KENNEWICK — The Kennewick Irrigation District has spent as much money on consultants as its district manager's annual salary.
The district's bill for consulting services in the past year was just shy of $100,000, and the agency is seeking bids for a financial adviser, which would add to the consulting costs.
Chuck Freeman, who earns almost $110,000 a year as district manager, said consultants are a big help because they can provide expertise KID administrators cannot.
For example, KID recently voted to approve a contract not to exceed $20,000 with a public relations firm, Desautel Hege Communications of Spokane, to develop a communications plan.
Freeman said someone from the public relations company sent an email offering services, and the timing was just right.
"It was a cold call, and we have some message challenges to work on, a myriad of issues, actually," Freeman said.
"We want a strategic plan for reaching out to ratepayers and the larger community," he added, noting KID doesn't have a designated spokesman.
"Having a communications plan has been my desire since I started here. The consultant will train KID on how to tell its own story, not tell it for us," Freeman said.
The public relations consultant is the latest in a handful of outside consultant contracts issued over the past year.
The largest one was issued in February 2010 to FCS Group of Redmond to do a water rates cost of service study for $36,900.
But, as of this week, FCS's contract had expanded to $69,800, with more work still in progress, KID treasurer Colleen Storms said in an email to the Herald. Freeman said the scope of the work had to be expanded to obtain satisfactory results.
Two other consulting contracts issued in recent months have been for amounts not to exceed $30,000. Both were to Darryll Olsen of Northwest Pacific Protect in Kennewick.
One was for $20,000 for determining the value of and recommending strategies for selling off the district's two domestic water systems, commonly known as Elliott Lake in Kennewick and Lorayne J near Badger Canyon.
The other was $10,000 for evaluating the agency's 200 acres on Red Mountain before KID decides to lease or sell the prime wine grape-growing land.
Olsen will be paid based on hours worked and his pay will come from proceeds resulting from selling the water systems and the land, Freeman said.
At the same meeting in April when directors hired the communications consultant, the board also voted to call for proposals from financial advisers.
The contract would be paid out of $100,000 available for special services related to the Red Mountain diversion project.
Freeman said KID needs financial guidance as it looks at borrowing $15 million during the next five years to build a diversion point on the Yakima River at Kiona with a new pumping station and delivery system to serve the Red Mountain area.
The financial consultant, who would be hired on a three-year contract with an option for two one-year renewals, would help KID with other long-range capital planning needs.
In addition to the Red Mountain financing issue, KID wants the consultant to evaluate land the district acquired decades ago through foreclosures. Freeman said those lands have significant value and could provide unique opportunities for financing options.
"We need to incorporate these land assets in our long-term planning," he said.
KID has a real estate staff, a planning manager and treasurer who handle day-to-day issues, but Freeman said the projects KID has planned are more than staff should take on. Specialists are needed, he said.
"You hire a surgeon, not a generalist, when you have something like this. You end up saving a lot of money, and we have enough experience to know when we need to call in the experts," Freeman said.