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Maria Gutzeit and B.J. Atkins: NCWD has success with enterprise model

Posted: February 4, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: February 4, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Newhall County Water District has just closed out 2012, and the year was marked by accomplishments reflecting its enterprise model of operation.

In 2012, NCWD ratepayers benefitted from the many cost-saving actions that were adopted or enacted under this innovative operations model.  

We hope these actions and successes inspire other public agencies to do things differently at a time when funds are tight and government must run leaner.

Under the enterprise model, NCWD has combined the best private business and public agency attributes into one — and the public’s best interest is being served.  

Some of the measurable benefits we saw come to fruition in 2012 included the following:

Technology and Organizational Efficiency Success. By investing in technology and streamlining the organization, NCWD reduced its staff size without impacting customer service, water reliability or water quality.

Applying innovative technologies such as centralized computer monitoring of remote operations, and radio-read metering allowed NCWD to eliminate 128 man hours a month.

Empowering field crews to use high-tech mapping and other electronic equipment records, NCWD improved technical excellence with less cost to customers.

Strategic investment in technology has enabled NCWD to reduce the labor force by more than 11 percent while accommodating a more than 50 percent increase in the number of customer accounts.

Public Pension Reform

NCWD has also been proactive in solving public pension liability.  NCWD was featured in a story by MarketWatch, a national financial news organization, regarding efforts to trim the district’s long-term pension obligations by converting the health care benefits program for retirees from one paid by the district entirely, to a shared contribution program.

According to MarketWatch, “Newhall County Water District’s pension reforms may serve as the model for other public agencies in California and the nation.”

NCWD’s decision to “pre-fund” its other post-employment benefits (OPEB) further reduced financial liabilities for the district. As an investment, the OPEB program has seen a 24.8% ($402,419) overall return since 2009.

“Pay-As-You-Go” Financing  NCWD has made an atypical commitment for a public agency – using “pay-as-you-go” financing instead of putting the district into more high-priced debt for infrastructure replacement.

By strategically leveraging the current low interest rate environment and refinancing or prepaying debt obligations prior to maturity, we have eliminated $1,084,997 in long-term interest that we otherwise would have to pay.

The end result has saved NCWD customers big money, and allowing the district to carry much lower debt than most other public water agencies.

Community and Entrepreneurial Leadership

NCWD is a non-union, non-profit public agency employing 31 highly skilled residents who are happy to serve. More than 70 percent of our employees are certified as water distribution and treatment operators — a level beyond what is required by government standards.

These employees sought this certification on their own to provide the district with a higher level of service and training. In addition, the District has an extensive cross training program allowing both field and technical work to be done in house, avoiding expensive outside service contracts and making maximum use of employee skills.

Four of NCWD’s five elected board members are business owners who have a keen focus on effective and efficient use of  public dollars.  

With backgrounds in accounting, law, engineering, biology, healthcare and environmental compliance, the board has continually veered away from “the way it’s always been done.”  

The cost savings in 2012 showed this working to the benefit of our business and residential customers.

Board members also share a community focus. NCWD has been a partner on many local successes such as the Veteran’s Historical Plaza and the just completed “state-of-the-art” Newhall Library.  

NCWD is proud to have attracted new customers such as the Castaic High School and Placerita Junior High School.

NCWD’s business-oriented practices, combined with dedicated staff and determined leadership, have proven to be an innovative and cost effective public model. 2012 showed that the rewards to the community are just beginning.

Maria Gutzeit is president and B.J. Atkins is vice president of the Newhall County Water District Board of Directors.


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