Indian Hills officials play it by ear when bills come due

When it came time to pay bills for the Indian Hills General Improvement District, officials had to do a little creative thinking recently, according to Indian Hills trustee Riley Evans.

He said work on the water treatment plant is near completion. The bills started rolling in and the people who typically sign the checks, including general manager Jim Bentley, were not available.

Bentley, whose resignation was effective Wednesday, was out on sick leave and board Chairman Chuck Swanson was out of town so he and board member Laura Lau signed the checks, Evans said.

"We were in an unusual situation. The general manager retired Aug. 3. He isn't there. He's supposed to sign an application for payment. That's the usual process," Evans said. "The bills had to be paid, so we kind of played it by ear."

Swanson said moving money internally through accounting is normal.

"Essentially, we keep our funds in a money market account to earn interest and when we need it, we transfer it to another account," he said. "That's what a lot of businesses do. It isn't new, unusual or illegal."

Trustee Art Baer said no one tried to contact the general manager.

"This bothers the living daylights out of me," he said. "The procedure is in place, complete with checks and balances so nothing funny gets done. That's why we have procedures."

Indian Hills officials seem at odds concerning a number of issues, including appointment of a new general manager and the role of a district whose growth has been restricted by redevelopment and where cityhood and expansion are no longer options.

"We need an interim manager to get us through the next few weeks," said one Indian Hills resident. "I've been involved with boards and there's nothing more intimidating than having board members contact employees with complaints or requests."

Board Chairman Chuck Swanson has offered to act as interim manager and is asking for about $1,700 a week, for six months. In turn, Swanson would help reorganize the district and appoint a new general manager.

At press time, the idea was still under consideration.

Some residents say dissolution of the district could be an option.

"The current employees could become county employees," said Indian Hills resident Ron Lynch. "Then we wouldn't need a general manager."

"In my opinion, the district should go back to the county," said resident Diane Humble-Fournier, who lost her position on the board in the November election. "Douglas County needs Indian Hills' sewer and water systems, and there's no reason for the people to be charged an additional $400 to $500 in property taxes, just to keep the district in maintenance mode," she said.

Kelly Kite, chairman of the Douglas County Commission, said the idea seems premature. Extensive discussions between Indian Hills officials, the residents and Douglas County would be required before a move like that is considered.

"It's not something we would look forward to. Indian Hills has a lot of debt that the county would have to assume," he said. "Improvement districts perform well when they stick to the scope of what they're supposed to do."

Indian Hills has the highest overriding tax rate and the county might be able to cut taxes through its economy of scale, Kite said.

"But GIDs (general improvement districts) are the smallest form government and I think the smallest form of government is the best," he said. "It's our responsibility to help any way we can, but we'd rather not see Indian Hills dissolve."


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