RANCHO SANTA FE — Four people are running for two spots on the board of the Santa Fe Irrigation District that provides water to a portion of Rancho Santa Fe and to a total of 20,000 customers.It is governed by a five-member board elected for four years. Each represents a geographical division of the service area, but they all make decisions affecting the entire district. At the moment, the district provides 60 percent imported water, 35 percent local water and 5 percent recycled water. Whoever is elected will have to grapple with the issues of ever-rising prices for imported water, an aging infrastructure and how to keep operation costs as low as possible.Greg Gruzdowich, a candidate for the Santa Fe Irrigation District, could not be reached for comment.
Kenneth Dunford is the incumbent running for re-election to the Santa Fe Irrigation District, District One. So far he has a total of 10 years experience and would like four more.
A retired businessman, he said he has the long-term experience to continue serving as a board member and policy maker, he said.“Our main job is to direct and protect the assets of the Santa Fe Irrigation District,” he said. “We are not there to run it, We have a staff for that. We are there to direct the staff.”
Dunford said that besides meetings, he spends about a full day a week on district business.
“Even to prepare for the meetings might take three or four hours,” he said.
Dunford said there are several challenges facing the district. One important one is protecting the local water supply of Lake Hodges.
Another is maintaining an aging infrastructure.
“If we had to build it from scratch, it would cost $275 million,” he said. “We need to keep putting a little bit of money into it each year. People don’t understand that one quarter of their water bill should go to upkeep of the system. We could float a bond, but it would it would be there for decades.”
Instead, he said the board put into place a 10-year capital improvement program.
“We have a well thought out plan,” he said. “The cost in today’s dollars is $6 million a year for a total of $60 million.
Another reason he wants to stay on board is that he wants to continue to effectively manage operation costs including employee salaries and benefits.
“I think this board for the last 10 years has proactively looked at the challenge we have in the areas of salaries and benefits,” he said. “For example, we just passed a second tier pension plan for all new employees. Folks on the payroll have not had a raise in the past two years. They finally have one. They will get 8 percent over the next three years.”
He said the “head count” will go down gradually mostly through attrition. In addition, all new employees will not receive post employment health benefits like the senior employees.
Dunford said the Santa Fe Irrigation District is not the only one facing rising costs for water.
He said that the water districts in the county have come together and filed a lawsuit against the Metropolitan Water District, from which they buy water, for unfair pricing. If the water districts are successful, money coming back to the Santa Fe district could be in the neighborhood of $500,000 a year, he said.
He said the lawsuit was necessary because if the prices for water keep rising at their current rate, the cost of water could reach $30 billion over the next 30 years for the San Diego districts.
Dunford has a long history of serving the community, including having been a Rotarian, serving on the art jury and as an elder member of the Village Church.
What do we gain? What do we lose?
Those two questions have served Alan Smerican in just about every instance of decision making in his life.
He said he will ask those two questions when faced with a decision on the Santa Fe Irrigation District if elected to the board from District Two.
He is not uninitiated to the workings of the board.
“I have worked on and off with the district for 10 or 12 years and was the first to do security planning for the water system as a volunteer,” he said.
Now he is ready to make a four-year commitment to the board if elected.
There are two main reasons Smerican decided to run for the board — money and security.
“Everyone is concerned about rates,” he said. “I want to work to keep rates as low as possible without sacrificing the maintenance of the system. For example, San Diego keeps rate lower, but they don’t do the maintenance and that is why pipes are bursting everywhere. I don’t want us to get into the position.”
Smerican said it is important not to sacrifice maintenance for the sake of lower rates.
Also, he said he is aware that many people are concerned about how the present board spends district money.
Smerican said many of those issues have already been addressed including putting into place a tier program for lower benefits for new employees.
And the idea of top-heavy post employment benefits is just not true.
After going through the budget line by line, he said he learned something.
“The actual cost of pension and other benefits is 10 percent. The rest is related to purchasing, treating and transporting water to customers,” he said.
“I have experience managing large budgets, millions of dollars, and have managed large staffs in the past. I know how to be a leader,” he said.
The second reason he is running is that he wants to bring to the table his expertise in security.
He is a former FBI agent with expertise in security.
“No one else brings that. I want to make sure the water supply and the infrastructure is adequately protected (against terrorists) because they can be targets. I want to make sure we have good, safe water at all times,” he said.
About a decade ago, he helped put together a security plan for Lake Hodges and the rest of the system.
Smerican said he has always been interested in public service having spent a career with the FBI. He also served on the Solana Beach Public Safety Commission for several years serving as its president twice.
“I have attended every (irrigation) board meeting, every committee meeting and every special meeting so I can stay informed and hit the ground running if I am elected,” he said.
Holly Smith Jones
“Live there. Give there.” That is Holly Smith Jones’s motto. She acknowledges she borrowed the expression from philanthropist Harry Goldstein, but she thinks it make a lot of sense.
“I just love it,” she said.
Smith Jones is putting that philosophy to work by running for a spot on the board of the Santa Fe Irrigation District, District Two.
“This fascinates me,” she said. “I don’t claim to be a water board expert at this point in time, but my business background allows me to look at problems and problem solving in a very positive way.”
She said she attended several of the meetings and found them interesting.
“Water is vital. You can’t live without it and protecting our water supply and infrastructure is very important.”
She said that it is also important to deliver the water at a price that is affordable to customers.
“I want to help the water district get control of the costs,” she said.
She said she knows prices will go up, but she thinks her business experience will help the board grapple with upcoming issues that trigger the rising rates.
“I don’t have an agenda, but I want to see what we can do to reduce rates without compromising the staff or the quality or security of the water,” she said. “I know it is possible.”
She said the people on the board are all bright and have the common good in mind, but water rates have risen quickly lately.
“I think we need a fresh prospective,” she said.
Smith Jones has an extensive background in business having spent 37 years working in the corporate world and also with not-for-profit organizations. She is retired from being an executive, but not from being active in the community.
She is a board member for the North Coast Repertory Theatre, and president of the Gold Diggers, which raises money for emerging nonprofits that help children, the elderly and victims of crime.
She also volunteers as a board member of Classics4Kinds, CAN Insurance Services and is on the Orthopedic Nurses Certification Board’
She is proud to be a founding member of Hand to Hand, which is a fund of the Coastal Community Foundation that helps women and girls become self-sufficient.