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Mesa Water District responds to report, critics

Officials contend that their spending on branding and marketing, highlighted in an Orange County Register article, is within reason.

April 27, 2013|By Bradley Zint

Amid recent media reports and public scrutiny over developing changes at the Mesa Water District, its board president elaborated on the state of the district in a recent public speech.

President Jim Fisler told attendees of a Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce breakfast April 18 that the district is financially strong, preparing itself for the future and, with the help of a bolstered communications department, committed to transparency and outreach.

Fisler's nearly 40-minute speech at the Costa Mesa Country Club — which was planned before the April 14 publication of an Orange County Register investigation about the district's marketing expenditures — addressed the Register's story in part, but he also commented on it in a follow-up interview with the Daily Pilot.

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Among the changes highlighted in the Register's report are significantly increased spending on branding and communications compared with other Orange County water districts, as well as a 25% rate increase implemented over five years while simultaneously boosting budget reserves in an effort to maintain the highest AAA bond rating.

The thousands spent on communications, including instituting a new logo and shortened name from Mesa Consolidated Water District to Mesa Water District, was one focal point of the Register's Watchdog report — and the subsequent target of some community criticism.

Also at the heart of the Register's story is Mesa Water's multiyear, "$500,000 branding" campaign, a rounded amount that combines the nearly $280,000 the district has spent for branding since 2008 and the forecasted $208,400 in the fiscal year 2014 budget for continuing that purpose.

The latter amount, however, has been cut from the 2014 final adopted budget, said Stacy Taylor, the district's communications manager.

"We're done with branding," she said. "Our directors have made it very clear that there will be no further funding for the Mesa Water branding account."

Still, why spend hundreds of thousands boosting name recognition for a government entity whose ratepayers don't have any other choice anyway?

"Right now, people take water for granted," Fisler told the Pilot. "They turn on their tap, and there's water, but we have to, I think, do little better job of telling them that this is a water-delivery system.

"It's not just somewhere where water comes out, that there are pipes that are being replaced, a half a billion dollars in infrastructure that's aging. All water districts face it."

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