In a round of brinksmanship, Half Moon Bay city leaders warned Tuesday they could withhold their portion of the Sewer Authority Midcoastside budget unless the agency follows through with a slate of financial changes.
Elected leaders were at odds on how to address the lack of action on sewer reforms they had urged back in 2010. At that time, the council approved a resolution warning they would only pay their share of the sewer budget on the condition that their reforms were addressed.
During a review of the SAM budget on July 17, city staff delivered the news that, two years later, the agency had still not addressed all the city’s requested changes. For that reason, the city had an obligation to hold back its funding to the sewer agency, the staff report stated.
Councilwoman Naomi Patridge agreed.
“To me, it’s a slap in my face and in Half Moon Bay’s face,” she said. “I’m standing firm that we stick by what we said. We wanted this done two years ago.”
SAM General Manager Steve Leonard explained he was immersed in running the sanitation operations and couldn’t shepherd through every change the city requested.
“I’m at a loss here. I don’t know what it means if you withhold payments,” he said. “To be honest, day-in, day-out, this is not my top priority. My top priority is to make sure the sewer plant runs.”
SAM could not function without funding from Half Moon Bay, just as the city would be in a crisis if it lacked flushing toilets.
The city provides about two-fifths of the sanitation agency’s $4.38 million budget, which is also funded by the Granada Sanitary District and the Montara Water and Sanitary District. The three government bodies each appoint directors and share voting control of the sewer agency under a joint-powers agreement. However, that shared-control arrangement is sometimes strained between Half Moon Bay and the Midcoast representatives, with directors often arguing at meetings about the costs to their respective agencies.
In 2010, Half Moon Bay council members passed a resolution stating they would withhold all funding to the sewer authority if it didn’t set in place new policies for its financial management. Among their concerns, city officials wanted to make sure their contribution to the sewer reserve fund did not pay for storage tanks or other equipment used exclusively on the Midcoast. City leaders also urged updates to the reserve accounts, including new policies for how member agencies would get money refunded.
Half Moon Bay’s two representatives to the SAM board, Mayor Allan Alifano and Councilman Rick Kowalczyk, both urged restraint at the July 17 meeting, saying withholding money could ruin the city’s tenuous relationship with their Midcoast colleagues.
“It would be damaging to drop the hammer right now … it would create a rift between the agencies,” Kowal-czyk warned. “We should allow staff to take stock of where things stand and come back to us.”
The council rejected a suggestion by the city attorney to water down the language in the resolution, making it more of a strong suggestion than a requirement.
The council unanimously approved the budget, giving the sewer agency until October to find a solution.