The San Luis Obispo County Government Center was about as restrained as the House of Commons at the Board of Supervisors’ Oct. 5 meeting. The topic: the Los Osos Wastewater Project. The outcome: $750,000 was added to the budget, residents will soon decide how they want to bill themselves, and the contract bidding process was flipped on its head.
Shouts rang from the audience despite supervisor and board chair Frank Mecham’s pleas for civility.
“What? That’s not correct,” one resident shouted as Public Works Director Paavo Ogren spoke from the podium.
“We didn’t ask for spin; we asked for answers,” another man shouted before storming out of the room.
Ultimately, county supervisors approved every staff recommendation, which included $750,000 tacked onto the roughly $173.6 million budget to hire consultants and pay application fees, creating a tentative rate structure for residents, and formally changing the contract bidding process.
In order to collect $87 million in a United States Department of Agriculture loan-grant, county officials had to switch from a design-build system (one contractor completes the project) to a design-bid-build system (multiple contractors complete various aspects of the project). County officials previously said a design-build method was the preferred cheaper alternative, but changed course to collect the USDA funds.
Supervisors also directed county staffers to move forward with a proposal that would split monthly bills into a 55 percent fixed rate and 45 percent variable depending on a household’s water usage. Under such a system, a monthly bill would likely range from $94.47 to $102.04 for a three-person family, depending on water usage.
The proposal will be sent to residents, who will then have 45 days to protest before county officials codify the payment scheme. A majority of residents must formally protest to subvert the county’s preferred plan.
Mecham was the only “no” vote on a few recommendations: adding $750,000 to the budget taken from county road funds, accepting new bids from “short listed” contractors, and changing the bidding system to design-bid-build.
“In 12 years [as a public official], I have never had to stay awake with a decision I’ve had to make,” Mecham said. “This one has kept me awake.”