PUD looks to annex floating homes as appointment for director looms
Interested residents of Subdivision 1 have until Dec. 29 to apply for board appointment
After months of outcry from ratepayers in floating homes, Columbia River People's Utility District directors agreed to initiate an annexation of floating homes along the Multnomah Channel in Scappoose.
The suggestion to take action came from Board President Jake Carter, following objection over the past two months from residents in floating homes who realized they were outside district boundaries and could not vote in PUD elections. One of the residents who urged the board to look into the issue was Nancy Ward, who ran for and was overwhelmingly elected to a seat on the PUD board to represent Subdivision 1 in Scappoose, but later deemed ineligible to serve by the PUD board because she lives outside the district's boundary.
Despite urging from several ratepayers and Director Dave Baker to seat Ward on the board, directors declared the Subdivision 1 position vacant during a regular meeting Tuesday evening, Dec. 20. To fill the position, the board is currently accepting applications from eligibe candidates before appointing someone to the position.
Prior to the annexation discussion, Baker tried to take more immediate action, requesting floating homes be immediately "grandfathered in" to the district's boundary, thereby allowing the board to seat Ward to the position she was elected to. Baker and Director Richard Simpson both advocated for the action, but the attempts were stifled by Board President Jake Carter and the district's attorney, Philip Griffin.
"I don't know of any legal procedure the board could take to accomplish that," Griffin told Baker, saying his proposal conflicted with state law, which stipulates the process for annexations and defines eligibility for all board directors.
Prior to the November election, some floating home residents in Multnomah County noted that they receive ballots for PUD elections, but their neighbors in Columbia County did not. The Multnomah County Elections Office investigated the issue and determined its interpretation of the PUD boundary was incorrect.
"Unless the legal boundary changes, they won't [get ballots]," Eric Sample, director of Multnomah County Elections, said Tuesday. "They may have the opportunity to get themselves annexed into the district."
The board heard from at least five ratepayers and Simpson, who disapproved of the plan to appoint a new director.
"Four people are gonna make the decision to seat somebody and take the privilege away from the voters?" Simpson asked.
"It seems to me that your board has some divisive elements," Candy Chapman told directors. "I don't think your board should be allowed to appoint the next member. I propose there be a special election."
The appointed director will serve for two years, until the next general election, a process defined by state law.
Others suggested leaving the Subdivision 1 position vacant until an annexation of floating homes occurs.
But none of those options are likely to happen.
"The PUD needs to annex those people in as soon as possible," Director Craig Melton said, echoing statements from Carter, who added an agenda item to Tuesday's meeting to start the annexation process. "I don't know what the process is ... but our duty, like one of the ladies said, is fix it. Make it better."
Ward is one of a handful of ratepayers who challenged the district over its handling of the election results after a press release was circulated from the PUD's legal team that spelled out a course of action that had yet to be voted on by the board.
She gave them her final thoughts Tuesday.
"Had you intended to insure a clean and transparent election you would have made a public pronouncement disqualifying me as soon as you received your eligibility questionnaire that I returned to you at the end of September," Ward told directors, reading from a prepared statement in front of a packed room. "Instead you said nothing. You would not have passed a faux resolution in October leading most voters to believe you would seat the winner of the election and honor the wishes of all the enfranchised voters. … Your handling of this election causes me to question your respect for the public's role at the PUD."
Eligible candidates in Scappoose's Subdivision 1 who are interested in serving on the board have until Thursday, Dec. 29, to submit resumes or letters of interest via www.crpud.net/boardvacancy.
A special meeting will be held Tuesday, Jan. 3, to review candidates and an appointment is expected to be made at the district's regular meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 17.
The PUD board approved a $35 milion budget Tuesday for 2017. The budget includes anticipated increases in power costs, a $3.7 million payroll budget with cost of living increases for employees, and $2.4 million in contractor and consulting fees, which includes the budget for legal expenses. The district will also purchase land and begin work on a three-year project for a new substation in Scappoose to accommodate increased load growth in the area. Despite rising costs, and an estimated $401,000 cash reserve drawdown, the budget falls within the PUD's reserve target, leaving an estimated $8.16 million year-end cash balance.