety of potential reasons.  So, what would make the most sense?  Reelect the most junior member of the Board, who is the least engaged with the business community, who minimally carries the District’s message to the community for a fourth term that will expire 2024?  Or, we can elect a new Commissioner, one who is actively engaged daily with the building and development community, serves as incoming President of the SWCA, is a member of the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce Board, Identity Clark County, and the Battle Ground Chamber, and is a graduate of Leadership Clark County!  It’s often been said by many that we’d like more qualified business candidates to get into the mix, so let’s encourage that.

What an opportunity to have that new Commissioner be mentored by Commissioners Kimsey and Harker.  My personal experience is, these two are the more influential leaders of that Board.  Of course the future is unknown as to what Commissioner Kimsey may do in two more years or Commissioner Harker in four, but I believe the worst-case scenario is that over the next four years they transition off and we are left with Commissioner Kiggins as the most senior leader.   Worse yet would be the challenge of John Peterson leaving, and the Commission needing to do a hiring search.

Commissioner Kiggins has already stated he’d like to serve six more years, then turn it over to someone younger.  I’d like to give him that option this year.

I’d ask that you consider making the CRWWD race one that you will make an endorsement in and I ask for that endorsement.  If you would like, I would appreciate the opportunity to have a more detailed discussion with your committee on why I feel I’d be able to set that higher standard in representing the District over the next six years. Also, how I have invested the time to become familiar with the Districts operations and policies that will enable a smooth transition with a minimal learning curve.

Vote Jim West for Clark Regional Wastewater District Commissioner!

 

 

 

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