A cash-strapped special district east south of Tehachapi is pushing to fill two vacant seats on its board of directors.
According to Richard Williford, general manager of Mountain Meadows Community Services District, it was advised by legal counsel to flush out a board that has routinely seen only three members serve.
“We've come to terms with the board member issue,” Williford said, especially after discussions with various Kern County departments and staff members from Kern County Supervisor Zack Scrivner's office.
California's government code requires that all special districts have a five-member board, a provision that has been in place since 2006. Prior to that, Mountain Meadows has operated under the initial 1955 laws governing special districts.
According to Williford, Mountain Meadows has had difficulty with properly keeping even three seats open in order to form a quorum for votes.
The death in April of veteran board member Wynogene McNulty, who served nearly 20 years, crippled the decision-making power of the board.
“She had done an excellent job in trying to hold this district together,” Williford. “As things revolve, we didn't have a quorum and therefore a number of issues were addressed with legal counsel.”
Another seat became vacant after another board member had resigned.
Williford said that following discussion with Kern County's general counsel office and the district's own attorney, the Kern County Board of Supervisors appointed two people to two of the vacancies.
James Crow, a medical professional, and Larry Benson, a veteran employee with the Kern County Roads Department, were both appointed to fill the vacancies.
“In doing so, that put us back in business as far a quorum for our board meeting on July 16,” Williford said.
With local elections on Nov. 4, the window for Mountain Meadows residents to place their names on the ballot opened July 14 and closes Aug. 8.
Both the open seats and the incumbents currently sitting on the board are feasibly up for election, Williford said.
Filling them has historically been difficult because of a lack of interest, Williford said.
“It's just a time consuming process, and depends on how much an individual would want to dedicate and what their knowledge of how the district would run is,”
Williford said. “It's not just a simple process of just choosing a few spots (in the district) to do something and then move on.”
Small scale budget, district-size problems
Like other special districts, the board of directors for Mountain Meadows is responsible for approving a budget so staff can maintain what roadways and drainage systems the district controls.
Williford acknowledged that the budget is meager — based only on grants and property assessments collected through county property tax rolls — and not enough to solve problems within district boundaries.
“We have 2,500 acres with 27 miles of dedicated roadway that the district maintains and large part of is gravel,” Williford said. He said the district has managed over the years to incorporate techniques that allows staff to better maintain the area.
The district has been working with Scrivner's office and the county as a whole, and is looking at state grants to help levy some funding to address problems it might foresee with infrastructure.
“Our handicap in this district the amount of funds we have available,” Williford said. “Having money available for matching funds for grants is that handicap.” Most money available to the district is earmarked for maintenance or staff before it is event spent.
“When we look at what kind of progress we can make with what's left after our liability costs, we don't have enough to make large improvements through grant funding,” Williford. “There are lots of agencies out there that could help with roadwork and drainage work, but we're stuck.”
“We're still working on a property assessment from 1982 and the cost is more than tenfold for material, labor, fuel cost and maintenance,” Williford said.
Developmental-wise, most of Mountain Meadows is without public utilities except for telephone service.
“When the district was formed in 1970, that was an area that was vacant,” Williford said. That includes sewage, electricity and water connections or service.
“There is a large portion of the of property owners that came in and brought electric utilities to their homes,” he added.
Some areas of the district have phone service, while others lack it altogether.
“You would say these are some staggering effects for growth in the district with the need of utilities,” Williston said.
He added that those are some things that need to be addressed if the district is to continue successfully.
In order to make the improvements that Mountain Meadows needs, it needs more funding.
“We are going to have to reach out to the property owners and residents in the district,” he said. “That is something we are working on.