Candidates for Kitsap Public Utility District

The Role of Kitsap Public Utility District (KPUD)

kpud-logoKPUD is playing an increasing role in our Island community – serving 3 water systems – North Bainbridge which it has “owned” and served for many years, as well as 2 others. It also provides broadband internet to schools, libraries, government offices, and first responder buildings, as well as some business parks and residential neighborhoods. It collects taxes from all County residents (and uses tax revenues, for example, to provide free wireless internet services in Winslow and elsewhere in the County). But many of us on the Island know very little about it.

As more fully described on the KPUD website, KPUD was formed during the 1940 general election by a vote of the county’s electorate to explore providing electrical service as a public “special purpose district” instead of a private company. U.S. entry into World War II and rapid growth in and around the naval shipyard at Bremerton initially delayed and eventually precluded assumption of electric service in Kitsap County by KPUD. Since 1959, the District has studied and instituted planning for regional water resources in Kitsap County. After the State Legislature in 2001 authorized PUDs in Washington to offer broadband internet services, KPUD added fiber optic internet service to its offerings.

Candidates for KPUD Commissioner

In 2016, the KPUD Commission seat currently held by incumbent John Armstrong is up for election. Debra Lester is challenging the incumbent for that seat on the 3-member commission.

Quality Bainbridge is not expressing an endorsement in this race. But we offer here the answers that each candidate gave to six questions we sent them in early October.  The candidates are presented alphabetically below.

John Armstrong

john-armstrong

Campaign website: http://www.armstrong4kpudcommissioner.com

John Armstrong answers to Quality Bainbridge questions:

Question 1: What do you see as the role of a KPUD commissioner?

John Armstrong:

  • Set policy for the services and costs that the KPUD provides,
  • Monitor expenditures and develop strategic plans for aquifer protection,
  • Develop fiber optic broadband services to not-served or underserved areas of the County
  • Inform the citizens of our County with up-to-date information on the KPUD actions,
  • Get out and about with our customers and taxpayers.

Question 2: What approach would you take to support the growing business areas (e.g. broadband internet, wastewater, and perhaps public electric service or other utilities) of the PUD while recognizing it is a not-for-profit public utility that must be managed in a way that is in the best interest of the taxpayers and rate payers?

John Armstrong:  The KPUD Board of Commissioner policy is founded upon response to the public requests as evidenced by our embarking upon the Port Gamble Wastewater Aquifer Recharge project and ongoing discussions with other homeowner groups. Our broadband system has been funded by the use of our tax revenue that also supports the function detailed in Question Number 3. The KPUD staff has developed a proposal to support a “Fiber to the Home and Business” that will be supported by Local Utility District (LUD) formulation, If requested by the beneficiaries of the LUD service.

Question 3: The PUD collects tax money from the entire county. It’s not a lot of money per homeowner, so many of us may not give the PUD much thought. KPUD uses those tax dollars for a variety of programs (free public wireless service in certain County population centers, classroom education in Kitsap schools, stream gauging, well monitoring, precipitation level tracking, and other co-jurisdictional activities in the County such as the Kitsap Water Festival, stream tours). What ideas do you have to further publicize these programs as well as ensure they continue for generations to come?

John Armstrong: The present board has approved the staffing that will support these functions for its budgetary future. The incumbent commissioners see wisdom of this effort and the benefit to the community. I hope that future KPUD Boards will keep the programs going.

Question 4: What steps would you (have you) take(n) to ensure and enhance continued collaboration among the County and various Kitsap cities with the KPUD?

John Armstrong: Our KPUD Board of Commissioners details to each of its commissioners assignments to each of the countywide coordinating activities. We meet individually with the Kitsap Economic Development Association, Chambers of Commerce and Kitsap Water Purveyor’s Association to exchange ideas of concern. The County Board of Commissioners and the KPUD Board of Commissioners meet each year to educate each other on joint issues of interest to each.

Question 5: What are your thoughts on collaborating – or even creating an intertie – with other water districts on the Island to improve efficiency and conserve water resources and streamline water supply infrastructure and distribution?

John Armstrong: Formal water intertie contracts with all our cities are needed. There are ongoing discussions between the COBI and the KPUD management shared water supply to the Rockaway Beach water system. The COBI [Public Works Director] has requested that the KPUD rerun the USGS water aquifer model study for the Island. The COBI manager and the KPUD Manager are in involved in an ongoing exchange of ideas regarding water services between the several water providers on the island. I have been a BI Chamber of Commerce member in assisting with fiber optic issues of benefits to the community.

Debra Lester

debra-lester

Campaign website: http://www.debralester.net

Debra Lester answers to Quality Bainbridge questions:

Question 1: What do you see as the role of a KPUD commissioner?

Debra Lester:  KPUD Commissioner’s primary role is to ensure that KPUD provides cost-effective and reliable utility services.

Other responsibilities include:

  • Setting utility rates
  • Overseeing the operation of KPUD, primarily through the one employee held accountable to the KPUD board—the general manager
  • Ensuring that KPUD’s service is responsive and welcoming to input and concerns of customers – valuing the community we serve and the local control of the utility
  • Making policy decisions on behalf of its constituents consistent with state law
  • Controlling finances primarily through the budget process
  • Meeting in open sessions where the public can participate in and observe the decision-making process

Question 2: What approach would you take to support the growing business areas (e.g. broadband internet, wastewater, and perhaps public electric service or other utilities) of the PUD while recognizing it is a not-for-profit public utility that must be managed in a way that is in the best interest of the tax payers and rate payers?

Debra Lester: Should KPUD be petitioned by communities, private water systems, or by a vote of the people, to expand its utility service(s), it is the responsibility of the board to do so in a cost-effective manner.

Just recently KPUD, by a vote of the people, was given the authority to own community wastewater treatment plant(s). Currently KPUD has a project underway with the construction of a new wastewater treatment plant at Port Gamble. The plant’s effluent will be redirected from being discharged in the Hood Canal to a large, upland drainfield. This project will recharge up to 100,000 gallons/day of high-quality water to the Port Gamble groundwater system. This helps the environment in several ways—in addition to recharging aquifers, it helps improve the health of the Hood Canal by not having wastewater discharged into it, and the project will open up approximately 90 acres of now-closed shellfish areas for harvesting. A good course of action would be to make sure this new plant is up and running properly before KPUD takes on its next wastewater treatment project.

With broadband, focus should be placed on looking for public/private options for expanding the service. As well, KPUD should look for grant opportunities available to help expand the service in the rural areas. Previously, KPUD received federal funding for putting in the original fiber-optic backbone for Kitsap County. KPUD should research what other state or federal grant opportunities are available to specifically fulfill that mission to provide broadband to underserved and rural areas.

Question 3: The PUD collects tax money from the entire county. It’s not a lot of money per homeowner, so many of us may not give the PUD much thought. KPUD uses those tax dollars for a variety of programs (free public wireless service in certain County population centers, classroom education in Kitsap schools, stream gauging, well monitoring, precipitation level tracking, and other co-jurisdictional activities in the County such as the Kitsap Water Festival, stream tours). What ideas do you have to further publicize these programs as well as ensure they continue for generations to come?

Debra Lester: The amount of money collected from Kitsap taxpayers is about $2.3 million. $850,000 of that amount goes for water resource management (stream gauging, education, monitoring, events) and remaining $1.5 million goes to paying on debt on fiber capital—part of the 2001 fiber backbone buildout that was done throughout Kitsap County. I agree these programs mentioned above in this question should continue for generations to come. KPUD should also ensure that these programs such as the free public wireless, “Community Wifi,” are functioning properly and as expected. To further publicize these programs, information should be included in customer notices/bills, promoted on the KPUD website, as well as asked to be promoted by KPUD’s community partners with cities and unincoporated areas of Kitsap County in a joint effort to spread the word widely about these programs. KPUD could also use social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) and local news sources to promote information about KPUD’s events and programs.

Question 4: What steps would you (have you) take (n) to ensure and enhance continued collaboration among the County and various Kitsap cities with the KPUD?

Debra Lester: Under a Memorandum of Understanding with Kitsap County, KPUD serves as lead manager for the Kitsap County’s groundwater resources. It is KPUD’s obligation to work collaboratively with the County and various Kitsap cities.

As KPUD Commissioner, I would take seriously KPUD’s responsibility to be an excellent steward of our critical community resources—water, wastewater treatment, telecommunications.

Continued collaboration among the County and various Kitsap cities with KPUD is of great importance to me. As a former elected official, I have been able to personally and directly work with the Kitsap County Commissioners, Suquamish Tribe, as well as with the mayors and council members of the cities throughout Kitsap County often serving side-by-side on various boards (Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council, Housing Kitsap, Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council Transportation Policy Committee, and the Puget Sound Regional Coordinating Council Transportation Committee). Having served on these diverse boards, one is able to see how things should/could be more interconnected such as how utilities effect land use and broadband service can impact and improve work from home options or business expansion. We can no longer have “silo” thinking, it must be replaced by whole system and global thinking. My focus is to build stronger Kitsap community alliances so that together we carefully plan and manage our water resources, treat wastewater so as to retain more water in our freshwater systems, and extend broadband service.

Question 5: What are your thoughts on collaborating – or even creating an intertie – with other water districts on the Island to improve efficiency and conserve water resources and streamline water supply infrastructure and distribution?

Debra Lester:  Collaboration is key to ensuring safe drinking water. As some wells on Bainbridge Island and in Kitsap County have experienced salt water intrusion, are facing very expensive upgrades, and/or are failing due to deferred maintenance, many have turned to KPUD for assistance be it management, take over, or creating an inter-tie if need be. Certainly, KPUD in discussion with the City of Bainbridge Island, would determine whether an inter-tie with the City of Bainbridge Island’s water system or an inter-tie with a KPUD water system would be in the best for the water district in need.