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Board pays firm to find funds for improvements

October 19, 2001|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

HEBER — The Heber Public Utility District board rolled the dice on a $25,000 bet that could net $25 million for roads, parks and maybe even sidewalks here.

The $25,000 in district funds will be paid to Seattle-based R.W. Beck. Beck is a nationwide corporation of engineers that solicits humanitarian donations from international bankers and corporations and pockets a percentage of whatever money is donated.

If Beck is successful in diverting millions here, it would be great news for Heber residents, who have asked for sidewalks for decades.

There is no guarantee that Beck will be successful in securing the funds.

If it isn't, the Heber district will have a $25,000 document full of facts and figures for proposed civic-improvement projects.

Before the board's unanimous vote in favor of the $25,000 contract, Beck representative Richard Zaragoza told the district board there are billions of dollars available from corporations and money lenders that need to donate for tax reasons.

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The city of Calexico recently signed a $125,000 deal with Beck. As per that arrangement, Beck will solicit funds for a project to cover the New River from the border to Highway 98.

In Heber the plans for the possible $25 million in prospective funds are less concrete.

Zaragoza said Beck representatives would meet with district officials next week to put together a list of priorities.

Once a list of projects is completed, Beck will shop the list to various corporations, according to Zaragoza.

"There are foundations and other options out there for you. We can help you. Let's plan your community right," Zaragoza said.

District General Manager George Aguilar said, "We need the money for sidewalks and infrastructure. Every day it seems like water and sewer pipes blow out."

Trustee Margarito "Tito" Huerta Jr. asked Aguilar if there is any risk in losing the funds the district already has coming in if a deal with Beck is brokered.

Aguilar and Zaragoza both said Beck would solicit donations for projects that aren't being funded.

Trustee Isreal Velasquez asked how long it would take Beck to round up the millions.

Zaragoza didn't answer but asked the board a question, "How long does it take to receive funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture?"

"Two weeks," Huerta said with a straight face.

"Can you top that?" Velasquez said.

After a hearty laugh by all, Zaragoza said there was no set time frame for Beck securing funds.

Asked after the meeting about the deal, Zaragoza said it works in phases.

He said the $25 million will not be secured in one lump sum and there is a chance Heber will not get any money at all.

He said Beck would start by looking for a $300,000-level donation for a specific Heber project.

If successful, Beck would take a cut of that $300,000 and keep looking for more money and so on.

In other action during Thursday's meeting:

· Carlos Soto, a candidate in the district board election, asked for some sort of reprimand for board President Diahna Garcia-Ruiz.

For a few days, Garcia-Ruiz displayed a campaign sign with the Heber PUD logo on it. After she was told it was improper to do so, she affixed a piece of paper with a crying face over the logo.

Soto took exception to the "little face with tears" cover-up.

Board attorney Steve Walker of El Centro said the board could take no action on the matter.

Garcia-Ruiz apologized to the board and explained that the crying face was a symbol of her sadness since she was not allowed to use the logo.

Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or claverie7@hotmail.com

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