Sanitation district should not yield to Ogren’s outrageous demands

June 30, 2015

Jim Hill 2OPINION By MAYOR JIM HILL

As a member of the South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District Board, I am committed to minimizing costs and fairness in billing practices for all District ratepayers. The member agencies, Grover Beach, Arroyo Grande and Oceano Community Services District (OCSD), have always collected sanitation district fees as part of their routine utility billing so ratepayers would not be inconvenienced by multiple bills for related services.

Water supply and sewer collection services are provided by each member agency, and wastewater processing is provided by the sanitation district. The portions of the payment for water supply and sewer collection are kept by the member agency and the portion of the bill for wastewater processing is collected by the member agency and passed through to the sanitation district.

To compensate for the cost of customer billing and passing the funds through to the sanitation district, each member agency back-charges and is paid by the sanitation District. State law says that an agency can only charge the reasonable cost of providing these services. Historically this charge has been approximately $2 per connection per year although there are no written agreements or policies setting or demonstrating the reasonableness of these charges.

Recently, OCSD arbitrarily increased the amount of their charge for billing services by over six times. The amount charged by OCSD is now approximately $13 per connection annually. The total amount charged by Oceano is more than that charged by Grover Beach although Grover Beach has double the number of connections. OCSD is charging double the total charged by Arroyo Grande, although Arroyo Grande has three times the number of connections.  The OCSD’s General Manager Paavo Ogren claims this increase is reasonable because it represents half of the cost of their utility billing in consideration of all the staff time required.

Unlike the water bill or sewer collection fee, the wastewater processing charge is not based on usage volume but is a fixed amount that requires no calculation on the part of the member agency staff. All residential customers pay the same fixed amount every two months. The payment the member agency makes to the sanitation district every two months is simply the fixed fee times the number of system connections the member agency has.

An impartial benchmark for reasonable billing service cost is available because the County of San Luis Obispo would add the sanitation cistrict charge to the property tax roll for $2 per connection per year- the same amount the member agencies have historically charged.

The sanitation district must not yield to outrageous demands for immediate agreement to unjustifiable charges from OCSD that are categorically unfair to ratepayers. A deliberate process to reach a fair, justified and documented agreement on member agency charges is needed.  The option of putting OCSD customer charges for wastewater processing on the property tax rolls is available if necessary to protect sanitation district ratepayers.

The sanitation district board will discuss Ogren’s demands on Wednesday, July 01, at 6 p.m. in the Arroyo Grande City Council Chambers


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Julie

The staff report for the billing item is up.


It’s clear “negotiations” have failed, or there would be a new deal/s on the table. Option 1 is to pay Paavo’s extortion rate. Option 2 set aside funds in a reserve account to develop agreements and enter into them at a future date…”it is unknown whether OCSD would support this option.” Option 3 is to investigate all legally possible billing options.


This staff report is wholly inadequate insofar as providing any real alternative, staff is suggesting they will develop alternatives in the future in “Phase 2”. It was my understanding staff was directed to seek options as far back as June 3 and there’s none presented. Giving OCSD the advantage.


Why the loyalty to OCSD? This should have been resolved with quotes presented and a succession plan ready to be implemented now.


Again, this laissez-faire approach is exactly why the criticism of staff is elevating. For me, how was it staff had so much time to write new Rules of Decorum but couldn’t put together options for billing when the ultimatum clock at OCSD is ticking? Priorities are clearly self-serving and not in the best interest of the district.


agag1

For a long time now many have questioned the priorities of some recent SSLOCSD board members. It is hard to believe that Guerrero, Nicolls, and Ferrara were acting in the best interest of ratepayers as they threw good $$$ after bad when they didn’t pay the spill fine, then entered into the unfortunate litigation they knew they could not win.


With Ferrara gone, we are left with Guerrero and now Shoals who seem willing to continue operating as the board had in the past.


Even more concerning is the influence of Ogren and the willingness of Mr. Sweet to allocate his precious time to items which appear to have more to do with Oceano’s business than that of the district as a whole. More and more he seems to be working for Paavo, not the ratepayers of SSLOCSD.


aft50s

Its obvious that Rick Sweet is way over his head in matters of importance, and the number of hours allotted to perform his function are not nearly enough to properly manage the District’s affairs.


Watch at the next meeting when Sweet is asked a difficult question that he doesn’t have an answer to. He will “scrunch down” in his chair and then make a feeble attempt at humor.


Its time for a fulltime Manager/Engineer to take the reins down there and be held accountable to the Board for what takes place.


Just my two cents worth, which will shortly go to pay the impending water board fine.


analyticone

Paul Karp was able to take over the reins in 2013 when the District was losing a million dollars a year and running badly.


He not only turned it around financially and operationally, he did it in 10 hours a week. The problem is not about hours allotted.


The problem is having the wrong person in the job. The right person could do it in 10 hours and save the District that 30 hours.


aft50s

Exactly, leaving 30 hours a week to do the engineering work which is currently being sub-contracted out at rates exceeding $100/hr.


MaryMalone

Rick Sweet is WAY savvy on water issues, especially water transfers. Santa Maria has a water portfolio to be envied, and that is thanks to Sweet.


I am not surprised it is taking some time to sort out the bull**** involved in the sanitation district.


It took some of the most dishonest folks in SLO decades to get the sanitation district’s affairs into such a conflict-of-interest laden mess. We can’t really expect anyone to become familiar enough with it to make a difference in just a few months.


CentralcoastRN

I am sorry, but I personally want to know why Ogren and his staff are so inefficient. They want 6 times the money for half of the connections? I need to understand why this is. Are they using an Abacus? Have they hired people with no hands to be scribes, so they must document all said calculations with their feet?


No, I am being super serious here. There is a lot of staff time required to do this. Does their “office mule” have only one leg? I maybe could understand the dilemna (insert hateful union quote here). Good thing Ogren is down there in the trenches of Oceano with the six figure salary and his raise to make sure the bill gets paid on time….oh…..


Perspicacious

I wish there was this kind of outrage on all the forced property tax increases and bonds! Did any of you outraged about this vote “yes” on Measure A or any other worthless bond or tax increase? We are getting nickel and dimed to death with a little increase here, and “it’s only a small increase” there. Yet the idiot voters keep voting the same people in and keep voting for increases. I sure wish that a vote on the increase to property taxes could only be made by people who actually own property, not the free loading bums who get benefits off my increased taxes.


falconbh

The financial problems in the Oceano Community District are creating many problems for cities in the South County area. Water, sanitation, basic services, schools are all impacted by lower bond ratings that equal higher costs.

For years, the board, numerous general managers, have mismanaged the district resources,and placed the ratepayers at risk.

We need to balance the budget, bring salaries and benefits in line with income and payoff loans.

A good first step is state or county direct oversight. Next a state audit of the budget and management is needed to restore public trust.


AmericaBeautiful

Having so-called “oversight” by bloated bureaucracy is sure to make the situation WORSE. Local supervision by taxpayers is the only solution to avoiding corruption.


MaryMalone

Local taxpayers don’t have the power and resources that the State does to force a corrupt sanitation district to come to heel for a forensic audit.


It was the State that brought the mayor of the City of Bell to his knees and in jail, and to seek and seize the mayor’s funds and assets to at least partly pay back the citizens of the City of Bell what the mayor and his cronies illegally used.


unlisted

Mayor Hill claims that he is “committed to minimizing costs and fairness.”


That’s refreshing. How many times has a politician admitted that they wanted to minimize fairness?


Kevin Rice

Cute, but you know what he meant. Perhaps Jim should have used a comma before the coordinating conjunction, ‘and’? English can be so ornery and ambiguous.


ajdury

I do agree, it IS annoying that little grammatical slips like this are not caught by the CCN staff. I see it again and again and it falls on the shoulders of the publisher, in my limited opinion. Do they just ‘cut & paste’? Wait. Don’t answer that.


Moving on . . .


Thank you Arroyo Grande Mayor Hill for putting your foot down as you stand up for the San Dist ratepayers.


It is so unfortunate that Mr. Matt Guerrero cannot do the same when it comes to his fiduciary responsibility to the South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District over his blind allegiance to his Oceano Community Services District overlord, General Manager Paavo Ogren.


In the end, everyone up on these agency daises keep throwing RATEPAYER monies around, except for Mayor Hill. He asks, investigates, parses and contemplates an entire issue in order to render an informed decision.


What a refreshing way to run government, and one that is so sorely needed throughout every layer of our county’s activity.


MaryMalone

QUOTING ADJURY: ” I do agree, it IS annoying that little grammatical slips like this are not caught by the CCN staff. I see it again and again and it falls on the shoulders of the publisher, in my limited opinion.”


————————-


Do you really want a board moderator to change the wording on an op-ed from AG’s mayor?


The mayor and his staff can sort it out themselves, and if, from time to time, they make a mistake, truly it is not the end of the world.


MajorityFan

It was a key part of Hill’s campaign for office. He has done very well at “minimizing fairness” so far.


justbeware

One thing is for certain. If AG and Grover were ripping off the citizens of Oceano, Mary Lucey, Matt Guerrero and the others from Oceano would be outraged, and rightly so.

Yet because this benefits Oceano, ratepayers from AG and GB are made out to be the bad guys for wanting accountability.

Lucey claims to want equal right for all, yet as President of the OCSD she shows only disdain for anyone who dares to question the way she and her board dole out decisions which negatively impact the other two city’s ratepayers.


Julie

The day after that last SSLOCSD meeting, I asked SSLOCSD staff for the invoices from OCSD dating back as far as available. They comprise three years worth; 2013, 2014 and 2015. The 2013 billing appears to have never been paid, I checked all warrant packets for 2013 and the amount paid on May 15 mirrored that of the previous years, i.e. $4,930.00.


What’s interesting about the invoices from 2013 is that they do not support the assertion repeatedly made by OCSD Director Guerrero, wherein he has stated that Wallace and Geaslen came to a verbal agreement. The total exceeds $25,000 and it appears there was another billing to go out before the end of the year which would have put the total closer to $30,000.


This doesn’t fit Guerrero’s stance because Wallace had resigned one month prior to the March 15, 2013 invoice and Geaslen was fired on April 16, 2013 for “overpaying himself.”


Oceano needs to simply submit an invoice that fits the formula the city’s are using and be transparent about the actual cost to their district.


To date NONE of the OCSD Directors have told Ogren to do the accounting that proves $22,000 is reasonable. They are “standing by their man” in asserting the arbitrary figure is justifiable because SSLOCSD had paid it in the past. I think a court of law would side with SSLOCSD….and order OCSD to provide an accounting.


agag1

How and why Shoals voted with Guerrero to pay the invoice and then say that he’s representing his constituents when doing so is hard to understand.


Shoals clearly stated he had issues with Oceano charging $22,000 per year, but then voted to pay it again.


GB residents should be fired up!


kayaknut

If you know Shoals and who he really supports it is not that hard to understand his statement.


agag1

Please enlighten us.


kayaknut

Three letters P, G, E,.


dogeatdog

What does PGE have to do with ssloscd?


Two totally different companies and one has nothing to do with the other. It does not help me at all understand his statement.


analyticone

Utilities billing.


B Spencer

I made a comment at the last San Dist meeting with respect to Mr. Guerrero referring to a verbal agreement between Wallace and Geaslen, and his argument that said agreement should be followed.


Again I will ask, why should the ratepayers of the SSLOCSD be expected to adhere to a supposed verbal agreement between Wallace (who the ratepayers are currently forking over $55,000 to be investigated), and Geaslen (who was fired by the district when he overpaid himself $45,000)?


Are these the kind of people we should look to for fair, reasonable and good business practices?


Unlike Mayor Shoals, and Matt Guerrero, I support Jim Hill in voting NO!


Julie

Of course no one should support an agreement between the thieves, the fact is there wasn’t one, no matter how many times OCSD staff and Board members assert there was one, the evidence doesn’t support it.


MaryMalone

Amazing that Ogren was able to so quickly grab some of the directors by their short hairs and make them heel.


AmericaBeautiful

Anyone in this position who shows contempt and disdain for their employer, i.e., the taxpayers, should be fired on the spot.

Exactly why is she allowed to continue???


Kevin Rice

Fantastic.


Stunned

Wow, everything Mayor Hill says is so logical and clear. No wonder Ogren can’t grasp it.


LameCommenter

Well written Mayor Hill, however you are asking a lifetime, serial bureaucrat like Ogren for reasonableness in money as you term it near the end of your article: reasonable billing service cost”.


Good luck with that.


dogeatdog

I believe Mayor Hill is also asking for the public to show up at the next meeting get involved and be heard. Mr. Hill is but 1 vote out of 3 and cannot do it himself.


As someone who lives in one of those communities and pay my bills, rate hikes and all I am out raged. Someone has to stand up and say enough is enough.


I don’t care that Ogren is a serial bureaucrat, if people from these towns would show up and speak up then MAYBE Mr. Shoals and Mr. Guerrero would do the right thing for the people.


It is up to the 3 board members and Mr. Guerrero is all for things staying the way there are. He wants more money for Oceano no matter if it is fair, right or legal, and he has Mary Lucey backing him.


So it really comes down to Grover Beach residents showing up and asking why they pay more than Arroyo Grande does. Put your mayor on the hot seat and make him do what is best for you guys. Debbie Peterson is the only one working for the citizens of Grover on this issue.


analyticone

Grover residents Sharon Brown and Andrea Seastrand often attend and speak during public comment at Sanitation District meetings.


Other important issues on the agenda: Rules of Decorum, Audit Review, and Consideration of Videotaping & Televising Meetings. You can attend – 6:00 p.m. Wednesday evening at the Arroyo Grande City Chambers.


Why attend? Look at these proposed rules of decorum:


–Board members should not have lengthy debates.

–If board members engage in lengthy debates they can be ruled out of order.

–The Public do not have a right to speak.

–The Public shall not make repetitious or irrelevant remarks.

–The Board is not required to provide a public forum for the public to speak.

–The Public may not clap loudly.


For the board package go to: http://www.sslocsd.org/index.php?option=com_docman&Itemid=164


analyticone

July 1st is the meeting date.


Julie

Thanks for pointing this out.


A change in Rules of Decorum was prompted by one citizen’s criticism of staff from the podium. Two U.S. District Court cases have explicitly held the Brown Act’s public comment requirements as having created a limited public forum for First Amendment analysis. In Baca v. Moreno Valley Unified School Dist., 936 F.Supp. 719 (1996), and Leventhal v. Vista Unified School District, 973 F.Supp. 951 (1997), *A reminder to us all, is to direct those comments to the Board/Council, not directly at the staff member if in the room.


The problem I see with these rules is they are not the SSLOCSD’s current Rules of Decorum and they are in an all new format. The staff report makes no reference to the current rules….as if staff doesn’t realize they already have an adequate and legal set of Rules of Decorum.


The Board should be presented their current Rules and work on any changes from there, not this.


I, for one, will encourage the board to reject these rules and if they want to massage the current set, do so at a future agenda, with them included in the staff report for all to participate.


This approach is exactly why the criticism of staff is elevating.


analyticone

The current rules are not legal either. See Agenda: 2. Public Comment:


Slanderous, profane or personal remarks against any board member, staff or member of the audience shall not be permitted.


http://www.sslocsd.org/index.php?option=com_docman&Itemid=164


MajorityFan

Let’s see if she can keep it down to Defcon 3 and avoid spraying spittle on innocent bystanders.


AmericaBeautiful

Citizens: Make it happen! Wake-up call needed by Ogren.