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County scrutinizes PAWSD finances, plans

While certain Archuleta County officials won’t specifically say why, they are taking an unprecedented look at Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District fees, finances and future water planning. At least one PAWSD board member, however, believes it’s an attempt to undermine the board and bring about its dissolution.

In an interview earlier this week, PAWSD board member Bob Huff expressed concern over the county’s unusual inquiries and questioned its motives.

“The county has said they would like to dissolve PAWSD and take it over,” Huff suggested in a list of bullet points contrived during last week’s regular PAWSD meeting. “Who all is requesting these materials and who does Bledsoe (former chairman of the county financial task force, Al Bledsoe) work for? What is the game plan?

Though not on the county payroll, Bledsoe has apparently asked PAWSD for detailed information regarding the Dry Gulch project, including a PAWSD loan from the Colorado Water Conservation Board used in purchasing land for the reservoir.

Through multiple open records requests, meanwhile, county attorney Todd Starr has asked for and received PAWSD financial statements, various water studies reports and memorandums of understanding between PAWSD and the San Juan Water Conservancy District in respect to Dry Gulch. He also sought and received information on other CWCB loans.

According to PAWSD manager Carrie Weiss, Archuleta County Commissioner John Ranson recently asked for documents pertaining to PAWSD debt service and stimulus money, no doubt related to the Highlands Lagoon decommissioning.

This week, Weiss reported that, following repeated requests to meet with county officials and explain details of the various documents ordered, a meeting finally took place with county administrator Greg Schulte and others, including Bledsoe’s participation by telephone conference.

“He (Bledsoe) was talking on a cell phone and we got cut off several times,” Weiss explained. “We talked for about two hours, reviewing various documents, and he came up with numbers from bits and pieces of reports, but didn’t look at entire documents. He accused the board (PAWSD) of not giving the CWCB accurate information during the loan application process and failing to update the numbers. He expressed concern with our ability to repay the loan and compared us to Enron. We were insulted by this.”

Weiss added that Bledsoe questioned the integrity of the PAWSD board and staff, its legal counsel, auditors, and the CWCB, and suggested none were ethical or knew what they were doing.

Though Huff, or anyone else at PAWSD, can’t recall an exact occasion when a county official actually threatened the demise of the PAWSD board, rumors to that effect have circulated since a rather contentious July meeting, when Pagosa Springs Association of Realtors Association Director Jan Santopietro stood and read a PSAAR position statement that amounted to a scathing review of PAWSD policies, fees and the performance of its board of directors.

After claiming PAWSD lacked transparency and accusing the district of numerous inconsistencies, she insisted that PAWSD was out of touch and that PSAAR would “support the resignation of the current PAWSD Board of Directors and top management.”

Since, Huff and other PAWSD officials have questioned the county’s motives, while also questioning Bledsoe’s credentials.

“Does he have any background in government finance or managing a water and sanitation district?” Huff asked. “Has he ever attended a (PAWSD) board meeting or talked with our attorneys, financial advisors, bond counsel or the CWCB underwriters? Who is he trying to make a case against us for, the county commissioners? Are the commissioners trying to take over PAWSD?”

When asked that last question, Archuleta County Commissioner Bob Moomaw replied, “Let’s just say we’re concerned about policy decisions, the amount of PAWSD debt and the projected costs of Dry Gulch. We need to know what the problems are before considering solutions. The county has not suggested dissolving the PAWSD board, we’re just seeking information.”

Moomaw continued, saying the county doesn’t know if Dry Gulch is or isn’t feasible, and suggested there may be practical alternatives. “We just need information and it’ll probably come some time after the first of the year. When it does,” he said, “we’ll present it in a public county meeting.”

Moomaw added that county officials have a great deal of respect for Bledsoe, who he described as very straight forward and a successful businessman.

When asked about the county’s inquiries into PAWSD matters, Archuleta County Commissioner Clifford Lucero immediately proclaimed opposition to dissolving the PAWSD board.

“I’m not for that,” he quickly replied. “As far as I know, that’s never been a focus of the county and hasn’t been anyone’s intent. They (PAWSD) have a board of directors and people can choose to affect change through elections.”

chuck@pagosasun.com