MH candidates address town’s major issues
by Denise Ellen Rizzo
Nov 02, 2012 | 2458 views | 2 2 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
MOUNTAIN HOUSE — Voters have a full local slate of choices on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 6, as eight candidates are running for four seats on the Mountain House Community Services District Board of Directors.

Three four-year positions are open on the board as part of the regular election cycle for the seats of incumbents Jim Lamb, Andy Su and Bernice King Tingle, all of whom are running for reelection.

Another two-year seat could open up if voters decide to kick sitting Director Jass Singh off the board. His recall is also on the ballot Tuesday.

All eight candidates responded to questions posed by the Press in the lead-up to Election Day. Their answers have been edited from their original format.



Four-year terms Candidate Rajesh Dighe

Press: Special taxes can be raised by zero to 4 percent per year. What is an appropriate annual percentage hike?

Dighe: The majority of the Mountain House Community Services District board has been raising the special tax for the past four years. This has to stop. MHCSD needs to have a clear plan to increase our reserves and still provide quality services without burdening the residents. Our tax base remains low because commercial development is not occurring, in part because of high taxes and fees. The developer who holds the notes on our $309 million development debt is the same developer who has a monopoly on Mountain House commercial land and is waiting for highly profitable market conditions to return. The master plan needs to be revisited and potentially modified to trigger competitive business development in Mountain House through rezoning. Increasing special taxes burdens the residents, adversely affecting home values and rental costs, which hurts future growth. 

Press: Do you think contracts for community services should go through a bidding (aka RFP) process, regardless of staff limitations or projected savings? Please explain your answer.

Dighe: The CSD needs to follow a competitive bidding and RFP process for major contracts, i.e. Valley Crest Landscape. A bidding process creates competition, allowing for higher quality at lower costs. Costs are much lower now than before the housing bust, so we can safely assume we will save money by going through an RFP and bid. MHCSD lost a golden opportunity to save money on our million-dollar-per-year landscaping contract. I detailed MH landscape issues during a board meeting and explained the poor-quality landscape with pictures in my blog. MHCSD does not have a staff limitation issue.

Press: What type of traits would you like to see in a general manager?

Dighe: We are a small community, and I would really like to see a general manager who is smart in finance and human resources. Fiscal accountability is a core responsibility of the CSD. We need a GM who possesses skills to operate the district efficiently. The ratio of seven managers and seven employees is just not right for community of our size. I believe a good GM will be able to consolidate responsibilities and still keep high-quality services.



Director Jim Lamb

Press: Special taxes can be raised by zero to 4 percent per year. What is an appropriate annual percentage hike?

Lamb: I think there’s no appropriate answer to this question. The board has to evaluate each year whether or not the district can provide the necessary services, like police, fire, streets and roads maintenance, wastewater, storm water and fresh water, with available resources. If there’s not enough money to provide these critical services, then there very likely will be a need to increase taxes. The district has had a budget with a negative cash flow. Even with the increases that have been made over the last few years and cuts to service, we’re projected to run out of cash in four to five years. The time when we would effectively run out of cash would have been accelerated had we not made those increases to taxes. In my opinion, with the exception of a few events, the board has already slashed most of the noncritical budgetary items. The staff has already been reduced by 46 percent and is currently putting off noncritical functions because they are understaffed. Landscaping services were also cut back.

Press: Do you think contracts for community services should go through a bidding (aka RFP) process, regardless of staff limitations or projected savings? Please explain your answer.

Lamb: I think each contract needs to be evaluated on its own merits. There are no hard and fast rules that apply to all situations. That said, I’d prefer to seek competitive bids in most instances. For the most part, I’ve supported going to bid when it’s been an option. I was one of two board members to vote against the Valley Crest landscaping contract extension when it first came before the board. It was brought back again two months later, past the deadline for declining the extension. The new GM made it clear that he didn’t feel there was enough time left to assure the board of a smooth transition to a new service provider. For that reason, I changed my vote and supported the extension. Sometimes pragmatism is more important than idealism. I’ve sought to have the CSD create a long-range schedule for upcoming contracts that the board would review regularly. This would help ensure that contracts make it before the board in time to consider the full breadth of options that might be available.

Press: What type of traits would you like to see in a general manager?

Lamb: A team builder. There’s clearly a lack of trust right now at all levels of the organization. We need someone who can help get the board on the same page and to help promote cooperation between the board, staff and the community. We have a very diverse board with different ideas and strong wills. Our GM candidate will have to take direction from the board as a whole, but have the confidence to say “no” to individual board members. The GM candidate must have the ability to stay apolitical. The GM also needs to effectively communicate with the board, staff and community. The GM is going to have to have a vocabulary, if not a firm understanding, of finance, engineering and government administration.



Candidate Tariq Kahn

Press: Special taxes can be raised by zero to 4 percent per year. What is an appropriate annual percentage hike?

Kahn: Specialty taxes are levied to fill the gap between revenue and expenses. Any shortcoming in funds after the special tax is borrowed from general reserves. If the expenses can be curtailed, we do not need special taxes. I consider special tax as a luxury to cover up underperformance, and I am not in favor of it. In the current economic environment I do not and will not support tax increases. I believe the key is to manage expenses efficiently and work with resources that are available. If elected, I will fight hard against any increase in taxes. I will first ensure that the budget is managed in the most practical and efficient manner before we even put tax increases on the table.

Press: Do you think contracts for community services should go through a bidding (aka RFP) process regardless of staff limitations or projected savings? Please explain your answer.

Kahn: I am 100 percent in favor of the RFP process. The RFP process is important to bring in healthy competition. This will improve productivity and bring value to the community. Having no RFP would limit options, and there is greater risk of favoritism that could hurt the reputation and credibility of the management. My vision is to put a system in place. An automated system based on roles and responsibilities where only limited supervision is required for the system to work.

Press: What type of traits would you like to see in a general manager?

Kahn: A team player who is a responsible individual. A creative mind who can think beyond looking at numbers on a balance sheet. A finance-savvy person with excellent public relations skills. A person who belongs to the Mountain House community and understand its problems. One who can analyze issues and make decisions based on facts and findings. One who believes in responsibility and delegation of authorities. One who believes in macro-management as compared to micromanagement. One who can adapt to situations, take up challenges and prioritize tasks based on their merit. One who has vision, values efficiency and has a dream to make that vision a reality.



Director Andy Su

Press: Special taxes can be raised by zero to 4 percent per year. What is an appropriate annual percentage hike?

Su: Depends on the rest of the

district finances.

Press: Do you think contracts for community services should go through a bidding (aka RFP) process regardless of staff limitations or projected savings? Please explain your answer.

Su: Depends on the size of the contract and possible savings from an RFP. Continuity and consistency have value, too.

Press: What type of traits would you like to see in a general manager?

Su: Strong leadership and communication skills, because the GM is the chief executive of our organization.



Director Bernice King Tingle

Press: Special taxes can be raised by zero to 4 percent per year. What is an appropriate annual percentage hike?

Tingle: The answer is simple — the “why” is more complex. The appropriate percentage is dependent upon the financial situation coming into each annual budget consideration, including the projection for the future near-term and long-term service needs. The public financing plan required by the Mountain House Master Plan recognized that the new town’s city-like services would have to be supported by new specific, non-county revenues, and that inflation factors must be built into the rates. The special taxes, along with some ad valorem taxes granted to the MHCSD from fire district and county road district taxes, provide for all the nonutility services called out by the master plan and state law. To ensure the quality level of service anticipated by the master plan, the special taxes must keep up with inflation and help preserve a reasonable overall fund balance. The cost-of-living increases for fuel, maintenance, equipment, labor and materials must be recognized during budget hearings, as well as lowering costs of services, without lowering the quality of services. Services may not be increased, but quality services cost more to maintain. A complicating factor is that the utility funds are not yet capable of standing on their own, as public enterprise funds must do. Therefore, the general fund loans money to the utility funds each year as a subsidy, which will continue until there are enough customers to support those essential services or utility rates are increased. If the special taxes are not increased enough to continue or enhance quality services, then the utility rates must be increased. These are growing pains that must be endured if the master plan vision is to be realized. Until the town grows larger in the next five or so years, the directors will continue to be faced with the question of raising either the special taxes or the utility rates.

Press: Do you think contracts for community services should go through a bidding (aka RFP) process regardless of staff limitations or projected savings? Please explain your answer.

Tingle: All public contracts should follow the MHCSD purchasing ordinance, which provides for RFPs, quotations and other fiscally responsible measures that are similar to the ordinances of surrounding cities and the county. All contacts have followed proper protocol from year 2000 to date. As an example, the landscaping contract was awarded by the MHCSD board after going through a rigorous RFP process. That contract also allowed for board-approved extensions, provided the professional service provider provided quality services. The present board, after consideration of professional analysis and economic changes, voted to honor the contract provisions. An RFP was not necessary in that case to provide the best-quality service at a reasonable cost. The RFP process is only one purchasing tool. It should be, and has been, used on multiyear contracts and other large contracts. However, the purchasing ordinance provides other less costly and time-consuming procedures that are carried out by staff.

Press: What type of traits would you like to see in a general manager?

Tingle: There are a few obvious traits that are important. They include but are not limited to honesty, integrity, team builder, respectful to and of others, forward thinker, problem solver, strategic planner, innovative, excellent listener, creative can-do and adaptable to change. The GM must possess professional skills and know how to apply them in a political environment. The GM must understand how public agencies operate and the laws that govern the board’s actions. Public financing is complex compared to private business or personal finances. Although there are many commonalities, when you are dealing with the public’s money, the responsibility goes beyond profit motivation. The laws governing public finances are also more rigid on disclosure and transparency. The backbone of public services is responsible fiscal management. The GM must also be a generalist with many levels of expertise and have the ability to provide all the responsibilities described in the MHCSD ordinance and the CSD law. He should be able to communicate with the board, staff and the public; understand and support the master plan; and understand development and engineering processes.



Two-year term Candidate Joshua Anderson Press: Special taxes can be raised by zero to 4 percent per year. What is an appropriate annual percentage hike?

Anderson: Knowledge of “what” we are paying taxes for is critical. The zero to 4 percent increase each year that the board votes on allows the tax increase money to go toward the following categories: roads, public safety services, parks, recreation, community facilities and public works. The total amount that a 4 percent increase would raise a homeowner’s taxes by is about $70 for 2013. This tax is an important one, as we need these funds for the ongoing maintenance of Mountain House. Some argue taxes are too high — stop raising them. Unfortunately, that is not the answer. We need to maintain these services, and this is done through the special assessment taxes. But now is not the time to raise the taxes. Timing is critical, and while the CSD gets its house in order and while the residents of Mountain House get their lives in order, we can wait on the tax increase for one year. Yes, we need the increase, but now is not the time.

Press: Do you think contracts for community services should go through a bidding (aka RFP) process regardless of staff limitations or projected savings? Please explain your answer.

Anderson: Absolutely! Every contract needs to be bid out. If there is an opportunity to save money, then we need to explore each and every opportunity, and cutting cost starts with bidding out every contract. In order for the CSD to remain objective and neutral, we must bid each contract and not remain partial to any one company. In order to have full transparency at the CSD, we need to show our residents that we care about cutting costs and saving money, and one way to fully show this is to go through the RFP process regardless of the projected savings.

Press: What type of traits would you like to see in a general manager?

Anderson: The new general manager must be an effective leader. I have served on a panel of interviewers for Washington Mutual Bank, and every candidate we interviewed had leadership, but the best candidates proved that they were effective leaders. High ethics, integrity, solid management, financial and organizational skills, along with great communication, are crucial. The general manager must be visible to our community, must demonstrate excellent customer service skills and will need to lead by example. I would expect the general manager to protect and preserve the vision and quality of the community’s master plan.



Candidate Steve Gutierrez

Press: Special taxes can be raised by zero to 4 percent per year. What is an appropriate annual percentage hike?

Gutierrez: I will be able to make the appropriate and educated decision whether or not to raise taxes once I have the opportunity to fully examine MHCSD’s operational costs that are legally required. I will also review any contracts that MHCSD and the board have approved and executed under the board’s powers. My goal would be a zero tax. If a tax increase is needed, I would vote yes only after every effort was made to prioritize, reduce and cut costs throughout MHCSD. In addition, I believe that taxes should only be raised with a specific and legitimate purpose. Raising taxes in order to cover unjustified increased costs is not wise financial management. For example, approving (cost-of-living adjustment) raises for MHCSD staff is not justified in today’s financial environment. I am a firm believer there are means available now to reduce MHCSD’s operational costs and reduce tax increases. However, I reserve my recommendations until I am elected.

Press: Do you think contracts for community services should go through a bidding (aka RFP) process regardless of staff limitations or projected savings? Please explain your answer.

Gutierrez: I consider an RFP an important business tool to be used appropriately. Especially during these difficult financial times, an RFP can save our community the money when it is needed most. At the end of the 2012-13 fiscal year, the general fund balance will be approximately $3.8 million dollars, reduced from an approximate $5 million balance four years ago. This is partly due to lack of rooftops, the 2008 housing market crisis and lack of commercial development generating tax revenues. We have to do everything possible to cut costs without compromising the quality of services. An RFP is a challenging and time-consuming task, but considering our financial situation, I feel it is worth the staff time used to acquire the best services for the best price. An RFP also provides transparency to the public on how money is being spent and if the best business practice is used.

Press: What type of traits would you like to see in a general manager?

Gutierrez: The first trait is loyalty to the community. The general manager is an advocate for the community he/she serves and must maintain this perspective during his/her day-to-day operations. The second trait is integrity. The GM’s adherence to moral and ethical principles should be a routine practice in decisions and behavior. Integrity is paramount when the GM will need to inform the board of any impending issues that can adversely affect the community. The third trait is respect. The GM will be challenged in a myriad of situations where dignity, consideration and fairness are needed to resolve conflicts. Some leadership attributes that are also important for the GM are influencing, operating and improving MHCSD staff in a positive manner to elicit their best.



Candidate Corey Strock

Press: Special taxes can be raised by zero to 4 percent per year. What is an appropriate annual percentage hike?

Strock: It depends. First you do the budget with an eye toward getting the numbers as close to balanced as possible. After a majority of the interested parties agree on the budget, then the board must decide if a tax increase is warranted based on the numbers. The board cannot decide that before a budget is worked out. For perspective, the maximum raise of 4 percent equates to about $6 a month for most families. If that increase is required to maintain the Mountain House that I and the rest of the community enjoy, then I am willing to pay more.

Press: Do you think contracts for community services should go through a bidding (aka RFP) process regardless of staff limitations or projected savings? Please explain your answer.

Strock: I think contracts over a certain set amount should go through an RFP process. If the board begins the RFP process long enough before a current contract expires, I don’t see why it should cause an additional stress on staff. Some of the previous issues that resulted in contract extensions instead of a new RFP were decided because of time constraints. Eliminate time constraints, and we should be able to send our larger contracts to RFP.

Press: What type of traits would you like to see in a general manager?

Strock: Three traits are a must: patience, accounting experience and varied communication skills. Patience because Mountain House is a town with heavy resident involvement, and with that comes questions. Accounting experience is a must because Mountain House is on a tight budget. The town has some cash reserves, but without great budgeting and wise spending, that reserve will dwindle. An experienced GM should work with the board to come up with a budget everyone can live with. Communication skills are imperative. As Mountain House heads into the future, the new GM will need to interface with residents, builders, developers and businesses.

• Contact Jon Mendelson at 830-4231 or jmendelson@tracypress.com.

Comments
(2)
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Mhntracy
|
November 04, 2012
Why Jass was not interviewed?

Another people of mountain house should remember and also Tracy Press that with Jass only, all issues came out , before none of the board member informed our neighbors about any of the issues... Like office bldg cost of 40k rent, contracts without RFP etc, he is against tax increases. He may not the great speaker, but he has more knowledge to work on it deli gently.... FYI , I am not supporter of Jass or anyone, may be I like more Andy Su. But Jass is very considerable candidate. Think and vote...
RadioActiveLamb
|
November 06, 2012
Jass wasn't interviewed because he isn't a candidate. He's already on the board and facing a recall. He's also not filed any of his paperwork or reported any of his finances as he's required to do under the law. Regarding the issues you bring up, the RFP issue is a lie - Utilities RFP happened before he was seated, but came-up for approval in June of 2011. Jass voted NO to save $430K, while the other four voted YES. Look at the meeting transcript posted on the MHCSD website for that date. Jass is now taking credit for the savings (lie). RFP's do happen. Too bad people take his word without questioning it. A lot of good people are getting their reputations trashed by this man. Vote for people who want RFPs and honest taxing. All three of the recall candidates (Corey, Josh and Steve) want more RFPs.


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