Livingston Mayor Pro Tem Gurpal Samra will seek re-election in November, the longtime politician confirmed to the Sun-Star on Wednesday.
The 54-year-old said he made the decision last weekend, mainly because he wants to see the city’s water issues resolved. Livingston has been plagued with high levels of water contaminants such as arsenic and TCP, and city leaders have approved utility rate hikes to pay for filtration systems and other upgrades to water wells.
“People want to see the water issues resolved,” Samra said. “Of all the people on the council, with the exception of the mayor, who else knows more about the water system? We need to get this done. We’re on the right path, but I want to make sure we don’t divert from it.”
Two seats on the Livingston City Council are up for grabs this November: Samra’s and that of Mayor Rodrigo Espinoza, who has pulled papers to run for re-election. Samra had not pulled papers to file for re-election as of Wednesday. The deadline is Aug. 8.
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Planning Commissioner Mario Mendoza, whose brother is Livingston Councilman David Mendoza, has pulled papers to challenge Samra. Mendoza did not return calls for comment Wednesday.
Samra said the city faces several challenges, including closing a $150,000 deficit in its budget, updating the city’s general plan and drafting a new revenue sharing agreement with Merced County. The agreement would outline how property tax is split between the county and the city. “Merced County pulled out of it and that’s what we need to work on,” Samra said. “We can’t bring new property in without a revenue sharing agreement.”
Samra, who was first elected to the Livingston City Council in 1998, served as mayor for two terms. Samra said “foolish decisions” were made when he went off the council from 2004 to 2006 and again from 2008 to 2010.
“The two times that I wasn’t on the council, foolish decisions were made and we wasted $4 million,” Samra said. The $4 million includes the construction of an industrial wastewater plant to serve Foster Farms and legal fees related to a lawsuit over the poultry producer’s water backflow device.
Samra said he believes he has kept his promises to voters and takes a transparent approach with his constituents.
“I think I’ve done a good job over the years and I’ve done what I said I was going to do,” Samra said, pointing to the formation of a stakeholder committee to discuss water issues as an example. “I’ve been very transparent about how I make my votes and I explain my decisions.”
The city has negotiated concession agreements with its employees to cut costs, including furlough days, salary reductions and contributions toward medical insurance. Samra said it’s “tough” on employees, but everyone has been impacted by the economic recession.
Samra said the city should look at reducing expenses in other areas, such as contracts for services and reducing travel for out-of-area training. Samra said he insisted the City Council adopt a budget by Aug. 15.
Samra, a father of three teenagers, works as a network support technician for the Merced County Office of Education.