Five seek seats with water district

COSTA MESA — On Tuesday, after voters have waded through the options for state, county and city offices, low down on the ballot they'll cast their choice for two division seats on the Mesa Consolidated Water District Board of Directors.

The race includes incumbents Shawn Dewane, board president and Division 5 representative, and James Fisler, board vice president and Division 2 representative. Also running are tax professional Peter Meuter, former Costa Mesa Sanitary District Director Dan Worthington, and former Estancia High School teacher Art Perry.

"The reason why most people never think of the district is because it works," said Dewane, who was elected to the board in 2005 and appointed president in 2009.

If reelected, Dewane aims to continue pushing toward securing a AAA credit rating for the water district, which would translate into long-term savings for ratepayers, he said.

And keeping rates low is part of the overall mission of Mesa Water, Dewane said.

However, opponents say that the board has raised, not lowered, water rates over the last five years, and have questioned where those funds are going.

Water rates have increased from $0.0027 per gallon in 2006 to the current rate of $0.0036 per gallon, according to water district data.

"The issue here is the same with any other corporation or public entity," Division 5 candidate Meuter said. "They're not looking after the budget."

On Meuter's campaign web page, he asserts increases in water rates and funds to Electronic Records Management and Information System Maintenance and Support.

Meuter said that there are other areas that may point to funds' mismanagement, but he said that he did not have all the necessary information as of this week to be certain.

When asked about the rate and budget increases, Dewane said that "the rate increase assists in improving the district's credit rating, which will save Mesa Water customers millions of dollars in interest expense."

Secondly, the rates allow Mesa Water to "continually renew and maintain our aging water infrastructure in a timely manner for best water quality and water service reliability," Dewane said. "In sum, these rates are fiscally and socially responsible in order to effectively and efficiently ensure that our water is affordable, available, and of the highest possible quality."

While also concerned with district's financial management, Division 2 candidate Worthington said he concerned by annual compensation paid to board members.

Members receive $207 per meeting, a maximum of $24,840 annually, plus health and life insurance.

He is also dissatisfied with the fact that there are no term limits.

"When you look at all the different boards in our county, there is a set number of years you have to get off the board," except for most of the state's water boards, said Worthington. "It seems that the power of these water boards is such that they name what they're paid and what their terms are going to be."

Incumbent Fisler disagreed, arguing that term limits have been a "disaster in Sacramento."

"The best way to is to go up for election and your term limit is you getting turned down," Fisler said. "The process works — voters have always had a chance to set their own term limits."

And, while by the books it may appear that board members are paid for meetings that may only last an hour or two, in actuality it takes many hours of preparation and study to stay on top of board-related issues, Fisler said.

Fisler questioned his opponents' ability to serve the community if they are not logging the same hours.

"In the [14] months that I've been seated, neither [opponent] have attended a single board meeting," Fisler said. "It's a big issue to me because I care about the district and it's clear to me don't have same level of commitment."

Division 2 candidate Art Perry, Estancia High School boys' and girls' golf coach, declined to discuss his political platform with the Daily Pilot on Friday.

Perry said he was busy coaching for an upcoming tournament.

When asked why he did not file a candidate statement with the county, he replied that he did not think he needed to.

"When Election Day comes, I guess we'll just see what happens," he said.

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