2010-10-07 / Front Page

Water board challenger wants to hold the line on salaries

One-fourth of the LVMWD employees make six-figure incomes
By Sylvie Belmond belmond@theacorn.com

Barry Steinhardt Barry Steinhardt A challenger for the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District board of directors hopes to break up the status quo and redirect fiscal policy at the local water agency.

The district provides potable water, wastewater treatment, recycled water and biosolids composting to more than 65,000 residents in Agoura Hills, Calabasas, Westlake Village, Hidden Hills and some unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County.

Three of the five district directors are up for reelection this November. Incumbents Glen Peterson and Lee Renger are running unopposed. Jeff Smith is being challenged.

If elected, candidate Barry Steinhardt said he would join board members Joe Bowman and Charles Caspary to create a new majority on the board of directors that favors holding the line on water rates and employee benefits.

“I have seen a lack of concern by the three-director voting bloc when it comes to the high water rates. The rates get higher and higher with no end in sight. I felt that I should step up and demonstrate leadership,” said Steinhardt, the 53-year-old owner of a financial consulting firm in Agoura Hills.

Jeff Smith Jeff Smith Steinhardt worries that 29 of the water district’s 120 employees earn six-figure incomes. And for many years the water district provided lavish benefits without requiring employee contributions, he said. Some workers receive up to 90 percent of their salary at retirement.

“My extensive experience will allow me to provide effective oversight . . . and make sound decisions regarding the budget and expenses for the district,” Steinhardt said.

Steinhardt said he has more than 30 years of experience in corporate financial leadership.

“Being involved with community programs has allowed me constant contact with community members. This has enabled me to understand their concerns and priorities,” Steinhardt said.

Smith, 57, is director of NASA and commercial programs at American Pacific Corporation, In- Space Propulsion. The company designs, develops and manufactures rocket engines for satellites. He also owns a family-run home improvement business. Smith formerly was vice president of engineering for a plastic bottle recycling and reprocessing company headquartered in Utah.

He was elected in November 2006 to represent the 5th District, which covers most of Agoura Hills.

“For my next term, my main goals will focus on implementing solar electric power and a recycled water reservoir to allow LVMWD to become independent of Edison and watershed regulators and the large costs associated with both,” Smith said.

He said government regulations— not wages, benefits and retirement packages—drive water and sewer rates.

The biggest challenge for the local water agency will be the regulatory burdens associated with discharging treated water from the Tapia reclamation plant into Malibu Creek.

The district can only discharge into the creek five months of the year. It recently obtained a new permit from the Regional Water Quality Control Board to continue operations at Tapia, but the permit includes new requirements that are expensive to meet, Smith said.

“In the future, regulators may impose even more stringent discharge requirements and restrictions that could cost tens of millions of dollars to meet or could even obsolete our state-of-the-art Tapia treatment plant,” Smith said.

Local water officials must evaluate ways to reduce that risk, he said.

“I have a vision for a new recycled water reservoir as a key part of the ultimate solution, namely getting out of Malibu Creek entirely, Smith said.

But Steinhardt said the current board has forgotten that money is a precious resource, just like water. “I consider my fresh eyes and attitudes an advantage.”

Steinhardt and his wife, Patrice, have lived in Agoura Hills for 24 years. They have two grown daughters.

“I care about the interests of the people in this community as I care for my own,” Steinhardt said.

Smith and his wife, Kathrin, have four teenagers. Kathrin Smith’s parents, Ann and Ben Dorgelo, represented local residents on the LVMWD water board for 31 years. Ben served two terms, and Ann served six terms until her death in November 2005.

“A pessimist may see my family’s involvement with the board as a dynasty. I see it as a good thing; I’m proud to continue in their footsteps,” Smith said.

During his first term, Smith was treasurer for the water district. He said he helped to refinance several long-term bond debts that saved the ratepayers in the district more than $400,000 a year.

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