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PAWSD manager: Field narrows to four

Four finalists for the position of Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District district manager have been announced, meaning a decision will likely be announced in the coming weeks.

After an initial search for a new district manager resulted in the job being offered to an applicant from California, that declined offer left the PAWSD staff and board of directors with the need to carry out another search. The second candidate search was performed with a slightly modified set of criteria.

Previous District Manager Carrie Weiss retired in the latter half of 2010.

The finalists for the position are: Tim Connor, Richard Gustafson, Brett Locke and Edwin Winton. Two of the finalists are from Pagosa Springs, while two are from out of state, members of the board said during Tuesday night’s board of directors’ meeting.

According to state laws, the list of finalists must be made public at least 14 days prior to an appointment.

“There was a fear that we wouldn’t get a strong candidate pool,” said board Chair Steve Hartvigsen, adding that he was impressed with the pool despite it being a second search. “I think we’re going to end up with a good manager.”

With a possible appointment drawing near, staff and board of the district are slowing decision-making while continuing to lay the groundwork needed for progress after a new manager comes on board.

For example, the board chose to hold off on hiring an outside consultant to help the district lower water loss levels. The recommendation to make the hire came to the board from the Community Water Supply Workgroup.

While not hiring a firm at this point in time, Director Allan Bunch and Operations Manager Gene Tautges offered to verify job performance on leak surveys with the references of Advanced Leak Analysis and Solutions, Inc. — a firm the district has worked with on meter testing — to lay the ground work for a possible decision when a new district manager is in place.

A leak survey would sample a portion of the district’s valves at intersections and hydrants via “sounding” in efforts to determine where water loss is occurring.

While holding off on the hiring, the topic of water loss did garner further discussion at the meeting.

The figure for water loss in January 2011, as presented by Tautges Tuesday night, was 35 percent — a number he said he felt was accurate.

Tautges said staff found some inaccurate meters and some procedural items that should decrease the water loss figure in the future, but said a problem is still present and a survey and possible future equipment purchase would help PAWSD staff continue to monitor their own water-loss levels.

Tautges also informed the board that the higher the pressure of the water running through the district’s pipes, the higher the water loss figures would be — a problem that is increased with the uneven terrain in the district, since higher pressure is needed at the bottom of the hill to maintain water pressure at the top of the hill.

Tautges said the idea of pressure-reducing valves as a possible fix, but further offered that, according to a water loss calculation, at a pressure of 98 psi for around 260 miles of water lines, the district could expect to lose somewhere around 101 million gallons a year if using the best available leak-detection equipment.

According to a report delivered to the board by Tautges, any leak detection program would likely not begin until the ground softens, possibly around April.

Also at the meeting, the board again tabled a proposed Memorandum of Understanding with the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners in order to wait for a response from the BoCC about what the county would require in a service plan update by the district, as was discussed with Commissioner Michael Whiting present at the Feb. 1 PAWSD meeting.

Rather than the board deciding to engage auditing firm Wall, Smith, Bateman and Associates, Inc. for the third year in a row, Director Roy Vega recommended that the decision be reviewed by the district’s audit committee and a recommendation be made to engage the firm or request bids.

Interim District Manager Shellie Peterson said when the district requested bids three years ago, Wall, Smith, Bateman and Associates was the only firm to respond and she said that the type of audit required by the district was not the specialty of any local firm (Vega had made a statement about the possibility of being able to hire a local firm through a bid process).

Also briefly discussed at the meeting was a priority list for district management, with the decision that the list would likely see revisions with the hiring of a new district manager and the rearrangement of tasks for staff members caused by the hiring.

Among the priorities listed by Petersen were the current rate study being conducted by Red Oak Consulting, calculating a solution to the Water Resource Fee, water loss and hiring a district manager, as well as a number of other prioritized tasks dealing more with day-to-day operations of the district.

The next regular meeting of the PAWSD board of directors will likely take place on March 1.

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