This afternoon the Rainbow Municipal Water District board will take the first step on a proposed joint powers agency involving Rainbow and the Fallbrook Public Utility District.
“I think it’s an exciting opportunity for both districts to save money,” said Rainbow general manager Dave Seymour.
The Rainbow board will make comments on the draft of the proposed joint powers agreement; the comments will be incorporated by water district staff as the agreement is refined. FPUD’s board is scheduled to meet January 28 and will likely make similar comments. The agreement would be effective when both boards approve the final implementation language, which could occur as early as February.
Seymour, FPUD general manager Brian Brady, and the legal counsel for the two districts have been developing the draft agreement. “We’re still working on it,” Seymour said.
Rainbow and FPUD have been discussing consolidation. A joint powers agency would allow for functional consolidation, which could either be an interim step towards jurisdictional consolidation or an alternative which would allow each district to keep its own governing board. “It will achieve the same level of cost savings,” Seymour said of functional consolidation.
“I think most of the players involved still think that in the long term consolidation’s probably best for both districts, but that’s a long process,” Seymour said.
The joint powers agreement will enable the districts and their voters to determine whether jurisdictional consolidation would be a suitable permanent option. “It will see how well we work together,” Seymour said.
Another advantage to a joint powers agency is the ability to add member agencies which cannot be consolidated. In addition to the San Diego County Water Authority and the multi-county Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, there is already one JPA for water in San Diego County. The Sweetwater Authority consists of the South Bay Irrigation District and the National City water department, which as a city department cannot be consolidated with another water agency.
Although no formal discussions have involved the eventual addition of the City of Oceanside’s water department to the Rainbow/FPUD joint powers agency, such an addition would allow for coordination of San Luis Rey River and sewer outfall issues, and Oceanside’s Weese Water Treatment Plant is located in Bonsall within the Rainbow district’s boundaries.
“One of the things that’s written into the agreement is that other entities can join the JPA,” Seymour said. “We’re not an exclusive club.”
Rainbow and FPUD will likely create the JPA and begin functional consolidation before inviting Oceanside to consider participation. “We haven’t gotten that far yet,” Seymour said.
Each member agency would appoint an equal number of directors, and a community member at large would be appointed to create an odd number of JPA board members. Since the at-large member would be appointed by a majority of the other board members, approval from at least one member of each district would be required. “You find a member who’s got an interest in both districts,” Seymour said.
That could include an at-large member who lives in one district but owns a business or property in the other district.
The length of board and officer terms is not stipulated in the draft document, nor is the minimum frequency of meetings. A minimum frequency does not constrain the board to meeting only at that stipulated time; the board itself will decide the actual frequency of meetings. “The board will probably meet monthly for the first several months,” Seymour said, adding that once various implementation issues have been completed the frequency may be reduced to quarterly.
Both Rainbow and FPUD have found afternoon board meetings to be more preferable to evening meetings; FPUD’s current 4:00 p.m. starting time was a change from the previous 6:00 call to order while Rainbow experimented with evening meetings before returning to daytime sessions and now has a 1:00 p.m. start. The time of the JPA meetings would also be determined by the board.
The board is also authorized to form committees, although one option in the draft agreement would specify the creation of an executive committee and a technical advisory committee.
FPUD has previously been involved in two jurisdictional consolidations: the district joined with the DeLuz Heights Municipal Water District in 1990 and with the Fallbrook Sanitary District in 1994. The merger between FPUD and the Fallbrook Sanitary District merged one district whose employees had Martin Luther King Day as a paid holiday and one district which did not give that day off to non-emergency staff, and the retention of both previous employee agreements gave some but not all consolidated agency staff members that holiday. Seymour noted that the JPA would keep employee memorandums of understanding for each member agency in place.
Seymour added that employee associations of each district could voluntarily agree to similar provisions. “There’s nothing that would keep us from trying to renegotiate,” he said. “It would require reopening the contracts.”
Seymour noted that such employee provision inconsistency is one disadvantage to functional consolidation. “That’s one of the problems with the JPA,” he said. “It doesn’t provide the perfect consistency between the agencies.”
The functional consolidation would allow for shared management. “That’s where we’re trying to achieve the majority of the cost savings,” Seymour said.
While employee consolidation would not be at the expense of service, other functions such as information technology could also be shared. “That’s a perfect example. Neither one of us has a need for a full-time IT person,” Seymour
said. “This would allow us to consolidate in that area, probably get better service and lower our cost at the same time.”
Rainbow and FPUD already have a mutual aid agreement, but a JPA can also allow for sharing of other specialty employees.
The stated purpose of the agreement in its current form is to create the North County Water Utility Joint Powers Authority (which might simply be called the North County Joint Powers Authority) and to provide for the administration of the member agencies, although the draft agreement itself includes a blank for stating other purposes. The draft agreement authorizes general powers to accomplish the purposes of the agreement. Specific powers include entering into contracts, employing agents, maintaining or operating building or infrastructure facilities as well as constructing or acquiring such facilities or leasing them, acquiring and disposing of property, incurring debts or other liabilities which do not constitute a debt or obligation to a member agency, accepting grants or other contributions and applying for grants, setting compensation amounts including consultant or legal fees and any per diem pay for board members, prescribing the duties and adopting day-to-day conduct rules for employees and other agents, filing lawsuits, investing funds, and enforcing the agreement provisions.
The draft provisions allow for withdrawal of a member agency as well as termination of the JPA by mutual agreement.