EID race, Division 2: Greg Prada wants to keep EID from sinking
Running in El Dorado Irrigation District Division 2 is Greg Prada who lives in Cameron Park. His campaign website is prada4ratepayers.org.
While declining to say his age, the county recorder listed his age as 63. That same bio describes him as having been the president, chief executive officer and a member of the board of directors of a health-related corporation as well as being the chief operating officer, vice president and president of other companies. He lists a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Washington.
Prada said his qualifications for the position include having spent the last three-and-a-half years serving on El Dorado Irrigation District’s cost of service committee in addition to attending many board meetings. He said he’s reviewed EID’s financials, established a website and has posted more than 50 articles in different publications on EID.
Prada says he’s running on fiscal issues, saying he has “demonstrated that I know more than virtually anybody about EID’s finances. I would go toe to toe with anybody on their staff, certainly on their board. I know a lot more about EID’s financials than anyone on that board.”
EID is in tough fiscal situation, maintains Prada. It has doubled its rates, debt has surged from more than$100 million to a half billion dollars for assets in the ground, unfunded liabilities and for the next $60 million of debt as part of another wave of capacity expansion. One-third of rates goes for debt service. One-third of rates goes to overhead and that’s too much, he said. If EID were a business, it would be out of business with the deficit spending, Prada said.
Prada said as a board member he wants to put EID back on a more solid financial footing and step in front of additional rate hikes. He maintains this can be accomplished by not adding the $60 million of debt and not putting in more capacity, which he blames for the rate hikes and deficit spending.
He also thinks too much is spent on overhead: there are too many people in communications, in IT and in lawyering. Half of EID employees get 10 weeks of paid time off annually. The topic of benefits and unfunded pensions can’t be addressed outside of the MOUs. But the alternative is just to have fewer people, he said.
Saying he is a frugal person by nature, Prada insists the district needs a culture change. It has 162 vehicles, eight car allowances and 170 folks driving around on the ratepayers’ dime. It also has 120 field employees, he said. “Unfortunately some people can’t be afforded any more,” he said.
Prada also criticized the present board and how it operates, saying that he is troubled by the monthly stipend of $1,250 members receive plus the option to get health care from EID.
“I’ve also seen the board in action,” he said. “I’ve seen the Kabuki theater of them looking at proposals and then after 10 minutes of conversation, reach for the green button. There is no push-back on any project proposed by staff. When you have 135 capital projects and 132 are a priority, that is absurd. The Water Master Plan presentation took about an hour, then the board took 10 minutes of questions, and there again, no push back. And this is a $475 million master plan.”
“Of the 11 percent rate increase next year, 7 points of that is for increased debt and half of the increased debt is for increased capacity,” he said. Prada said it’s wrong that all these rate hikes are for financing capacity expansion, saying he is particularly concerned because Division 2 is full of residents who live in mobile home parks and senior communities and can’t afford another wave of rate hikes.
Repeating his claim that the most important challenges facing the district are “fiscal, fiscal, fiscal,” he admitted that EID is a complicated organization and its engineers build world-class projects. But there are too many of them, he said, and there are times when they could have built a Honda Accord instead of a Lexus-styled project.
Prada went on to say that in the last three years, EID sold less than 30,000 acre feet of water a year, yet it has water rights for 65,000 acre feet and has 15,000 more coming. “We have plenty of water to handle current ratepayers and new residents the county wants to add, including projects that haven’t been approved such as San Stino and Marble Valley. People come to El Dorado County because it’s a different quality of life and they want to protect that. They don’t want to see more rooftops proliferating, but EID factors in what county has approved.”
Prada said he’s also worried about the $110 million in variable debt EID is carrying. “They are paying less than a quarter percent, but rates are starting to tick up. This change is not factored into EID’s plans and may require 4 percent rate hike, he said. EID extended $4 million of debt repayments out to the next decade, but that’s a ticking time bomb. If we had paid it now, it would have been added to today’s rates. We’re already at a tipping point with one-third of rates going to debt. And it’s only going to get worse. Future boards and general managers will have to deal with this.”
Prada concluded by saying he’s running for the ratepayers, noting that he saw a problem and wanted to do something about it.
“I have a unique skill set and background” for the job, he said. “I’ve had time to study how these things fit together and I’m ready to hit the ground running.
“I believe EID has terrific, talented people and resources. I am absolutely impressed with the general manager and general counsel and others. I believe with directors who direct differently, we can get some things done. I’m very positive about that. But it will cause some contortions and strains. We’re like that movie ‘Lifeboat.’ If we don’t throw some people overboard, the whole boat will go down. We’re at that tipping point now.”