Listen now: click the audio link to hear the candidate forum originally aired on East County Magazine's Show on KNSJ radio on September 30, 2016.
By Miriam Raftery
Photo: Mark Gracyk, Dan McMillan, Lou Tejeda and John Linden
October 5, 2016 (Lemon Grove)—Four contenders vying for two seats on the Helix Water District Board shared their goals at East County Magazine’s candidate forum at the Lemon Grove Library on September 21st. Incumbent John Linden defended repeated rate hikes as necessary, while challengers Mark Gracyk, Dan McMillan, and Louis Tejeda pledged to fight for holding the line against future rate hikes and/or trying to reduce water rates.
Candidates fielded questions from the audience and from East County Magazine editor Miriam Raftery on a wide range of issues including water quality, the future of Lake Jennings, the land deal for sand mining El Monte Valley, their financial backgrounds and more.
Candidates also addressed the current board’s controversial sale of land in El Monte Valley for sand mining. Louis Tejeda, a former Helix Water employee, claimed the board sold the land for too little, but was not opposed to sand mining the valley. Gracyk said if the developer defaults on a payment due in the future, the land should come back to Helix to halt the project.
McMillan called for water budgeting as was done in the Padre District to scale water rates based on family size, lot size,and number of animals. Gracyk and Tejeda voiced support for the concept but Linden said Helix is too large a district and that the cost to implement would be too high.
McMillan, who previously served on Padre Dam Municipal Water and San Miguel Fire Board, acknowledged prior bankruptcy but said he learned from the experience and cited his financial management experience in business.
Linden pointed out that while rate hikes are unpopular, Helix has substantial infrastructure to maintain. He also cited the case of Rainbow, California, where a board voted against rate hikes and suffered major infrastructure failure. He spoke of the district’s history of looking forward decades in planning for the future. Other candidates claimed there are ways to cut expenses further to avoid hefty hikes and perhaps roll back rates slightly.
All challengers support moving board meetings to evenings so more people can attend. Linden said he would consider that if it is brought for a vote.
Other candidates for these two seats did not show up. Incumbent Chuck Muse indicated he was out of the country. Aaron Zajac RSVP’d that he would participate, but did not show up. Eric Collins indicated he had a schedule conflict.
A third seat has director Joel Scalzitti running unopposed.
Note: Audio was trimmed slightly to fit the radio show's one hour format and a question on residency had to be omitted; all candidates indicated they live in and own property in the district.