This week The Times continues a series highlighting the four candidates for the Fountain Hills Sanitary District Board of Directors.
This election is an all-mail ballot process. Ballots will be mailed to registered voters on Wednesday, Oct. 9. The registration deadline for this election is Monday, Oct. 7. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 5.
The candidates are responding to a series of questions posed by The Times. Question #2 asks: The Sanitary District has been in operation for 50 years; are there specific infrastructure issues you see as a challenge, and how can they be addressed fiscally?
Michael Maroon – “Proper planning prevents poor performance. Prior to becoming a financial advisor, I served as a congregational care pastor at a church with a congregation just about the size of the Fountain Hills population. One of my many roles there was to oversee the financial coaching ministry during the Great Recession.
“We had an army of amazing volunteer coaches who assisted in helping congregants that were in extreme financial hardship design a plan to get their heads above water. Those experiences were a big part in why I decided to become a financial advisor – I wanted to help people properly plan so they never found themselves in a situation like that.
“I employ the same mentality with the district. I never want the district to be in financial hardship and asking tax payers for money in the midst of a recession. We have done extensive planning to identify anticipated expenses over the next five years. We also recently approved and implemented an inventory system to catalogue the life expectancy of district assets so we can better anticipate expenses in the future. With this knowledge, we have put the proper amount of “hay in the barn” to ensure the district operates quietly behind the scenes, in good times and bad times.
“The irony of this week’s question is that we are always in a constant state of infrastructure repair and replacement – most people are simply unaware of it because of the history of strong fiscal management by the board of directors.”
Bob Shelstrom – “The constant challenge to any public utility is properly prioritizing and authorizing work. Well run organizations prioritize projects by public/employee safety, maintaining system availability, and investment in capital improvements that pay for themselves through reduced labor, energy and maintenance costs over a short ‘payback’ period.
“A five-year capital plan for evaluating, prioritizing and replacing equipment and infrastructure was begun in 2017. Management is developing engineering evaluation and assessment reporting processes including providing various options for board decision making. I requested these reports for the approved capital projects, but only about half of the projects proposed have documented evaluation reports at this time.
“The proposed project for ‘slip lining’ deteriorating underground main sewer lines appears to be the most critical ‘safety’ project which prevents sewage leakage health hazards. This $490,000 project is well within the funding capacity of the district, which is budgeted to spend about $17, 591,000 on system and facilities improvements over the next five years.
“Other projects for replacement and investment may have merit, but insufficient information is available to establish the prudency for most at this time.
“With this generous capital budget, end of year cash balances project to increase from $8,000,000 in FY2019 to $12,600,000 in FY2023, perhaps indicating a tax and fee revenue reduction, or freeze, is appropriate.
“Much has already been done to upgrade treatment systems, but prudent control and system equipment upgrades appear to have the resources for such investments available provided the board doesn’t divert funds again for non-sanitary system purposes.”
Bob Thomson – “This question goes to the heart of today’s Sanitary District. Major expenditures on new capital assets are over until the State Trust Land at the north end of town is developed which will be paid for by the developer. Thus, the major thrusts of infrastructure expenditures are for preventive maintenance and renewal.
“Because of board-directed planning, district finances continue to be ‘steady as she goes.’ The annual updating of our five year plan and periodic updating of our comprehensive Master Plan provides road maps to manage infrastructure costs. For the next five years capital expenditures will be between $2.8 and $4.3 million.
“Even at those levels, user fees will keep even with cost of living increases just like they have for 20 years. As for property taxes, in fiscal year 2019-2020 the district will actually collect less in property taxes than it did 10 years ago! That’s tight fiscal management.
“An important part of cost effective infrastructure maintenance and renewal is the district’s commitment to ‘best practices.’ Here are some of the ‘best practices’ we use: first, a geographic information system that provides a ‘smart map’ of the entire collection system to facilitate maintenance. Second, a new sewer capacity modeling system to analyze the impact of proposed developments. Third, computerized maintenance management software to track and assess system maintenance.
“With planning, our commitment to ‘best practices’ and the maintenance of adequate reserves, I am confident that we can meet our infrastructure needs in a fiscally sound manner.”
Jerry Butler – “The Sanitary District’s total depreciable assets are about $120 million and the five-year forecast has identified $18 million of ‘infrastructure issues.’ Based on what’s known at this time, the fiscal plan is to continue to use fees and property taxes to fund the operations.
“However, a hidden challenge may be how to dispose of the 100 million gallons of reclaimed water in the Fountain Park lake whenever the time comes for the town to replace the lake liner. If all the water must be sent back to the district for treatment, it’s estimated the procedure could take a year to accomplish and the Fountain would be shut down the entire time.
“In order to ascertain if there might be other hidden challenges, last year the board of directors unanimously directed the updating of the district’s Master Plan to carefully look at the infrastructure that will likely be needed to serve the community in the years ahead. This study will include an evaluation of existing sewers, treatment facilities, and the reclaimed water system.
“Because the reclaimed water that is used to irrigate town parks and three golf courses has a very high sodium content, the study will include a review of a previous report on salt removal, that in 2015 was estimated to cost $30 million. In addition, options for temporary storage of the lake water will be identified.
“When the study is completed, infrastructure challenges should be known for the foreseeable future.”