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Regular meeting, unusual subject

The Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District Board of Directors met in regular session Tuesday night, yet wound up in a discussion that was anything but regular.

Though the uncommon discourse, which arrived toward meeting’s end, was about a letter the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) sent to board chair Karen Wessels earlier in the day, just seven county residents — excluding two media representatives — attended the meeting, with a few ultimately expressing personal points of view. No county authorities were on hand.

In its six-page letter, the BoCC demanded the district provide a multitude of details and explanations regarding elements in its annual service plan, by April 30. Among the list of 25 questions, concerns and requests were items pertaining to future population and water use projections, the proposed Dry Gulch Reservoir, related impact fees, relevant service fees, and budget and debt matters.

PAWSD staff immediately expressed concern over the tim frame, saying that much work could take into the summer. District Manager Carrie Weiss also wondered if the BoCC would want a copy of the district’s audit now underway, a document which won’t be complete until June.

Although board members had little time before the meeting to review the BoCC letter in detail, Wessels and director Bob Huff expressed dismay over its general tone and the manner in which the BoCC now insists on further information, much of which has either already been provided or is attainable from the PAWSD Web site.

“This has been going on for over two years,” Wessels said at the onset of the discussion. “If they wanted a copy of the annual report, all they had to do was pick up the phone. We have definitely had an open door policy with the commissioners.”

Wessels also expressed concern with the county’s apparent reliance on the fact-finding and analysis of a single “financial expert” (Al Bledsoe), when, to her knowledge, he has no experience dealing with special districts. She mentioned that PAWSD employs six professional consultants, a Front Range legal team and a series of underwriters for advice in all district planning and operations.

“I find it really hard to believe that a single person can look at all that information and profess to know more than these experts that we’ve already spent a considerable amount of taxpayers’ money on.

“And, we learned this morning that they’re not asking Mr. Bledsoe to summarize his findings in any report whatsoever,” she continued. “So, we’re wondering why they even had Mr. Bledsoe do this research.”

Huff added, “We could go through these six pages, and I’m telling you it’s shot through with misrepresentations and misinformation. Nobody questions the fact that the county commissioners have every right to ask for this information and look at what we’re doing, but I had hoped that we could sit down, and not in some kind of public circus, and I’m sorry to use that word, but when you get the public where everybody’s yelling at everybody else, it just makes it impossible to have a meaningful discussion.

“What we, in our letter (dated Dec. 21) asked them to do, was come and sit down and have a board to board talk about three things; our plan and its flexibility, our debt load and how it’s to be handled, and our fee structure. I think it’s become obvious that what they wanted out of this meeting and what we wanted are two different things.

“We really wanted to share information. We might not get their full support, but we might get them to understand where we are.”

Huff also said he now believes the BoCC wants to, in a sense, put the district board on trial in a public forum, where commissioners ask a series of questions and the district simply has to respond. He added, “I, for one, am not willing to do that.”

Huff went on to explain his frustration with what one audience member described as a not-so-great public image of the district board.

“I think our position is perfectly clear. I was really upset with that letter and I read every sentence of it. And, I do not want our staff to be totally consumed by playing political theatre with the county commissioners. Our staff has a district to run. This is a complex organization that requires people who have hands on. To just respond to endless ... six pages of, dare I use the word ‘flotsam,?’ Well, they can’t do both.”

Huff then suggested turning the letter over to PAWSD attorneys and following their guidance.

Meanwhile, he said, the district should provide every document the BoCC asks for and let its staff interpret their contents, rather than burdening PAWSD staff with the task.

With that, various audience members weighed in, with the consensus suggesting the district agree to meet with the BoCC at any time and place, address mutual concerns, and hammer out their differences. By doing so, most agreed, the district could waylay any suspicions that it has something to hide.

Given the apparent tone between the district and BoCC, however, just scheduling a meeting has become the issue, never mind its likely content.