8 candidates vying for 3 seats on Jefferson’s water board
By Erik Hidle / The Bulletin
Published: April 16. 2011 4:00AM PST
Jefferson County’s most contentious election this May is for three open seats on the Deschutes Valley Water District.
Eight candidates, including two incumbents and two former members of the board, have applied. The positions are determined by overall vote with the three candidates receiving the most votes on May 17 being appointed to the board for four-year terms.
The district provides water service from their source at Opal Springs to 5,000 residents of Jefferson County. About 1,000 of those accounts are managed by the city of Madras through a city utility with the remaining customers in Culver, Metolius and rural Jefferson County paying rates to the water district directly.
The district also serves as the water source for Culver-based water bottling company Earth2o.
“One of the benefits of living out here is the quality of our water,” said Ed Pugh, general manager of the district.
“The way we operate, with our business model, the water is available for a very reasonable price.”
The Deschutes Valley Water District is unique in that it does not levy a tax on county residents. Water rates remain low because the district owns and operates a hydroelectric plant located on the Crooked River. That energy is sold to PacifiCorp and provides revenues of around $3.5 million to the district.
The district charges residential users $18 a month for 700 cubic feet of water and brings in an additional revenue of $1.5 million through water services.
That business model means the district is able to make improvements and repairs to their system without asking the public for a levy or bond. The last time a tax was assessed by the district was 1985 — the first year the power plant went into operation.
Candidates for the three positions include two incumbents, Richard Avila and Eldon Barker, and six others: Bill Bellamy, Kenny Bicart, Carl Breazeale, Bob McConnell, Kevin O’Meara and Sig Skavtan III.
Avila, a 47-year-old farmer, was appointed to his position by the board last June. He served on the budget committee for the water district before the appointment and said he took a quick liking to the process of governing the district.
“I would like to retain my seat as it’s been a good way to give back to the community,” Avila said. “I’ve learned a lot since I’ve been on the board, and I’m still learning. I’m getting really involved in the projects we have coming up, and I want to see them through.”
Avila said his main focus if re-elected would be to continue working on a fish ladder project at the power plant that is in its early stages.
Barker, an 81-year-old retired business owner and road worker, has served on the district’s board for 16 years. He said his goal moving forward is to keep the district operating efficiently.
“We’ve run a pretty good district in my time there,” Barker said. “We want to provide the constituents with what they want — to keep rates low and provide an excellent product. The main thing is no taxes. We’re able to operate safe fiscally without them, and we want to keep operating in the black by doing that.”
Bellamy, a 62-year-old Realtor, has served in government for nearly three decades. Bellamy was a state representative from 1979 to 1988 and a Jefferson County commissioner from 1996 to 2008. He also served four years on the Central Oregon Community College board.
Bellamy said after a short break from public service he is ready for more.
“I have always had a real interest in the district and find it’s a wonderful source of water in the area,” Bellamy said. “When I was in the Legislature, I worked very hard on the bill that allowed districts to produce and sell electricity, which, when passed, allowed them to sell the electricity. I’m proud of that and have a real interest in it.”
Bellamy also said he supported the fish ladder project being undertaken by the district.
Bicart, a 64-year-old farmer and business owner, previously served as president of the Jefferson County Farm Bureau and as a member of the Jefferson County Fair Board. He said his government experience also includes stints as a lobbyist at the state level where he worked on gathering support for water rights in rural areas.
“I know what’s going on with the district, and I know some of the issues coming up, and I hope I can help,” Bicart said.
Bicart said he wanted to explore the relationship the district has with Earth2o, which pays 1 cent per gallon as a commercial customer.
“They charge them more than they charge the rest of the public, and I know people feel pretty strongly about that on both sides,” Bicart said. “I want to have a talk about that and see if it’s an issue.”
Breazeale, 62, who has owned Metolious Market and Gas for 14 years, said he wants to bring a business mind-set to the board.
“I have a background in retail and wholesale of 40 years and I think that can be of benefit to the board,” Breazeale said. “From the outside they appear to be operating pretty good, and I don’t want to go in there and micromanage anyone, but I think with my business traits I can bring something to the board.”
Breazeale previously served for two years on the City of Metolius Planning Commission.
McConnell, a 61-year-old manager at Central Electric Cooperative, has worked for electric utilities for over 40 years and said that experience can benefit the district.
“I don’t have a big agenda, but I have a lot of experience and I believe that will be of use,” McConnell said. “The district has been run very well and it’s a solid economic driver for the community with it’s resources. I want to see it continue as such but maybe with a little higher profile in community involvement. It’s a real gem for the community and it could maybe be marketed a bit better.”
McConnell previously served for six years on Madras City Council.
O’Meara, a 54-year-old business owner, is a Madras city councilor who was previously appointed to the Deschutes Valley Water District on a two-year term. He said his familiarity with the board will be useful.
“I have experience with them and I’m familiar with what they’ve done,” O’Meara said. “I think they are heading down the right direction now and I would like to eventually pursue a secondary power plant in the area to provide additional funds.”
O’Meara said if elected he will continue to serve on the city council.
Sig Skavtan III
Skavlan, a 69-year-old retired customer service officer for Pacific Power, previously served on the district board between 1981 and 2005. He said he is running again because he still has an interest in the district and wants to keep it going on the same path.
“I’m running because of my enjoyment with the previous 24 years,” Skavlan said. “When I first got to town, and started serving, the district was in a taxing situation. I was there when we built the power station and those were fascinating times. Still, there are always new challenges and as the district continues to grow I want to help keep the focus on running a squeaky-clean system as the district has in the past.”
Erik Hidle can be reached at 541-617-7837 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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