In what is now threatening to become something of a municipal tradition, one apparently deemed necessary by the powers that be as this City's government continues in its struggle to make much sense of itself, the 3rd "State of the City" installment is coming up in just about a month. Here is how a recent press release about this event reads:
On Tuesday, February 19, 2013 from 6:30 – 7:30 pm the City of Sierra Madre will host its 3rd Annual State of the City Address at the Community Recreation Center in the Sierra Madre Room at 611 East Sierra Madre Boulevard. This year’s theme is “Finding the Right Balance” and this event will highlight programs and services the City has provided over the past year and give residents insight to the City’s goals for the next fiscal year.
It shouldn't be too big of a surprise to the relatively small community of people in town who pay attention to our city's somewhat odd government that this theme, "Finding the Right Balance," is predicated on what is looking to be Sierra Madre's first ever tandem UUT, water and sewer rate increases in its more than 100 year history. Which really is quite a spectacle if you think about it. With the "right balance" appearing to be, at least in the minds of some of those running this place, just how much money they can ask for and still get away with it. As far as I can tell there are no natural limits to what they feel they're entitled to receive.
It was little more than a month ago that Mayor Josh Moran, Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Walsh and City Councilmember John Harabedian loudly proclaimed their burning desire to raise our city's utility (UUT) rates to 12%. Done despite a City-wide vote last April where more than 60% of those who cast ballots expressed their opposition to just that very thing. 12%, as you are likely aware, would be by far the highest municipal utility tax rate in the entire State of California. If you click here you will be taken to a California city by city UUT rate chart that doesn't even go that high. Making the UUT3's proposed 12% utility tax rate literally "off the chart."
Now, to go along with this proposed UUT increase, the City is about to launch a campaign to raise water and sewer rates as well. You may recall that the last water rate increase in Sierra Madre, which went into effect on January 11, 2011, was met with considerable rate payer disapproval. It was strongly resisted with a strong Proposition 218 revolt, one that ended with the disgraceful spectacle of city employees literally shredding water rate protest ballots in Council Chambers. Done under the purview of our City Attorney and City Manager in hopes of holding off what had become a full blown civic rebellion. It clearly was one of the ugliest examples of government abuse in our town's history.
And now, just barely more than two years after the last water rate increases went into effect, the City of Sierra Madre is back at it again, and priming itself to ask for more. This from the relevant Staff Report, specially prepared for Tuesday evening's City Council meeting:
As discussed earlier this evening (?), water revenue has not kept pace with water expenses under the recently adopted rate schedule. Staff is seeking direction from the City Council as to: 1.) Whether or not staff should initiate the rate study process by issuance of a professional services Request for Proposal for preparation of the Study, and 2.) If so, what specific provisions should the required Scope of Services include.
As those of you who understand City Staff-speak know, what Elaine Aguilar and Bruce Inman are asking here is for the City Council to fund the hiring of a consultant who will, for a substantial fee, build the case for raising our water rates again. Something that I am certain Moran, Walsh and Harabedian will fall all over themselves to do. After all, if they are willing to raise UUT rates to a state-wide record setting 12%, why would they want to end there? And just because Moran and Walsh didn't get the water rate increases right two years ago is no reason for them to want to stop the madness now.
So who is at fault in the City's failure to "find the right balance" with their January 2011 water rate increases? Apparently that culprit is, as always, you the water consumer. Again from the Staff Report:
As the City has experienced in both the Utility User Tax collection and Franchise Fee collections, residents have been conserving and on average, utility costs overall have been decreasing consistently with the downturn in the economy. Two years ago when the revenue downslide began, it was assumed to be temporary and perhaps more related to seasonal water usage rather than being recognized as an ongoing trend.
In other words, it's all your doing. By reducing your water consumption, you the consumer have caused City Staff's revenue projections to come up short. Which means that now you must have your water rates raised again. This in a city that Bruce Inman so famously proclaimed a few months back will run out of water "within the year." You answered the call, reduced water consumption during the ongoing crises, and your reward is to have to pay even more.
You really have to wonder if these people ever get tired of hearing themselves talk such nonsense. Can it be that they have become so delusional that they actually believe they are making sense?
There is also this matter. As you may recall, then Mayor Joe Mosca, when attempting to raise water rates the last time, neglected to share the most prominent reason for doing so. That being to keep up with the financial requirements of certain water bond covenants established during the free spending Bart Doyle era. Joe, with the assistance of City Staff, instead falsely claimed that the reason for increasing water rates was to upgrade such at risk water infrastructure as the city's aging water mains. This was, of course, a damnable lie, one they were forced to rescind once the residents figured it out and went ballistic.
There is no mention of any water bond covenants in this City Staff report. Given City Hall's previous prevarications on the topic, can we be certain that these bond covenants are not playing a role this time as well? And if so, why was that not included in this Agenda Report?
So once again, here is my question. Has there ever been a City Council that attempted to raise water rates, sewer rates and utility rates all at the same time? Can this be what "finding the right balance" is really all about? Tandem rate hikes? To me this seems like quite a singular event. To use the more acceptable cliche' - a "perfect storm" of panic driven rate increases.
You really do have to wonder if they're ever going to stop.