Fresno hires new public utilities director, budget talks continue

The Fresno BeeJune 11, 2014 

A former consultant and government agency director in North Carolina has been named director of the city of Fresno's public utilities department.

Thomas C. Esqueda will begin work on June 16. He will make $160,000 a year.

"Thomas Esqueda has proven leadership and experience in managing large-scale water, wastewater and solid waste systems and projects for local governments," City Manager Bruce Rudd said. "I am confident in his ability to continue providing our residents and businesses with high quality service and lead community investments such as pipeline and water treatment facilities to ensure our city's water future."

The job had been open since Patrick Wiemiller resigned effective Jan. 3 to become city administrator in Lompoc in Santa Barbara County.

The Esqueda announcement on Wednesday came as the City Council concluded its last full day of budget hearings. The council on Monday is slated to review its proposed changes. It could approve next year's budget on June 19.

Mayor Ashley Swearengin is proposing a nearly $1 billion spending plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Esqueda most recently was project manager and client services manager for the engineering consulting firm of Brown and Caldwell in Raleigh, N.C. Esqueda contributed to expanding the firm's local government and management practice sector.

His government experience includes four years as director of environmental services for Wake County Government in Raleigh. Esqueda was responsible for programs and services focused on public health protection, animal care and welfare, wastewater management, groundwater management and solid waste services for about 1 million people.

Esqueda has an undergraduate degree in civil engineering from San Jose State. He is a registered professional engineer in Oregon and North Carolina.

Public utilities opened Wednesday's budget hearing with a somber report.

The department is trying to begin a $410 million upgrade of city's water system, including construction of a $227 million surface water treatment plant in southeast Fresno to replenish the aquifer. The council last year approved annual hikes to water rates to pay the bill. Some residents are trying to get enough voter signatures to put the rates' fate in the people's hands.

Council Member Lee Brand and city officials explored how a failure to prudently raise rates will lead to renewed instability in city finances.

City officials moved to residential trash rates -- they may have to rise 21% over five years to keep the solid waste division's books in good order.

Steve Hogg, head of the city sewer farm, brightened the picture. He said there are plans for a higher level of treatment for wastewater. This could deliver 25,000 acre-feet of reusable water a year, he said.

The sewer farm handles about 72,000 acre-feet of wastewater annually.

The Development and Resource Management department (formerly planning/development), deals with land-use issues. Its responsibilities are so broad that the council had trouble getting a handle on its direction.

Council members questioned cirector Jennifer Clark about equitable enforcement of neighborhood code regulations. They worried about a housing division that struggles to find a qualified leader. They wondered why no one does anything about perpetual yard sales.

Council Member Oliver Baines dug into community development block grants, the federal cash much beloved at City Hall because of its relative absence of strings. Baines said it's time for City Hall to follow federal guidelines by sending some CDBG funds to nonprofits for community improvements.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6272 or ghostetter@fresnobee.com. Read his City Beat blog at fresnobee.com/city-beat.

The Fresno Bee is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service