Government / Politics

Election 2020: Sunnyslope County Water District

Three candidates compete for two seats on Nov. 3.

Three candidates are vying for two seats on the board of the Sunnyslope County Water District, appointed incumbents Jerry Buzzetta and Jim Parker, and challenger Andres Builes. The district provides water to more than 5,600 customers, and wastewater facilities in that district serve more than 1,200 customers. 

Andres Builes has lived in San Benito County for 18 years and attended San Benito High School. He has an MBA degree from Santa Clara University and a BA in economics from the UC-Santa Cruz. He has worked in banking and currently works for the Oracle Corporation as a manager of funding and risk management.

Builes has 10 years of experience in finance, banking, financial analysis and portfolio management. This is the first time he has run for political office. He said that he would donate his salary back to the county if elected.

Andres Builes. Photo courtesy of Andres Builes.
Andres Builes. Photo courtesy of Andres Builes.

BENITOLINK: Why are you running for the Sunnyslope County Water District?

BUILES: To make a positive change in our district and improve the way resources are utilized. We will never see a meaningful change if we keep electing the same individuals.

What issues are most important to your district?

Quality of the water, operational cost, resources and public engagement.

Are there issues you feel are important to your district that the public may not know about?   

I believe most of our community is aware of these issues; however, I don’t know of any candidate currently addressing them or during the time they have been serving: crime, local jobs, infrastructure, education.

What obstacles and challenges does the district face?

COVID-19, economy, community division, resources.

How do you plan to address those issues?

Government support, public engagement, community outreach, education.

How do you intend to communicate and stay in touch with the constituents you’d represent?

Community outreach, personal engagement, availability.

What is the role of local government?

Deliver the necessary tools, resources and services required by the community to develop the appropriate strategies that will have a direct effect on the public.

 

Jerry Buzzetta has lived in San Benito County for 34 years and has been married for 42 years. He and his wife Barbara have four children. Prior to his appointment to the Sunnyslope County Water District last year, he spent 33 years as a first responder, first as an EMT on an ambulance and then as a firefighter in Santa Cruz, Milpitas and San Jose. 

Buzzetta has a degree in fire science and a BS degree in business administration management as well as a vocational teaching credential. He has also coached youth sports in various schools throughout San Benito and Santa Clara counties, been active in church activities, worked with the Beautiful Day Foundation, and taught at schools in the area.

Twenty years ago, Buzzetta served as an appointed director for the San Benito County Water District, responsible for managing investments that allowed the Less Salt Water Treatment Plant to be built. 

Jerry Buzzetta. Photo courtesy of Jerry Buzzetta.
Jerry Buzzetta. Photo courtesy of Jerry Buzzetta.

BENITOLINK: Why are you running for the Sunnyslope County Water District?

BUZZETTA: I am running for the Sunnyslope County Water District because as the appointed incumbent of a year ago, I gave my word at that time that I would run for election and continue to serve for as long as the voters allow.

What issues are most important to your district?

As we are a special district—an enterprise operation—we are a nonprofit, government-like entity that gets its main revenue stream strictly from water and wastewater users. Therefore, we must spend money like it was our own and build reserves to address capital and maintenance issues as much as possible. Ratepayer increases should be only done as a last resort, after exhausting all other avenues. Therefore, forecasting, planning, and budgeting are key and essential components for present and future spending and cost control.

The current connection fees, for new services in new subdivisions being built, are not to be spent unwisely now, as much maintenance, servicing, repair, and eventual replacement costs of the same, is in our future for all the new water systems being turned over to us by developers. I have questioned the GM and staff about the “common practice” of the developer to give a one-year warranty on water systems deeded over to us on completion of the developer’s contractual obligations. Why is it not more like a five- or 10-year warranty? Why not require the developer to post a bond or deposit funds with us to handle any warranty-related items? Any unused funds, in the end, can be returned with fair market interest.

Capitalization of these new assets can give a false financial picture if one is not looking at all the potential costs, as well as projecting short-, medium-, and long-term expenses associated with these assets. I’ve asked the GM to create a new five-year strategic plan.

Are there issues you feel are important to your district that the public may not know about? What obstacles and challenges does the district face?

Staff has been tasked to create a system that accurately predicts the life expectancy of all system components and allocates scheduled maintenance and replacement costs into reserves such that those funds will be available at the time the cost is most likely to be incurred.

Other revenue challenges include future system service improvements per the Hollister Urban Service Area Agreements, drought years which are surely to come, normal price and personnel cost increases (chemicals, healthcare, etc.), COVID-19 related loss of revenues and write-offs due to state executive order(s), state and federal mandates, requirements, revisions, and regulations impacting our water and wastewater operations without providing the funds to pay for their implementation, unfunded state pension liabilities due to economic downturn, poor investment returns, the unrealistic state pension plan rate of return assumptions, and the looming (miss-managed) State budget deficit, which may be further exasperated by executive orders and party-based opportunistic initiatives—unjustifiably using COVID-19 as the scapegoat, and paying down/off all district loans incurred for the West Hills Water Treatment Plant and the recently finished crosstown pipeline.

How do you intend to communicate and stay in touch with the constituents you’d represent?

I will be walking the district, with a mask and glasses on, seeking opportunities to communicate with constituents with proper social distancing. Recommended to the GM that he send out a newsletter explaining the current tiered rate plan structure, the myriad of ways that a customer may be experiencing a water leak and/or excessive water consumption without even knowing it, ways to conserve water, and COVID-19 related information about the office, paying bills, late fees, and myths about its impact to our water system, quality, transmission, and safety. Constituents are always free to contact me on the district’s website with comments, questions, suggestions, and concerns. Contacting district constituents via homeowners associations or other community-based groupings would allow the opportunity for them to arrange an in-person town hall Q&A type meeting likely more popular post-COVID-19 and/or immunity/vaccine. As usual, scanning local feeds and common social media for district-related conversations provides opportunities to inform and educate, as well as encourage constituents to contact staff directly and/or attend monthly board meetings (in-person with a mask or online via the agenda posted link to RingCentral) as was recently done by Director Alcorn on our behalf.

What is the role of local government?

“What is the role of local government” is a question for candidates running for a City or County entity. As I noted above, Sunnyslope County Water District is a “special district.” State legislation allows special districts to be formed by LAFCO, based on a vote by property owners, to provide services of a local and common interest nature/need, in this case, water and wastewater. We are structured as an “independent district” because of our independently elected board of directors, responsible only to our local constituents. Our services are considered “enterprise” functions because they are services that we charge a fee for—via water and/or sewer bills. We, by regulatory statutes and strict product requirements (federal and state) have varying degrees of state-licensed plant operators, in order to be licensed to operate, due to our highly complex processes, the chemicals utilized, the critically important safe standards we must meet, maintain, and prove through regular laboratory tests.

As with other governmental entities, we are subject to the same strict accountability standards and laws (Brown Act, Public Records Act, etc.). Our budgets are set by the board, have an annual financial audit by an independent CPA, with the audit reviewed by the state controller.

Special districts are regarded as one of the most efficient forms of government because of our narrow focus, quality services provided at the lowest costs possible, minimal bureaucracy, and our ability to meet the changing demands within our service area. Our role is quite simple and well-defined as noted above. My job is to “ensure safe, reliable, high-quality, eater (and wastewater) services, for you, in an environmentally and financially responsible manner.” That’s my commitment to you, the voter, and to do so in a cooperative and collaborative manner with board members, staff, counsel, customers, vendors, along with our city, county, state, and federal partners, so help me God.

 

Jim Parker moved to San Benito County in 1986 and lives in Hollister with his wife. They have two grown sons. He was appointed to the Sunnyslope Water District board in January 2019 and it is his first political position. Prior to his appointment, he worked in planning, procurement and program management. He believes the financial and budgetary perspectives he acquired in business have given him skills he can apply to his board duties. 

Jim Parker. Photo courtesy of Jim Parker.
Jim Parker. Photo courtesy of Jim Parker.

BENITOLINK: Why are you running for the Sunnyslope County Water District?

PARKER: I’m running for the office to help continue the work on systems and processes that will support the district now, and in the future.

What issues are most important to your district?

The most important product is the safe and reliable water and sewer services.

Are there issues you feel are important to your district that the public may not know about?

No. The operations of the district are open to public view and the meetings, even in our current pandemic, are available for attendance online or by phone.

What obstacles and challenges does the district face?

We are always concerned about the effects of drought conditions. This concerns not only the availability of water but also the quality of the water.

How do you plan to address those issues?

It is always better to prepare than to react. This district has done and will continue to exercise the right level of planning, including long-term planning, to assure the availability and quality of the water going to our customers.

How do you intend to communicate and stay in touch with the constituents you’d represent?

Working with the district, we can use more direct-to-customer communication electronically and also support this with regular mailers. Our meetings are open to the public.

What is the role of local government?

Local government is the closest level of government to the public and as a result, is in a position to listen more closely to them.

 

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Robert Eliason

I’ve been a freelance photographer since my dad stuck a camera in my hand on the evening of my First Grade Open House. My dad taught me to observe, empathize, then finally compose the shot.   I have had gallery showings and done commercial work but photojournalism is a wonderful challenge in storytelling.   The editors at BenitoLink have encouraged me to write stories about things that interest me, turning me into a reporter as well.  It is a great creative family that cares deeply about the San Benito community.