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Modesto Irrigation District Candidates – Division 2

Your Vote Counts 2013

Council Dist. 2 | Council Dist. 4 | Council Dist. 5 | MID Div. 2 | MID Div. 3 | MID Div. 4
School Board 4 yr. | School Board 2 yr.

Modesto Irrigation District Candidates – Division 2

John Mensinger
59 years old. Resident of Modesto for 53 years. President of a local business.
Carmen Sabatino
72 years old. Resident of Modesto for 58 years. Retired businessman/restaurateur.

Click on the circle/plus icon to the left of each question to read each candidates answer.

In your own words, describe the role and responsibility of the office you seek?

John Mensinger: The Modesto Irrigation District (MID) provides water and electricity to Modesto. This must be done as reliably and as efficiently as possible. Cheap and plentiful water and electricity helped Modesto and Stanislaus County become world class in farming and food processing. These industries are the backbone and foundation of our economy. There is more competition in California now for electricity and water. MID’s electric rates, though reasonable, are no longer cheap. Our water is threatened by state and federal regulators that would like to take it, without compensating us, to help the environment. The MID Board needs to do a better job than it has in the last few years. My role will be to assure the reliable and efficient supply of water and electricity. I will encourage the MID to be open and communicative with the public so we can make the best possible decisions. I will encourage teamwork and partnerships to protect our water and electricity.

Carmen Sabatino: An MID Director monitors MID activities, especially as regards rates and expenses. As the public representative of a district within the MID, the Director’s first duty is vigilance, followed closely by clear communication with his constituents. All expenses, rate increases, district expansions, etc., must be fully justifiable and explained as they are planned, not after they’ve happened..

Is the organization for which you seek office operating with a balanced budget? If not, what are your plans to make the organization more financially sustainable?

John Mensinger: Public organizations like the MID have made pension and retirement healthcare promises to their employees. These are a liability, and it can be difficult to compute the final cost of these promises. People are living longer, healthcare gets better and more expensive each year and the income from pension funds varies, there is no guarantee of positive results. Once elected to the Board, I will make it a priority to understand the financial situation and explain it to the public. The MID is a monopoly supplier of water and power to most of its customers. Budgets can be balanced with rate increases, which reduce the spending power of local residents and harm the ability of our farmers and businesses to compete. My goal will be to encourage efficient and cost effective operation of the MID without compromising reliability of water and power supplies.

Carmen Sabatino: Given the previous administration, we need to perform a full review of MID accounting practices so that we can start with a clean accounting slate. I am not certain the MID is operating with a balanced budget because I don’t trust previous public communication. I think we have begun to turn the MID around, but the new Directors will need help or we will revert to the old ways of doing business and keeping the public in the dark. We will not spend an estimated $500,000 to convince voters that they should approve the water sale to the city of San Francisco. We will look for more economical ways to deliver our water and electricity to those who really own the MID, the ratepayers.

What will be your top priority as an MID Director? Describe the measures you will take to address this priority.

John Mensinger: Carefully analyze situations and problems and make the best decisions possible. Act in an open, friendly and honest way with the public and MID employees. Encourage communication, teamwork and positive thinking. I have spent my life analyzing data and making decisions. I will ask that MID management properly analyzes and presents information to the Board and public so all can contribute to the best possible final decision. For example, the Board a few months ago agreed to sell 7,000 acre feet of water to the Turlock Irrigation District. It was probably a reasonable decision, but there was not a detailed calculation as to what this would mean to the water carryover in Don Pedro under various possible conditions next year. This analysis should have been completed before any water sale was considered.

Carmen Sabatino: My top priority is simple: Keep our water here. We need the water for our city residents, we need the water for our farm economy and we need the water in our own three great rivers. I do not believe in selling water. Keep our water here. It is essential to the survival of our economy and our way of life.

Describe the ways in which you as an elected official would encourage a collaborative and cooperative relationship with other units of local government and community leadership.

John Mensinger: I would be friendly, honest and open, and encourage the MID to be this way with the community and local government. I would regularly communicate with local government and community leaders. I would be accessible to anyone wanting to talk about the MID or how it could work to better our community. The above was not true during the proposed sale of water to San Francisco. Details of the proposal were intentionally hidden from the community. The terms of the sale as presented by MID management were unacceptable and outrageous. These terms would never have been considered if the proposed contract had been worked out in collaboration with local government and community leadership.

Carmen Sabatino: The key now and always has been transparency. When the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, the public always loses. We will always be able to collaborate with other agencies as long as the agendas of all parties are open and public.

Do you believe the utility rates currently charged by MID are appropriately priced? Why or why not?

John Mensinger: This is a complicated issue. It appears that electricity users are subsidizing water users. Electricity rates are probably too high and water rates too low. The MID Board made a policy decision to raise water rates by 10% a year. This policy was not implemented this year, when the Board could not agree—some wanted an increase more than 10%, others wanted less. Nothing was done. The committee studying the MID water system recommended a water rate increase greater than 10%. I am in favor of water rate increases of 10% or more per year until water users are paying the MID’s full cost of providing water. There is a possibility that revenue to the water-side could be provided by charging the City of Modesto for storm water drainage or by selling small quantities of water outside the District. This issue requires honest and careful analysis. It is a matter of math and requires answering questions such as who should benefit from Don Pedro electricity revenue.

Carmen Sabatino: Utility rates have to be reviewed. There has been too much secrecy and not enough transparency about how the rates are set. Everyone has his own story, but so far no one has taken a close enough look at the books, in part because former GM Allen Short preferred a hidden agenda. A new MID board, not tied to the past, can look at our problems with fresh eyes and look for solutions.

What are your plans for facilitating the creation of new, living wage jobs in our area?

John Mensinger: The MID helped create our local economy by supplying water for irrigation. Cheap hydropower gave local businesses an advantage when competing with others outside our region. Reliable and affordable water and power are important to any modern economy. California, whether we like it or not, is in the forefront of requiring “green” power generation, ways of conserving power and ways of minimizing water use. The MID can help local residents, businesses and farms with these issues. A well run MID will help create new living wage jobs in Modesto and the region.

Carmen Sabatino: First, we have to protect the jobs we have. That means keeping our water here. As long as we have water, the jobs will come to us, especially those involving high-volume water use. Everything in our region is dependent on keeping the water here. You are free to ask this question of all candidates. However, the question for the Modesto Chamber of Commerce is what have you done, what are you doing and what do you plan to do in the future to better our economy?


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