Or is it the one our City Manager is now saying must be used to validate the signed water protest forms? This being the list of "Assessor Parcel Numbers" which, while containing the names of the actual property owners, does not necessarily contain the names of the people actually paying the City for water on all of those properties. The bill receiving metered rate payers.
For many involved with reconciling signed forms with the list originally provided by City Hall, this is beginning to take on the appearance of a bait and switch. That after everyone obeyed the rules as they were originally laid out, and now with all the work having been done and the deadline passed, suddenly everything has been changed. And in a way that could only benefit those persons at City Hall who seem almost desperate to get their hands on more of our money.
The water rate protesters exceeded the numbers based on the list originally provided, but now, after the fact, City Hall has suddenly pulled out a different list. There is something intrinsically unfair about that. And very wrong.
Therein also lies what has become a very big question. Why is it this 40% water rate hike is being fought for this hard? Why is City Hall in a state of what some have described as "a near panic?" The water price increase failed, and it did so because a wide swath of people living in Sierra Madre opposed it. Business owners, landlords, apartment building bosses, and work-a-day folks who are just tired of having to pay more and more money for the same old stuff.
Why are those employed at City Hall taking on the town like this? Is it appropriate behavior from those who are supposed to be serving the very residents whose will they are now attempting to defy?
A theory that has been making the rounds is that City Hall is just out of touch with the times. This country is in the worst economic downturn in 80 years, with some such as Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman using the word "depression" to describe what is going on in the U.S. Revenues at City Hall are trending downward, with red ink a distinct probability in a year or so. And in the past that was always solved by just asking for more money. Things have been so good for so long here that City Hall has become very used to always getting what it wants.
But the economy is not what it used to be, even here in Sierra Madre. And people are resisting giving them the money they want this time. Can it really be that they just do not understand why?
An example of this economic tin ear would be our City Attorney. Sandra Levin made a cool $213,000 in Sierra Madre in the last year. And we aren't the only place where she serves as a City Attorney. The lawfirm she has partnership in, Colantuono and Levin, billed Sierra Madre over $600,000 last year for legal services. But do you know what? Sandra Levin is now asking for a raise.
Our Police Department accounts for 53% of our General Fund expenditures. It is by far the largest expense Sierra Madre faces. Yet on Monday morning we will be swearing in four new cops at City Hall, bringing the total Police Officers employed here to 31. This in a City that covers only 3.2 square miles.
It is time for City Hall to come to grips with the concept of shared sacrifice. They need to start facing up to the same sorts of fiscal conditions tax and ratepayers here are facing. This country is in bad economic shape right now, and the kind of money that might have been available in the past just isn't around anymore. The City can't keep adding new employees, giving raises, or launching vast new water infrastructure projects, and then expect to get more money with no questions asked. Those times are past. At least for a while. It is time City Hall faced the kinds of realities those paying the bills are facing.
The party is over. It is now time to start dealing with it.