During a press conference outside the Ventura County Government Center on March 13, County Supervisor John Flynn took issue with what he deemed the “misuse and misappropriation” of Watershed Protection District (WPD) funds, money which he felt should have been used for a sewer project in the unincorporated El Rio area.

At issue is the board’s Dec. 19 decision to follow the WPD staff’s recommendations on the use of $5.1 million in unrestricted funds. While revenue generated by taxes in a specific WPD zone must only be used within that zone, proceeds from the sale of government land is not restricted in the same way and is open for use throughout the county. The WPD staff did not recommend that the $5.1 million be used for the El Rio sewer project.

Although the WPD staff is independent of the county board of supervisors, Flynn alleged that Supervisor Steve Bennett had a hand in shaping the recommendations.

“The letter goes from public works up to the fourth floor, and you really don’t know what Mr. Bennett’s impact may have been on the letter,” Flynn said.

Bennett refers to Flynn’s remarks as “one inappropriate allegation after another.”

Flynn’s concern is that El Rio currently depends on septic tanks, and must completely overhaul its system to meet Water Control Board standards. Although a loan from the county will enable residents to proceed with improvements, Flynn points out that their sewage bills will increase to $137 monthly, and that many residents of El Rio are low income.

Bennett points out that residents of several cities outside of Flynn’s jurisdiction have similar concerns.

“They’re going to have over $100 sewer bills in Fillmore and Santa Paula,” Bennett stated. “It’s not isolated to El Rio.”

Bennett adds that the WPD staff recommended that restricted zone two money be put toward El Rio’s sewer project, but that representatives from the Fillmore, Santa Paula, Oxnard and Ventura public works departments asked the board not to make such an allocation, as the WPD generally doesn’t undertake such projects.

While Flynn charges that Bennett is trying to undermine him, Bennett pointed out that Flynn also voted to act on the recommendations of the WPD staff at the Dec. 19 meeting last year.

Responding to Flynn’s accusations, Bennett, who oversees zone one, replied, “I think the fund question that needs to be asked is: If [following WPD staff recommendations for the $5.1 million] is such a bad thing to do, why did he vote for it? If it’s so bad that zone two money went outside, why is he making such a big deal about $1.1 million going to zone one, but not the $3 million going to zone three?”