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IID board draws anger over 76/24 computer payment split

March 27, 2001|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

A divided Imperial Irrigation District Board of Directors voted Monday to supersede the action it had taken two weeks earlier on splitting the cost of the district's computer systems.

By a 3-2 vote the board approved a motion by Director Stella Mendoza that called for the water and power departments to pay a share of the computer systems equal to their use.

That means the power department will pay about 76 percent and water will pay 24 percent. The total budget for the district's computer systems is $9 million.

The board's action Monday was met with an angry response from the farming community, which filled the IID auditorium in El Centro.


Some farmers criticized the board members who voted for the 76/24 split, stating the action would be divisive for the Imperial Valley.

Mendoza's motion was supported by Director Rudy Maldonado and board President Andy Horne.

Directors Bruce Kuhn and Lloyd Allen cast the dissenting votes.

Kuhn two weeks earlier had the upper hand on the issue when the board approved his motion calling for the district to divide the computer costs by a 90/10 split with the power side to pay 90 percent.

During that meeting, in La Quinta, Kuhn, Allen and Maldonado voted for the 90/10 split. However, the board did not finalize that setup by amending this year's district budget.

That action was to take place Monday. Hundreds crowded into the auditorium to debate the issue.

Mendoza, who argued a 90/10 split is unfair because it would mean the power side would pay more than its share, had a petition signed by residents against the split.

Kuhn was the first to speak on the issue.

He presented documents from board meetings dating back to 1997 in which the board took action to purchase a computer system known as SAP.

Kuhn said the documents show the intent of the board was to have the power department pay 90 percent of the costs for computer systems and the water side 10 percent.

He said the board made a promise based on the votes by himself, Allen and former directors Don Cox and Ralph Menvielle to split the costs on a 90/10 basis.

Kuhn said the clear intent of purchasing the SAP system was to benefit the power side in the wake of power deregulation. It was not a system that was to serve the water department.

He said of the board's action Monday, "That is not the deal I voted for."

Mendoza in making her motion said the division of computer costs tied to SAP should be 90/10, which it has been since the system was purchased.

However, she said all other computer costs should be divided based on use of the systems. According to IID staffers, the actual use means the power side would pay 76 percent of costs and the water side 24 percent.

Maldonado said he changed his vote from two weeks earlier because he wanted to send a message that the district board needs to take a close look at the SAP system. He said the system is not working and it is time for the board and management to do something about that.

He said his vote was meant to "press the issue."

Mendoza told farmers who have voiced concern about increases in water rates over the last three years that the reason they are paying more for water is not SAP.

"We are spending millions of dollars on legal fees related to the water transfer," she said.

That comment angered members of the farming community, who told Mendoza the money spent on protecting water rights has not been wasted but has been spent to make sure agriculture can survive as those outside the Valley look to take the Valley's water supply.

Before the board voted, members of the public had a chance to express their views, including two former directors, Cox and Menvielle.

"It sounds to me like you may be changing the intent of the board," Cox said, adding now is not a time to encumber the water department with more costs.

Menvielle, who voted for the SAP system along with Cox, said SAP has proven to be a mistake. He said the system has not done what it was meant to do and its costs are rising.

He said it is time to abandon the system altogether.

"That is one of my regrets, that we went with the SAP," Menvielle said, adding, "The IID has to think about abandoning this boat and getting something that works."

Menvielle said the district made a mistake in creating the information technology department to manage computer systems.

The SAP system came under fire from members of the agricultural community who said they are being asked to pay for a system that is not meeting their needs.

George Ray, president of the Imperial County Farm Bureau told the board it is time for the district to hire an outside firm to do an efficiency study to analyze the effectiveness of SAP.

Other farmers argued that IID should let power have sole use of SAP and let the water department use its old computer system, which they said cost less and worked better.

Horne challenged those who called for the 90/10 computer systems split, stating as the water transfer goes through, the district may need a new system. He said if that happened, under a 90/10 split, power would have to pay for a system to benefit the water department.

Kuhn responded that he does not think the water transfer is going to occur and that Horne's point was merely conjecture.

IID staffers have said both the water and power departments benefit from the new computer system. They said while the system is not perfect, and there are still issues to be dealt with, it is better than what was in place before SAP.

They said SAP has created better communication within the district and developed a better system of controls.

Farmers contended they are tired of seeing their rates increase and said they would continue to call for the district to have an efficiency study conducted.

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

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