The Madera County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo) adopted the Oakhurst Area Municipal Services Review July 24 at a meeting attended by about 35 residents at the Oakhurst Community Center.
"Basically, this adopted review is saying, "this is what we believe and if the public supports it, we would support moving in this direction," said Dave Herb, LAFCo executive officer, of the municipal service review.
Municipal service reviews are required periodically by the state. Last week's meeting was the third and final of LAFCo's public outreach efforts in Oakhurst this year for the review, which included polling residents regarding their satisfaction with water, roads and sewer services in the Oakhurst area.
"We're not moving to consolidate, incorporate or annex," said Herb of adopting the review, what he compared to approving something to be "left on the shelf" as a resource unless or until a group of citizens come forth interested in doing something with it.
"We're just taking action on a study that lays groundwork for possible reorganization of districts in the future," said Herb to many residents who lined up at the microphone to voice this discontent with the study.
Those against the review cited a variety of issues, ranging from concern over tax payer dollars being spent to study something "unnecessary," to anger that more was not being done to improve services throughout the county instead of moving to consolidate with other districts. Others brought up frustration with unanswered questions, like what the liability would be for a consolidated district.
Some of the 19 adopted "determinations," essentially "conclusions" of the LAFCo review included encouraging a "unified community that begins in the core of town where water and sewer services are provided, expanding outward in response to requests from the residents."
Those in the more rural areas of Oakhurst with their own wells and septic systems might choose to be left out of consolidating districts, while those closer to center of town might see an economic benefit to banding together with neighbors to consolidate sewer services into one district, for example, he said.
Another determination in the review stated that "the large number of separately managed districts leads to inefficient service and generally higher costs of service. Consolidation of districts would provide for greater efficiency and eventually allow for the community to govern themselves via an independently elected board of directors, if that is their desire."
The Oakhurst Municipal Service Review covered five county service area, 16 maintenance districts, and two privately-operating water companies, Hillview Water Company and Broadview Terrace Water Company. Although LAFCo is not required to analyze private companies or maintenance districts, it chose to do so to get a fuller picture of how services are provided. The review mentioned a number of additional private water companies and systems that were referenced but not studied in detail.
At the first January LAFCo public workshop in Oakhurst, close to 100 residents present participated in a survey, with the majority expressing discontent with their local water and road service.
"You don't know how many people call me asking for help regarding their sewer and roads" said Supervisor Tom Wheeler at the July 24 meeting. Unfortunately, he added, many of those districts are configured in a way that they are outside the county's help financially.
"If one or two two road districts want to join together with their neighbors they could have better buying power," Wheeler said.
The study included four recommended actions, including:
1. The adopted review is to be regarded as LAFCo's policy regarding special districts and municipal services in the Oakhurst area.
2. Direction to present the determinations to the board of supervisors and boards of directors of the Hillview and Broadview Water Companies.
3. Direct the executive officer to continue working with the advisory committee from Maintenance District 22 and any other organized community group interested in reorganization of Oakhurst's services.
4. Direct the executive officer to implement and communicate to interested community groups LAFCo's determination that charges of organization will not be initiated by LAFCo, and that evidence of strong registered voter support will be needed for any LAFCo's approval of a change of organization in the Oakhurst area.