By Shea Johnson
Staff Writer
Posted Apr. 11, 2016 at 4:58 PM

  • With spending a growing concern, wastewater agency says dispute is within board

VICTORVILLE — In the latest signal of growing discord over management and spending, the city has given notice to end its service agreement with Victor Valley Wastewater Reclamation Authority.

But the heads-up required to terminate the agreement which was unanimously authorized by the City Council last week is also a lengthy one: 30 years.

“Thirty years is a long time, and issues that we have today could be worked out between now and then,” VVWRA spokesman David Wylie said Monday. “We hope there’s a resolution and we do have some time, but we have some things to discuss.”

For months, angst has been stirring from the dais about the agency’s project list and how those projects have been handled. In January, the Council agreed it would step back and review VVWRA’s activity as it sought to separate the must-haves from the optional.

At its core, the frustration was tied to what the Council called VVWRA’s “growing debt” and year-behind-schedule, cost-growing Upper Narrows Pipeline Replacement Project. Councilman Jim Kennedy, who sits as Victorville’s representative on the VVWRA board, has called the debt “a financial risk” that threatens the city and the three other members of the agency’s joint powers authority.

He has said the debt runs to the tune of $120 million on about $12 million in annual revenues. VVWRA General Manager Logan Olds had acknowledged the increasing debt, but said it also aligned with a plan that had been OK’d by the agency’s board.

“I have expressed my dissatisfaction with VVWRA for the past many months. You’ve all heard me enough, I won’t go back through the details,” Kennedy said last Tuesday prior to the vote. “I believe that many of the decisions made by that board have not been in the best interest of the citizens of Victorville.”

Particularly, Kennedy pointed to how Victorville provides 60 percent of revenues to the agency, yet only receives 25 percent of the vote. The town of Apple Valley, city of Hesperia and San Bernardino County service areas round out the four-member JPA.

Wylie characterized the tumult as a board issue.

“I think the best way we can describe it, this is really a dispute between the member agencies. It’s between them and for them to resolve,” he said. “We’re basically running the day-to-day operations … I know they’re kind of aiming their arrows at management, but ultimately all decisions are made by the board.”

To Wylie’s point, Kennedy has been critical of being the lone dissenter on votes related to project change orders. The pipeline replacement effort, for instance, had leaned on five change orders as late as January, resulting in growing the project’s price tag by $3.2 million.

“The philosophy in that agency is, if you run over budget, just do a change order,” Kennedy said in October. “There’s so many of them, you can’t even keep track of them.”

An agency-provided status report from January, however, shows that VVWRA expected to fall 50 percent below the industry standard for change orders at the project’s completion.

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