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Water utility actions rile some members
A coalition is working to get two new faces electedto the Hudson Water Works board of directors.
By JODIE TILLMAN, Times Staff Writer
Published January 16, 2008
HUDSON - Seems every political candidate these days says a vote for him or her is a vote for change.
Barack Obama says it a lot. So does Hillary Clinton. And Mike Huckabee. And John McCain. And Joan Pajerski and Len Puustinen.
Wait - who are those last two?
Pajerski and Puustinen are running for two open seats on the board of directors for Hudson Water Works, the nonprofit cooperative that provides water to about 2,700 Hudson customers.
Incumbents are Bill Kramer and Roy Sibley.
Pajerski and Puustinen are the favored candidates of the Coalition of Concerned Hudson Water Works Members, a group that has - you guessed it - concerns about the way the utility is being run.
"Unite with us and let your vote be a vote for change," the coalition says in a news release endorsing Pajerski and Puustinen.
Coalition members - there are about 15 or 20 - say the seven-member board of directors and the utility management are implementing unfair policies, charging pointless $1 billing fees and spending money without oversight from their members.
They also are miffed that Hudson Water Works, unlike Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative, has never paid refunds to its members. Instead what they see is the utility selling its old office and building a new one.
"We want to give Hudson Water Works back to the people," said residential customer Jim Labenski.
"People are just getting angrier and angrier," said Karen White, who has three commercial accounts with the company and says she is charged billing fees even when she prepays.
Utility director Durwood Hovak said the $1 billing fees are intended to help pay for a $30,000 billing software and continued upgrades to it.
He defended one controversial rule - customers who open their meter boxes, even just to get a reading, can be charged a $125 fine - as being part of a security policy. He said that's to deter people who have had their water shut off for nonpayment from getting into the meter and trying to turn the water back on.
Hovak also said the old office on Old Dixie Highway was prone to flooding, and the new office off New York Avenue was built on property Hudson Water Works already owns.
And refunds have been nonexistent, he said, because the board of directors has elected to keep its rates low a typical residential customer pays about $10 a month.
Hovak, who took over as director about six years ago, said the cooperative's annual meetings have been sparsely attended in years past.
"I welcome everyone to the meeting," he said. "We look forward to having new people."
Voting on the two board members will be done by ballot at Friday's meeting. Hovak said every customer who is a property owner gets one vote Friday to choose the two candidates. (So the owner of a mobile home park, for instance, gets a vote but those renting homes at the park do not.)
Hovak will also present the annual audit to members Friday.