The Gila County Board of Supervisors appointed a citizen committee to oversee an audit and the creation a next year’s Pine-Strawberry Water Improvement District (PSWID) budget at its board meeting on March 20 — opening the floodgates of good vibes.
“I had my concerns of your even-handedness,” said former board member Sam Schwalm. “I would like to thank you for the even-handed way you handled this.”
“I’m chairman of Moving Pine and Strawberry Forward,” said Ric Hawthorne. “Thank you for taking our concerns seriously. It did get very contentious at times.”
The community members hope to remain in charge of the budget and oversee the audit although the supervisors are running the district pending a May election.
With the appointment of the committee, the supervisors signaled they were more than happy to pass on that responsibility. However, it will take focus to complete the budget on time.
Gila County Manager Don McDaniel said the committee can start the process and the new board can finish it.
McDaniel also said the state auditor general’s office has added the concerns of community members to the current audit of the public utility.
“I believe that at the January town hall meeting there was a lot of information received by the board (so they) considered an audit,” said McDaniel. “The board did pass that. Subsequent to that action, the auditor general told us about the audit they are currently doing ... she was unaware of all the issues brought up, so I emailed her a ton of stuff. She later called me and said I’m glad you sent this, we were unaware of these issues, we will include that in our audit.”
Many residents of Pine and Strawberry have clamored for change since the PSWID created its first board after the district bought out Brooke Utilities. Complaints centered on one board member using a company credit card for personal expenses, mismanagement and rate increases.
At the end of 2013, five of the seven board members resigned in the face of a recall election. The supervisors had to step in to run the district after Ray Pugel, Gary Lovetro, Ron Calderon, Richard Dickinson and Michael Claxton left office on Nov. 15.
Since then, the supervisors have held two town hall meetings. After listening to the concerns, the supervisors decided to turn as much control over to locals as possible, to escape the whirlpool of discontent.
“We weren’t happy we were appointed the board of directors,” said Michael Pastor. “If there were questions we were holding the information back, the only reason was we were putting everything together.”