In a 4-1 vote at the Tuesday, Aug. 18 regular meeting, the Oakdale Irrigation District Board of Directors approved a 100 percent rebate equal to the 2010 water year taxes for farmers in the district. Director Jack Alpers was the dissenting vote, stating that he supported a 50 percent rebate but felt that anything above that was “outrageous.”
The vote was part of an action item that called for the board to decide how to allocate $5 million from a water sale to the Westside farmers earlier this year. The rebate equates to approximately $1.2 million. While the rebate was approved, the rest of the matter was referred to the Finance Committee for further review and direction, as it related to how much of the money would go toward the General Fund to replace the expected shortfall of Tri-Dam revenues, the Capital Improvement Budget, possible employee bonuses, and the possibility of a “Community Benefit Fund.”
There was a lively comment period from farmers in attendance and amongst the board regarding how the money should be allocated. Director Frank Clark was in favor of a community benefit fund of $250,000 that community entities could write grants for to the OID. He believes that since Oakdale citizens pay taxes to OID then they should be able to get back some of the money they put into it.
Earlier this year, OID gave money to the city to keep the community pool open and to provide a water safety and conservation program. The district also gave money to the city and rural fire departments for training.
Director Al Bairos said that the district should not establish a public reserve fund and that donations to the community should be looked at on a year-to-year basis. He also disagreed that the community didn’t receive any benefit from OID, citing projects such as restoration to the Stanislaus River for spawning salmon. Bairos also stated that he didn’t like that it would be tied to water sales.
Farmer John Brichetto showed the board tax assessments for six local bond measures on his properties. He said that the community benefits from the taxes that the farmers pay on their acreage, adding that farmers generate a lot of money and contribute generously to support the community. He said he felt the board needed to give back money to the farmers and take care of OID obligations.
“Take care of the farmers that take care of this district,” he said.
Director Webb agreed with Bairos, adding that the city has its ground water recharged by OID, the city gets drainage through the district, and that OID employs a number of Oakdale residents. He also said that he doesn’t believe that anyone has anything against helping the community, but didn’t like the idea of a special account.
Dairyman Guy Stueve commented about how poor the milk market is and that the Ag industry in general is hurting. He said that the farmers give a lot to the community already but that it’s not a good time to be handing out more money to the community. He said he’d rather see some of the extra money go to the “workhorses” in the district, such as ditchtenders.
Stueve also stated concern that promising money to the community is a “stimulus” to sell water, and that as a farmer, he needs the water. He also said that a “quarter of a million is a lot of money,” especially when dairy farmers and others are losing large quantities of money daily just to produce their product.
“We give a lot to the public. Help the farmer,” he said.
Dairy farmer Jack Hoekstra was also against the special community fund and brought forth the argument that there are farmers in the district who have employed water-saving practices and systems, which in turn have helped the district to save enough water to be able to sell in the first place. He said that those farmers should be financially compensated.
In discussion items, it was reported that OID was successful in its effort of applying for a grant called the Water for America Initiative in the amount of $300,000. The grant was for federal funds for fiscal year 2009 to be focused on addressing 21st century water challenges including decreasing water supplies caused by climate change and population growth and securing water resources for future generations. The money will be allocated to the reconstruction of Cashman Dam and the automation of the facility. Bid packages were just sent out this week. OID Water Operations Manager Kevin King said that Cashman Dam is the first point of control in the north system and that last year 2,500 to 2,800 acre feet of water was lost in operational spill. It’s expected that a similar amount of water has been lost or wasted for years at Cashman. Construction is expected to start around mid-October.
In meeting minutes from Aug. 4 and the Aug. 6 addendum, the North Side Reservoir Project was awarded to the second lowest bidder, Floyd Johnston Construction Co. of Clovis with a bid of $3.2 million. The OID board was divided on the bid award, offering up a 3-2 vote, with Directors Al Bairos and Tony Taro voting in dissent. The Ross F. Carroll Company of Oakdale had been the “apparent low bidder” but based on review by legal counsel and construction management, the Carroll bid was deemed “non-responsive” for failure to submit an acceptable bid deposit.
The next regular meeting of the OID Board of Directors will be at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 1 in the OID boardroom, 1205 East F.