Every Flush Counts
Munds Park’s Pivotal Voting Moment on Sewer Repairs
Pinewood Sanitary District WIFA Loan mail-in ballot vote is November 7th. The District is asking Munds Park voters to approve a 15 million dollar low-interest rate loan from the Water Infrastructure Finance Authority in lieu of having to double the monthly sewer rates to meet a court-ordered mandate being sought by the Arizona Attorney General’s office to repair the aging and failing sewer collection system.
The WIFA loan is the least expensive way to repair the 41 miles of sewer line and 750 manholes. The state has mandated the repairs because of bypass-related overflows of the plant since 2020. The huge snowmelt of winter 2022 resulted in numerous instances where the plant had to release chlorine-treated water into the Oak Creek tributary or face plant sewage overflows that would have created a hazardous scenario for the people of Munds Park. The state has the power to sanction and fine the District and is filing suit to court-order the repairs.
The vote allows the District to borrow funds and repay the loan over a twenty-year period at a very low interest rate. If the voters do not approve the WIFA loan, the Board will have to consider raising rates for property owners, potentially doubling the monthly operating and maintenance payment to over $100 a month. Additionally, a separate fund for plant repairs would need to be established, where each owner’s system would incur an assessment to finance repairs to the aging plant.
There have been a variety of misstatements spread by a group opposed to the vote. Some of the inaccuracies being circulated include statements like:
“Your taxes will go up!”
The sewer district consists of ratepayers and does not collect taxes. If the state required the County to take over the District, they would need to implement taxes. Taxes would be assessed to address the statute violations immediately. It is estimated that this would amount to three times what each ratepayer pays now.
“The residents of Munds Park will have to cover the Sanitary District charges that the businesses on the west side are refusing to pay.”
Absolutely incorrect. This vote is unrelated to the collection of construction fees for properties annexed into the District in 2014. PSD has successfully addressed all monies owed from the West side property owners, except for the new RV Park owners, Inspire Communities. Their case will be decided through litigation and is unrelated to this WIFA loan vote. Shuster Companies will be opening an interest-bearing escrow account and depositing 100% of the construction funds they owe the District into it for Phase 5. Once the District can issue a “Will Serve” letter, following the resolution of the current financial situation, the funds will be released to PSD and promptly applied to repairs associated with the ADEQ consent orders.
“How can we be sure that this kind of thing won’t happen again?”
The current Board has diligently worked over the past two years to change the organization’s operating structure. The autocratic management of the District has undergone a meaningful transformation. Expenses have been significantly reduced, and roles with employees receiving disproportionate salaries and benefits for services provided have been eliminated. Administrative expenses have seen a 40% reduction. Business practices that leverage updated technology and promote cost savings have been adopted. The days when the sewer District provided local businesses access to dirt, wood, rocks, and other materials from the storage yard are ending. Space is being reconfigured to increase storage for high flow/peak water retention systems, aiming to prevent bypasses. The Board unanimously adopted and implemented a five-year budget, as well as a long-range capital expense plan. Rules and Regulations are now strictly enforced, with staff directed to automatically report felony and misdemeanor “Theft of Services” to the County Sheriff for prosecution.
The Board has also implemented numerous checks and balances that were previously absent. A formal annual review and appraisal process was adopted this spring. Required written annual goals and objectives have been integrated into this process. The employee handbook is currently undergoing revisions, with significant changes and requirements being added to the manual. Throughout 2023, planning, restructuring, and organization have been underway to prepare the organization for succession planning for both the staff and the Board. A new District Manager will start on October 2nd. After the vote, an Operations Manager will be hired as an exempt employee (no overtime), and all future supervisory positions within the District will be classified as exempt from overtime. Our process has been revised to provide comprehensive estimates for new sewer customers, including all fees and charges for complete transparency. This change eliminates confusion and potential issues when incorporating properties into the sewer system.
The role of the Board of Directors is to oversee the sanitary district operations and enforce the rules and regulations, ensuring an environment where management and staff collaboratively govern the operation that is safe and effective for the Munds Park community. Over the past eighteen months, these volunteers have devoted countless hours to address challenges and issues that arose during the changeover of District Managers, the departure of several Board members, and the implementation of Administrative Consent orders and the upcoming court-mandated decree requested by the Attorney General’s office. I personally want to express my gratitude to them for their dedication to our community, as this Board has made tremendous progress in addressing numerous problems and challenges.