Community Members Must Become Involved


by Ray Pugel, former PSWID chairman

Friday, Nov. 15, 2013

To: The Payson Roundup

Eighteen years is enough. For 18 years an effort has been made to eradicate the water woes in Pine-Strawberry. That effort has been successful but there is more work to be done.

We ousted Brooke Utilities/ Robert Hardcastle from our community, however, we still suffer the effects of decades of neglect just as other Hardcastle/Rim Country communities are beginning to discover.

My wife and I, along with our friends personally risked our retirement funds on the Milk Ranch well to prove a sustainable water supply for Pine-Strawberry. In a few short years, four deep wells have been drilled that have tapped into a once unknown aquifer. This has moved Pine-Strawberry from once being known for a lack of water to probably having one of the best and most sustainable supplies in Arizona. Under oath, a geologist testified that we have tapped into an aquifer with a probable reserve of 45 billion gallons of water. The summer hauling of water and the exorbitant hauling fees have been eliminated.

With all the good that has been done, it is hard to understand the underlying negative forces in the community. The board has replaced almost all the water meters in the communities of which some were approaching 60 years old. Industry standards recommend changing meters at least every 10 to 12 years.

Back-up generators have been installed at key points in the distribution system to ensure a water supply during power outages.

Funds have been budgeted to repair our main 300,000-gallon storage tank which is in danger of collapse.

A leak detection survey has pinpointed over 50 leaks which result in a water loss of over a million gallons a month.

We have an apolitical, international company, CH2MHill, operating our water system. They bring untold expertise and experience.

This alleged “watchdog group” who had a sympathetic affiliation and supported Bob Hardcastle, has taken out recall petitions on four board members who have given untold effort and personal funds to improve our communities’ quality of life.

The sad reality is that anyone with $100 can start a Web site or blog and spread any propaganda that they choose without any accountability to present truthful information.

These negative people have complained, distorted, and promulgated half truths. Many times we have asked for their plan only to be met by silence. The simple truth is, they have no plan or at least they are not being “transparent” as to what it is. When offered the opportunity to have a public debate on the issues, Sam Schwalm declined. In fact, if we allowed them to force a filtration system on the community, we would have wasted $30,000 of the district’s money. As usual, a rush to judgment without the facts. Our geologist’s report has been on the PSWID Web site since August.

Unfortunately, negative news, even if incorrect overrides positive information.

In the future, the community will have to come to the realization that we have a water system at risk. We have over 40 miles of water mains that are thin wall sewer pipe and are six decades old. As described by one Century Link employee: “We are afraid when we have to dig around the water mains because the only thing holding them together is the dirt around them.” The system has been put together piece by piece over decades without planning. Our oldest and largest subdivision, Cool Pines, has 2-inch mains where the industry standard is a minimum of 6 inches. During the Hardcastle years, instead of repairing leaks properly, small water lines were inserted into larger mains to avoid the expense of proper repairs. At some point another calamity is going to occur.

For the past three years the budgeted contingency fund has been all but depleted due to unexpected projects such as having to put water mains on Pine Creek Canyon Road and for unexpected events and repairs. We have replenished it to a minimum to ease public discontent, however, budgeting experts recommend a contingency fund reserve of $500,000.

It has been an educational experience for me as to why levels of government operate by crisis instead of planning mode. In our particular case, it is difficult to inform the public and make them understand when water is freely flowing out of their kitchen faucet.

It is difficult to convey to our citizens accurate information when we get less than six people on average to our board meetings. It is difficult to convey information to citizens when you host a town hall meeting on our water district and two-thirds of those attending leave after they have been fed lunch. It is difficult to convey to citizens the reasons for the board’s actions when the citizens come to a budget hearing, have their, as they say in London, “moan and go home,” before the board gets a chance to explain the reasons for their actions. And lastly, it is difficult to convey information to citizens when they prefer to get their information and gossip at a bulletin board at the post office.

Personally, I have invited people at meetings and in the newspaper, to meet with me to go over any information about our water district. In the 11 months I have been on the board, exactly two people have taken me up on that offer.

While this negative group is willing to spend over $20,000 of your district’s tax dollars for a recall when a general election will be five months hence, in good conscience, this cannot happen. Our funds are too precious and our needs are too great. In addition, there needs to be debate among candidates instead of one-sided erroneous accusations. Therefore, in the interest of bringing some calm to our community and so that tax dollars are not wasted by the same group who spreads negative vibes in our community, I and others have regretfully resigned as board members from the Pine-Strawberry Water Improvement District. By resigning, the county board of supervisors may invoke Section 48-1082 and 48-1086 of the Arizona Revised Code. This will allow time for substantial discussion of true and factual information by future candidates.

Groups such as this negative hate group are the reason that responsible citizens do not want to serve on public boards. If we look at the last election (which was an election by default), only four people ran for four seats. Unfor­tunately, this eliminates public discussion by candidates. Even though this negative hate group cried wolf about the word “transparency,” they were reluctant to name to the public their candidates in their recall effort. So much for transparency. Further­more, their allegations, as usual lack investigation and factual reporting.

When the “watchdog” group responds to this, other than running a divisive recall campaign with misinformation, could my fellow former board member, Sam Schwalm, ask his wife Debbie, who interestingly enough initiated the recall on a blog, to give us just one positive contribution that his/their group has done for Pine-Strawberry? In addition, could you perhaps say just one positive thing about some of the things the board has accomplished in the last four years. It would be refreshing.

Thanks to our water management team from CH2MHill who bring stability, international expertise and political autonomy to our community. One of our last undertakings was signing the contract extending their services for five years which will protect the public from an unqualified appointee. In addition, the board approved a contract for a master plan study. This is the first time a water master plan has been done since the founding of Pine-Strawberry. My thanks to the people who have actually studied our continued challenges and understand the need to plan for the future instead of managing by crisis. No matter who serves next on our board, they will face the same financial challenges of a deteriorating infrastructure and seasonally fluctuating income stream whose costs must be spread over a small customer economic base. The community must face the realities of what must be done. Who you select to serve you next time is important. You must be involved.


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