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IID director discovers technology cost split overhaul is lopsided

February 25, 2001|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

Discussion about how much the Imperial Irrigation District water department should pay for the technology that runs the district's operations and business has yet to end.

Director Bruce Kuhn, who during a meeting Tuesday called on the board to cut the amount the water department pays for the district's computer systems, has asked that the issue be placed back on the agenda for the board's next meeting.

Kuhn said the board may need to reconsider the action it took Tuesday if it means the water department will pay less than 10 percent for the district's computer systems.

Kuhn made a motion during the Tuesday meeting that the water department pay the same amount it paid for computer systems in 1996, as adjusted to the consumer price index for 2001.

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That motion was supported by directors Lloyd Allen and Rudy Maldonado. Board President Andy Horne and Director Stella Mendoza voted against the motion.

Kuhn said his goal was to have water pay 10 percent for the district's computer systems and for the power department to pay 90 percent.

However, IID staffers said based on Kuhn's motion the water side will pay about 4.5 percent.

Maldonado said if staff is correct and Kuhn calls for a new motion to assure the water side is paying 10 percent, he would support that motion.

He said he does have concerns about the costs associated with computer systems and he wants such costs to continue to be evaluated.

The district this year has a budget of $9 million to cover computer systems that run water and power operations and business services.

The board voted to have the water side pay 24 percent of the technology cost and the power department pay 76 percent.

Kuhn said he disagreed with that action.

He said computer system cost increases the district has faced were due to the district having to add a program called SAP in the wake of power deregulation.

He said it was the power department that will receive the bulk of the benefit of the new program and should pay 90 percent of the cost.

Kuhn added that was the intent of the board in the mid-1990s when it voted to add the SAP program.

He said if the board knew that a future board would change the technology cost split between power and water from 90/10 to 76/24, it would not have voted for the program.

IID General Manager Jesse Silva said Saturday based on staff calculations, the water side uses about 24 percent of the district's computer services.

Silva said if the water department pays 10 percent or less for such systems, it would not be paying the full cost of what it utilizes.

Kris Fontaine, IID chief financial officer, said the action taken Tuesday means the water side will pay about $1 million less for computer systems and that will be covered by the power department.

She said that affects the way both departments provide service or carry out work. She added the shifting of such costs can affect both power and water customers.

The district has about 95,000 power customers in the Imperial and Coachella valleys. The district supplies water only to farmers in the Imperial Valley. There are about 6,000 water customers.

The ire of the farming community was raised when the board voted to have the water side pay 24 percent of the cost.

Lauren Grizzle, executive director of both the Imperial County Farm Bureau and the local Vegetable Growers Association, questions the success of the SAP program.

She said the water department was asked to pay more for computer systems based on SAP and the new program has not done what it was meant to do.

IID staffers disagree, adding SAP has improved computer services.

Debate over splitting the cost of computer services has sparked another discussion for the IID board.

Mendoza has said if the water side is going to pay less, she wants the board to look at the fee the power department pays to the water side for the generation of power. That fee, known as the falling water charge, can cost the power department as much as $4 million annually.

Mendoza, the newest board member, ran on a platform that the falling water charge may be unjust.

The board is expected to look at that charge along with the computer systems cost split at its next meeting March 13 at IID's facility in La Quinta.

Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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