Pswid Wants To Buy Out Brooke Utilities

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The Pine Strawberry Water Improvement District governing board is going forward with negotiations to acquire the Brooke Utilities-owned Pine-Strawberry water systems.

The announcement came after the board returned from executive session during its regular meeting last night.

Board Chairman Bill Haney and Co-chair Terry Schleizer were named to act as delegates to deal with Brooke Utilities President Robert Hardcastle.

The acquisition of the two Brooke Utilities subsidiary companies, Pine Water Company and Strawberry Water Company, would include the 8-inch Magnolia pipeline built in 2000.

"Don't expect miracles with this, it's not going to happen overnight," Haney said.

Board Treasurer Michael Greer said he hasn't had contact with Gila County on the district's assessment, but that "it looks like we can stay with the same assessment as last year."

The other big news of the night came from Treasurer Greer who said he now has the PSWID accounts books "spot on" with county records.

He said the district has $114,000 in cash and $287,000 in escrow for the K2 well.

Other items approved at the April 17 meeting included accepting community volunteers to serve on budget, supplemental water, elections, public information and water conservation committees as well as forming a grant and a borehole committee.

The board also approved placing ads and actively looking for an administrative assistant.

"The position doesn't pay too well," said Haney, "I think it pays $12 per hour."

Haney asked the board to consider hiring a part-time general manager for the district at at an estimated $33,000 salary. He also asked the board to consider allotting money for district-related travel expenses.

Board member Ron Calderon presented information to the board on possible USDA grants and loans the district could tap into.

He said that Pine and Strawberry fall within a 5,000-population USDA ceiling for rural communities to qualify for assistance.

The USDA Rural Development Program information packet says rural communities of 10,000 populations or less qualify for water and waste water systems assistance.

"There is $100 million through the USDA available in Arizona and it might include money to buy out Brooke Utilities," Calderon said.

The board made no decisions on the USDA rural assistance programs, but said it would investigate it before the next regular meeting on May 15 at 7 p.m.

Board member Barbara Hall told the board that the March 11 special recall election cost $23,000 compared to holding it during a general election, in which case it would cost about $10,000.

Hall reminded the nearly 40 people attending the meeting that four board seats will be up for election in November.

"I have spoken with County Elections Director Dixie Mundy and 33 signatures are needed to get on the ballot," Hall said.

The topic of partnering with Payson and SRP on the Blue Ridge Reservoir came up at last night's meeting. The majority of those attending and the board felt the $17 million price tag for getting a pipeline into Pine-Strawberry along with maintenance of it made it too expensive.

Not everyone agreed however.

Ellen Greer said it might be a good idea to consider getting in on the Blue Ridge deal.

"This would be like having money in the bank. It could give us a future bargaining chip, a trump card," she said.

Resident and private well owner Curtis Chaney asked the board to approve providing him assistance in submitting a petition to allow two adjacent pieces of land he owns that are in separate water districts to be made one piece of land in one district.

Chaney owns land in both the Pine Strawberry Water Improvement District and the Pine Water Association Water Improvement District (PWAWID).

He wants the board to allow him to take his land in PSWID and place it in PWAWID.

The board said they would consult with their attorney on Chaney's request and discuss it at a later date.

Before adjourning, the board set the next regular meeting date for Thursday, May 15 at 7 p.m. and a special budget workshop meeting for Thursday, May 1.

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