Thunderbird water district in budget predicament

New facility at TFID. Photo by Michelle Chance

Twenty customers of a local water district packed themselves into a conference room Thursday afternoon to hear an update on the utility’s plans to shrink its budget which had nearly doubled from the previous year.[quote_box_right]“It pains my heart to expose that much risk to the community.” Engineer Nathan Meacham[/quote_box_right]

The Thunderbird Farms Improvement District Governing Board announced plans at the meeting to trim the bloated 2017-18 budget by nearly $300,000, from $844,305 to $562,698.

Customers, who were angered during a June meeting by the district’s attempt to vote through a 11.52 percent tax levy to cover costs praised the district for its efforts to shrink the budget.

The board was successful in approving a $15 fee increase at the same meeting last month, despite the tax hike failing.

That fee, however, isn’t enough to cover expenses for the district, which recently constructed a new water treatment facility and office building.

The treatment facility was built as a result of the district being hit with multiple violation notices from county and state agencies for not meeting water regulations.

Board Chairman Patrick Lacey said in June the new facility was necessary for the district to stay in compliance.

District engineer Nathan Mecham led the budget modification discussion Thursday. Mecham recommended reductions to some of the most expensive line items, including repairs to ageing service lines and a reserve fund for maintenance on its three wells.

The reduced budget recommendations produced a wave of reconciliation from disgruntled customers, who began making cooperative recommendations of their own.

Though the changes eased tensions between the district and its customers, they have created unease with its engineer.

“It pains my heart to expose that much risk to the community,” Mecham said.

The district did propose increases in a few of its line items, however.

The most controversial was an increase in funds to pay for an additional office assistant, an expense many customers said the district could do without.

When the subject of another possible tax levy came up in discussions, customer Scott Crawford addressed the board with a warning.

“Live within your means,” Crawford said. “If you want [the tax] to go up, then you’re going to have another mutiny on your hands.”

Despite the district’s overall effort to better manage the budget, the newest draft still leaves a negative balance of $120,390.

The board will meet July 20 at 6 p.m. to continue budget modification discussions, including finding alternative resources of revenue.