Defending their seats on the board are Mike Klinkner — appointed to a seat in the summer to replace Matthew Balzarini, who was elected to the new Lammersville Unified School District board — and Celeste Farron — who as a concerned citizen attended nearly every meeting of the board until she was appointed at the most recent meeting to fill a seat left vacant by Eric Payne, who resigned.
Klinkner has 16 years of municipal experience in addition to his few months on the Mountain House board. He plans to bring “experience, honesty and integrity” to the board and donates his $100-per-month stipend for serving on the board to nonprofit outfits that help Mountain House youth.
Farron has lived in Mountain House for more than five years and is co-chairwoman of the local youth action committee, in addition to her recent appointment to the CSD board. She pledges a tireless drive to balancing cost-effectiveness and highest-quality results if she’s elected to the board.
Both share similar visions for the future of Mountain House and have said that the present board works well as a unit, even while some of its individual members disagree on certain topics.
The incumbents also say that the two others running to serve on the board have made claims that stretch the truth.
The men challenging Klinkner and Farron are Jass Singh and Rajesh Dighe. Singh claims 20 years of experience as a successful businessman. Dighe has spent 20 years as an expert and manager in the software technology field.
Dighe’s No. 1 priority is opposing a power plant that is planned to be built in Alameda County just 2½ miles from Mountain House. He also wants to better integrate community feedback with board decisions and create “innovative solutions” to problems facing the town.
Singh promises to be fiscally accountable and clamp down on spending.
Both point to numerous “failures” of the board in their campaign materials.
Both criticize the board’s 2010 decision to increase special taxes by 4 percent. While Klinkner and Farron say the increase was needed to maintain vital services like park maintenance and public safety, Singh’s and Dighe’s campaign materials hold that the tax increases are an unnecessary burden placed on the people of Mountain House.
One of Dighe’s fliers says one of his top priorities is to “stop property tax increases.” The flier also says the board of directors, as it now stands, “lacks the knowledge, capacity, business acumen and necessary skills to delegate the proper action plans and corrective measures … for the development of our community.”
He wants to give Mountain House contracts to local residents, entice businesses to town and “stop bloated salaries and benefits” of the CSD staff.
Singh also decries the compensation packages for Mountain House employees. He wants to lower residential water bills by rolling back salary increases, offer Mountain House contract work to local residents before bids are offered to outside entities and balance the “operational part” of the budget, according to his campaign material.
He is also concerned about undue influence on the community. In an e-mail sent to members of the board of directors and obtained by the Press, Singh wrote that the board members recite “... the oath every month to defend the Constitution and U.S.A., but Koreans as foreigners are deciding the faith of Americans on our soil, and our CSD department is controlled like a puppet by Koreans.”
However, according to Sensibaugh, who has worked as general manager in the town since before home building began, much of what Dighe and Singh want to do is unrealistic or legally impossible.
Campaigns in conflict
Sensibaugh pointed out, for instance, that the CSD has no control over whether property taxes increase or decrease.
He also countered claims that employees have received 12 percent raises even as the economy has struggled.
In February 2009, the district laid off 10 out of 23 full-time positions, and the remaining employees agreed to forgo a 3.5 percent cost-of-living increase that year, he said.
In 2010, employees received a 2.5 percent cost-of-living increase in pay, while Sensibaugh received a 5 percent “equity” increase, after San Joaquin County — which fully governed Mountain House before the CSD was elected in 2008 and still has great sway with the unincorporated community — identified several employees who were undercompensated.
Meanwhile, spending on employee benefits was increased as required “by law,” Sensibaugh said. All employee salary and benefit costs to the district are available on the Mountain House website, and they show that Sensibaugh, the town’s highest-paid administrator, makes $217,000, including benefits and salary.
“We put it on the website long before the rest of California decided that was a good idea after Bell,” he said, referring to the small Southern California town where outsized pay and benefits packages created a scandal told around the nation.
Sensibaugh also explained that the service district’s budget, between $12 and $13 million this past fiscal year, is balanced and carries a reserve of about $4 million.
He said claims of an imbalanced budget could come from the fact that the district is lending money from its general fund to pay costs of the community’s water treatment plant. If the district relied on residents to foot the water plant’s burden through utility bills alone, Sensibaugh said, the fees would be exorbitant.
This approach, he said, keeps residential water bills low. Plus, the money lent will eventually be paid back into the general fund, when enough people live in Mountain House to fully cover the utility cost through their bills.
Farron and Klinkner also disputed some of their opponents’ claims at a Mountain House Press-hosted Monday, Oct. 25, forum that Singh and Dighe could not attend because of conflicting schedules. Both Singh and Dighe provided statements to be read to the audience.
Klinkner said that while everyone wants more businesses in Mountain House, no grocery store or other business will set up shop before such a move is financially viable. When development in the community picks up and more people move in and create a stable customer base, he said, Mountain House will court and draw plenty of businesses.
Farron added that, contrary to claims in Singh’s statement, the community services district has an open and fair bidding process for contracted work. She added that it would be illegal to open bidding only to Mountain House businesses, an idea featured prominently in campaign materials of both Dighe and Singh.
One of the few items all four candidates seem to agree upon regards a power plant that is slated to be built just over the county line, some 2.5 miles from Mountain House.
The Mariposa Energy LLC proposal would see a 200-kilowatt power plant that would run as many as 4,000 hours a year built just inside Alameda County’s borders. All four candidates for the board of directors oppose the idea.
Dighe has made opposition to the plant’s construction a mainstay of his campaign, while Farron and Klinkner agreed that allowing the plant would set a dangerous precedent wherein Alameda County exports its heavy industry — including more power plants and the pollution that goes with them — to its neighbor’s backyard.
Despite agreement on that count, the disagreements between the four candidates on even basic matters of board purview are wide — so wide, Sensibaugh said, that he doubts special tax increases and balanced budgets are really at the heart of the campaign.
“I think the campaign has turned to the point where it isn’t about taxes and it’s not about employees, it’s all about destroying a board that I think can do good things for this community, and it’s about grabbing power for the wrong reasons,” he said.