With Election Day fast approaching, the Lompico Water Board is looking to fill two seats on its five-person board of directors. Recent controversies over a proposed merger and surcharge with the San Lorenzo Valley Water District as well as a potential bond measure have caused recent headlines as five candidates have emerged.
A community volunteer, Merrie Schaller said she has attended Lompico Water District board meetings for seven years and has watched it progress through all its economic and organizational difficulties.
Now that most of the financial problems have been solved and infrastructure is being improved, she said, there are other troubling factors that must now be addressed.
“Somewhere along the way it became apparent that the district isn’t large enough to economically maintain itself,” Schaller said. “Then it also became apparent that there isn’t enough water.”
Schaller said she is supporting the merger with the San Lorenzo Valley Water District, which would raise costs at first because of the bond and the Lompico surcharge.
If Lompico Water District does not merge with the San Lorenzo Water District, she said, the water rates would be even higher.
“The best way we could do this for enough water, for safe water, and affordable water is to become part of San Lorenzo Valley Water District,” Schaller said.
If elected, she said she would work to improve infrastructure to adequate standards, including fixing the water main, wells, and water treatment plant.
Her main goal however, is the merger.
If the people decide that joining the San Lorenzo Valley Water District is something they do not want, Schaller said, then she is committed to making the district the best it could be.
“I am running because the merger is proceeding, but I want to make sure it goes all the way to the vote in January as quickly and as smoothly as possible,” she said.
Longtime Lompico resident Mark Meacham said he has been going to water board meetings for the past 20 years. He has a strong background in electrical engineering, having worked for Intel and as the owner of his own computer networking repair shop for 15 years.
These jobs, Meacham said, have provided essential project management skills that would benefit the Lompico Water District.
Meacham said that he wants to get the community on board in terms of making important decisions regarding the fate of their water.
“I want to change the way the board interacts with the public,” he said. “I think that there should be actual dialogue and discussions — that’s how democracies work.”
Although Meacham said he agrees that the Lompico Water District’s infrastructure needs repair, he doesn’t see the need to replace water tanks that still have a life span of 15 to 20 years.
He expressed skepticism about the proposed merger and the associated surcharge, but thinks there are some perks connected with it. Moreover, he said he fears that San Lorenzo Valley Water District would have no accountability for saved money, which could be used to pay off the bond.
“I am not against a merger,” he said. “I am definitely against the merger with the terms that are on right now.”
Since it is expensive to run the well pumps in Lompico, Meacham called for solar panels for the water tanks that would power the expensive pumps. He said he also supports the idea of allowing community volunteers to get involved with the management of water in Lompico’s water district.
“There should be more [discussions] than there are, and I think we should be able to find a balance that will make people happy and it may encourage more people to get involved and know what’s going on,” he said.
Sherwin Gott is the only incumbent running for the Lompico Water District Board of Directors, and he wants to finish what he started when he ran four years ago, he said.
He said he would like to see the water district stay local and is not in favor of merging with the San Lorenzo Valley Water District.
“The reason I ran was to go ahead and keep the district local, fix the district, and have a good source of water for the community,” Gott said. “Since I am still committed to those three main principles, I decided to run again.”
Gott was a construction project manager for over 20 years. During that time, he acquired a broad range of skills — including contract and financial review — which, he said, are valuable assets to the water board.
During his four years on the board, Gott claimed that he has been subjected to political isolation.
“I am the only person who has been censured,” he said. “If you are the person who is constantly saying ‘well, I don’t think that’s a great idea,’ eventually people want to politically isolate, alienate you, and try to limit your effectiveness.”
Many problems that Gott referred to as easily fixable, such as building a new water treatment plant or getting new tanks, are far from being straightforward.
The current Lompico water board wants to merge with the San Lorenzo Water District, he said, because they feel that the community cannot handle the district on their own.
Gott said that he also ran against the bond measure, because he believes the people of Lompico would be better off paying for the water district repairs themselves.
“I still think there needs to be a representation for the side of the canyon that wants to keep it local and not just railroad this deal through because its going to cost so much,” he said.
John Schneider said he became aware of Lompico’s water issues about four years ago, and started attending local water board meetings and joined the Citizens Advisory Committee for the Lompico Water District.
During that time, the 22-year Lompico resident said, he learned more and more about the board’s options and arrived at the conclusion that merging with the San Lorenzo Valley was the only logical way to go.
“I am running, at this point, because I would like to assist in trying to finalize the merger,” said Schneider, a teacher at Castillero Middle School in San Jose. “…It is very clear that not merging is going to cost a lot more money than merging.”
If elected to the district’s board of directors, Schneider said he would assist the board in ironing out any details as the merger takes place, should the plan move forward.
“If the merger does not pass, then, as a board member, my goal would be to try and make Plan B work as smoothly as possible,” he said. “Plan B, in my opinion — not merging — is a disaster.”
The people who are concerned about the costs are going to be in for a very rude awakening when they find their bills doubled and tripled if the merger does not pass, he said.
Further, Schneider said, if Lompico’s community is unwilling to raise the rates to cover the costs, the water company could go bankrupt.
“I have been to a lot of meetings where people are concerned and skeptical, and I certainly understand that,” Schneider said. “But what I hope that people will understand is that every possible option, every possible cost-saving measure has been explored to the Nth degree.”
Attempts to contact candidate Cheryl Trapp prior to the Press-Banner’s Wednesday, Sept. 3 deadline were unsuccessful.