I expect that we are going to see a pretty large outpouring of resident concern over the City's use of fines and service cut offs to curtail water usage Tuesday evening, and there are a couple of issues I'd like to throw into the mix. The Tattler is generous like that, and we try to be the place most likely to share this kind of information. Since we live in a burgh where the adjudicated weekly newspaper of record merely reprints City Hall press releases on such topics, and with no messy questions asked, somebody has got to do it. Might as well be this blog.
The question of comparative water rates has come up, and with Arcadia drawing its water from basically the same place as Sierra Madre, you would think that these rates would be roughly equal. But they aren't. Below you will find a couple of links that show us what these actual numbers are.
As I think you know, both Arcadia and Sierra Madre get their water from the Raymond Basin. And yet there is a fairly large difference between what Arcadia charges its customers and what we are being charged. Arcadia's water and meter rates are detailed on their website and can be accessed by clicking here. What it shows is that water in Arcadia currently costs $1.37 / 100 CF. And remember, Arcadia has no tiers.
If you click here you will be linked up with a comparable City of Sierra Madre document that details our current water rates. Though our chart is far more opaque than the one Arcadia provides, you will be able to see that for FY 2013-2014 the charge per unit is $2.21 for Tier 1. With most folks here being way beyond Tier 1, and therefore paying even more.
All costs that are considerably more that what the folks downhill from us are being asked to pay. Please note that this chart is an older one and does not take into account that the City of Sierra Madre is currently initiating a move to raise our water rates to even higher levels later this year.
(Reader comment: Arcadia charges an $11.29 meter charge, Sierra Madre's meter charge is $46.26 for a 5/8" meter!)
Why is this? In my opinion it is largely due to the verboten topic of water bond debt. The City of Sierra Madre owes approximately $19 million dollars (interest factored in) for water bonds that were executed in 1998 and again in 2003. Done at interest rates that are quite high when compared to those available today. The debt service on what we owe for these past indiscretions comes to right around $1 million per year, which is a significant portion of what the Water Department takes in.
It also contributes to the sad disrepair of our water infrastructure. Because so much Water Department revenue is being gobbled up by bond service, the repair of such things as water mains and drilling for new wells keeps getting kicked down the road.
This is the black fiscal hole that, along with sweetened employee benefit and pension deals, is driving much of the current money grab at City Hall. The result is that rates and fees are being raised across the board. Not to mention the intense political pressure being put on the taxpayers to approve the upcoming do-over vote to extend UUT rates that, at 10%, are the highest in California.
Our current City Council, with the notable exception of Chris Koerber, refuses to discuss the dire consequences of our water bond debt in public. This despite it being the obvious reason for our problems here.
In my opinion this is being done to shield certain political allies of Nancy Walsh, Josh Moran and John Harabedian from having to take the heat. The persons responsible for indebting us at such unsustainable levels being former Councilmembers Bart Doyle, Doug Hayes and Rob Stockley.
In other words, it is largely a politically motivated cover-up.
Speaking of paying more ...
I'd like to repost a comment made by a reader a couple of days ago. It's one of those "I wish I'd said it" kinds of things that show up so often on this site. Yet more proof that if you're not spending time with the comments section of this blog, you're not experiencing all it has to offer.
The City has declared war June 7, 2013 at 6:31 AM
Imagine a world in which the management of a private water company failed to invest in an adequate water supply despite borrowing millions. Then, to deal with its error enacted rules that would reward it with increased rates when its customers failed to meet usage targets. Even though the customers have no access to the data necessary to monitor compliance.
For good measure let's make the usage targets arbitrary, with July target based in part on February usage. The result: 50% July usage cuts.
Throw in exemptions for favored users regardless of property size or number of persons residing on the property. And to complete the absurdity toss in an exemption for the owners of the water company themselves. There would be a public hanging presided over by local politicians.
This is what your council has done.
There has been a lot of discussion this week about how the City mandated 20% water usage cuts are in reality 50% mandated usage cuts for many during the summer months. Which is pretty much where we are right now. Here is how this one breaks down:
Take your total water usage and divide it by the six billing periods. That gives you an overall average for the year. However, water usage is not something that is equal at all times. In the hot and dry summer months usage spikes considerably as many consume a lot more water for things like watering lawns.
The City of Sierra Madre is mandating 20% water usage reductions based on your yearly average starting with the two Summer billing cycles. Which are the peak times for water usage. Lets say your average water usage for the yearly six billing periods is the big yard number of 30 units. But factored into that overall number is the 60 units you consume during the two hot weather billing periods.
So if you are someone who uses a lot of water for your yard, rather than having to reduce your water consumption by 20% now when you are using the most, you are actually being asked to slash your water usage by as much as 50% through September. Either that or face stiff fines. Not to mention the possibility of having your water turned off altogether.
I'm not sure that City Hall took the time to think this through. And apparently they are catching considerable heat for it.