Oceano can’t afford Mary Lucey any longer
December 8, 2015
OPINION by JULIE TACKER
At the upcoming Oceano Community Services District Dec. 9 board meeting, the directors will choose a new president to serve the district for 2016. The current board president is Mary Lucey.
Lucey will not be in attendance at this particular meeting, but has written a memo (included in the staff packet) to her board asking for their support for another term as board president. She compliments each of her fellow directors for their good work on behalf of the community. She goes on to pontificate over the “accomplishments” of the board during this past year.
The reality is the OCSD has accomplished very little this year, just as they have over the last six years
I’ve been watching their board. Lucey claims one such “accomplishment” this year was the implementation of a rate increase to offset the reduction in water use. Just like in many other communities, water delivery expenses are outpacing revenues due to lower consumption. This rate increase merely covers the cost of doing business and doesn’t repair or replace the districts failing infrastructure. This increase is just a bridge to the staggering rate increases that will be coming in the near future as projects are identified to bring the water system up to an acceptable standard.
Another “accomplishment” Lucey wrote, “we have allocated more grant money this year than we have in the past several years.” What Lucey doesn’t understand is that “allocating” grant money is not at all what her board has done. OCSD has applied for, and been selected, to receive grant monies. To date, no such monies have been received. Furthermore, the particular grants the district has applied for do not cover the districts existing infrastructure deficits.
One grant they were approved for was to rehabilitate Well #5 that has been out of service for many years. Once work began on the project it was deemed ‘too far gone’ to rehabilitate and was capped off. The costs to investigate the well were not covered by the grant and there will be no reimbursement for the work the district undertook.
Lucey also suggests that the district’s best producer, well number eight, was “refurbished” this past year. In fact, the well had broken down, its pump was replaced and the cost of doing so was unanticipated and paid for through a budget adjustment of district reserves.
Two additional grant applications that appear to be on track for funding are for projects the district never contemplated; a recycled water injections study, a low impact development study and leak detection management plan. Some $200,000 will be spent on these studies and plans, but none of the money will directly offset the high cost of water for Oceano residents.
Ultimately, these studies will identify infrastructure projects necessary to improve Oceano’s water supply, but all costs associated with implementation will be borne by the ratepayer. The coming year will identify millions of dollars in improvements necessary to bring the degraded water and sewer systems up to current standards; rate increases will be before the community shortly thereafter.
Lucey’s memo compliments fellow board member Matt Guerrero for his work on the South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District, yet she, as the districts alternate, has served in the seat nearly as much as Guerrero has this year. That decision cost the sanitation district $1,500 to seek a legal opinion that allowed her to be the presiding officer at OCSD, but only an alternate for the sanitation board. Her continued participation at the sanitation district implies no such opinion was needed; she simply should have been Oceano’s appointee.
The number one item that has been on both district’s agendas over the last year has been the dispute that arose over a $22,000 annual charge the sanitation district was paying the OCSD to bill sewer service on their water bills. The battle went on for months, with both districts losing.
The cost of legal bills and staff time spent on rehashing the history and methodology for the cost to bill Oceano residents for the service provided by the sanitation district likely exceeded $10,000. Ultimately, the OCSD was removed from consideration as a billing possibility when Lucey, representing Oceano, refused to take the sanitation district’s offer of $18,000 for the service back to her board to consider.
Oceano loses, but the sanitation district ratepayers win overall, as the final decision the board made for billing will ultimately be far less for the district in the long run.
What Lucey’s fellow board members may not know is she wreaks havoc as an alternate on the sanitation district board.
She has been most unprofessional in her behavior, on more than one occasion she called out citizens as “racists,” including the nine volunteers that served on the committee to select an auditor to investigate past management practices. She recently, on Dec. 1, wrote a scathing email to Interim District Administrator John Clemons, chastising him for things she thought should be on the board’s agenda. But when you drill down to what she wanted, if she had simply read the staff reports or listened to the consultants present, many of her questions would have been answered.
Lucey’s memo talks about this last year being the best of the seven years she’s served on the OCSD board. She points to current General Manager, Paavo Ogren’s experience as a key reason for their turnaround.
Ogren has straightened some things out for OCSD, but he can’t perform miracles and the truth of the matter is, under Lucey’s leadership the OCSD has been through six general managers and seen five board member resignations. Additionally, the district has borrowed over a million dollars from internal funds to prop up the water department and due to the management uncertainties, the district’s employees joined forces with a local union to protect their jobs from Lucey’s whims.
All of these events have been very costly for the citizens of Oceano.
Lucey appears to be posturing for a run at a third term; the fact of the matter is neither Oceano CSD or the South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District can afford Lucey any longer.
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