Four people are vying for three open seats on the Crescenta Valley Water District board, the body that makes decisions about water rates for residents in the Los Angeles County region of La Crescenta as well as some Glendale and La Cañada Flintridge residents, in Tuesday's election.
Three of the candidates for the four-year-terms are incumbents James Bodnar, Kerry Erickson and Kenneth Putnam. There is one challenger — Charles Beatty, who ran unsuccessfully in 2011.
FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of this story stated Ken Putnam is a former civil engineer. In fact, he is currently employed as a civil engineer.
The Crescenta Valley Water District has implemented several significant water and sewer rate increases recently because of higher wastewater treatment costs charged by the Los Angeles Sanitation Department, and because of a plan to pay for improvements to the utility's aging infrastructure with cash, rather than incur debt.
The incumbents all favor the pay-as-you-go approach rather than taking on debt, while Beatty said he's pro-bonds.
“I do not like pay-as-you-go,” Beatty said, adding that he would like to see the district explore purchasing solar panels with bonds to reduce the long-term energy costs of producing water.
Erickson, who was elected in 2009 and worked for 44 years in various positions at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said the utility is already paying off a $10-million bond that will cost the district about $18 million by 2037, the end of the bond's term.
“If we issue another bond on top of that, all we're doing is paying off bonds and not getting anything going forward,” said Erickson, who voted against the most recent 6.9% water rate increase. He was in favor of a smaller increase.
Erickson said his main plan is to try to reduce operating expenses by trimming back employee benefits or freezing open positions.
Beatty said he opposes rate increases outright and would prefer the utility focus on cost savings or new revenue streams rather than upping rates.
However, Bodnar, who has served as the board's finance committee chairman and is board president, said he would be skeptical of any candidate who opposes rate hikes. He has voted for rate increases in the past, calling the hikes necessary to keep the district operating properly.
“If water district costs increase, water rates will increase,” said Bodnar, who is a senior water resource engineer with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. “I pay the same water rates as every customer. I want my rates as low as possible. But I won't sacrifice employee safety or customer reliability to save money.”
The district is using some of the revenue from the rate increases to repair pumps that are not efficiently collecting groundwater. The more groundwater the district collects, the less reliant it is on expensive imported water.
One of Bodnar's priorities is to review the water rate structure.
“In my opinion, customers that use less indoor water should not pay the same as a customer that uses a lot of indoor water,” he said.
Putnam, who also voted for rate increases to repair the utility's infrastructure and respond to increasing costs, said one of his priorities will be to get the district pumping as much of its own water as it can to save money.
Putnam, who is a civil engineer, and Bodnar both supported a new district program to replace old water meters that were malfunctioning and underbilling some customers.
“It wasn't fair to the other customers whose meters weren't as old,” said Putnam, who was elected in 2011 for a two-year term since he spent his first nearly two years on the board as an appointee replacing a board member who left the position early.
Both Beatty and Bodnar said they want to increase the district's collaboration with Glendale's utility, which is currently righting itself after falling into the red and increasing water rates last year.
Beatty served a two-year term on the utility board in 2007 after being appointed under similar circumstances as Putnam's, but he lost in an election bid in 2009. He currently serves on the Crescenta Valley Town Council, an advisory body for Los Angeles County.