|Meanwhile, in Washington DC ...|
You do have to wonder if a time is ever coming when the City of Sierra Madre will stop asking for more money. It has been a fairly steady pace of "hand out and demanding more" around town for a quite some time now.
And there is no greater example of Mayberry Money Love (MML) than what is going on with our currently under construction water rate hike. Last night was, to use urban terminology, a bit off the chain. We really are talking about fairly massive rate hikes here. Impressive in a way, even for a City where the cost increases for everything possible have been pretty much nonstop.
Not that there were any surprises last night, mind you. Mayor Nancy "I've Been Burned Before" Walsh, Mayor Faux Tem Harabedian, along with the always angry about something Councilmember Josh Moran, all showed signs of going for the Bob's Big Boy 59% rate increase package. Identified on the consultant's three item easy meal menu as Scenario #1, it is the largest of all the three proposed water rate increases made available to them by that helpful gentleman.
I know, I was shocked, too.
Councilmembers John Capoccia and Chris Koerber, on the other hand, spoke about their support for the least expensive of the easy meal marvels on the consultant's menu, the 49% increase Scenario #3. The notion here being to lessen the sticker shock that many residents will experience, especially in the first year when two water rate increases are called for. The sensibilities of the ratepayers being of greater concern to the City Council's minority faction.
Much of this difference of opinion is apparently based upon the water bond covenant situation. Whereas the Scenario 1 Fun Bunch seemed terribly concerned about what the bond rating world might think of us, the minority Scenario 3 Faction were more interested in the opinions of the residents of Sierra Madre. The point being that the rarified and more expensive viewpoint that bond covenants are more important than the pocketbooks of the lokes, while certainly banker correct, might not work politically. Which is an important consideration in a Prop 218 situation.
This leads us to the two ton elephant in the room, the possible future sale of additional water bonds. Should Scenario 1 prevail, the Water Department would be, to use Councilmember Capoccia's appropriate metaphor, "awash in cash." At least after a couple of years. Cash reserves will have never been that high.
The Angriest Councilmember In The World, Josh Moran, sputtered on (and on) about the need to set aside such large sums so that the many capital improvements needed can be fully funded. A viewpoint that hardly precludes the issuing of more bonds.
Now don't you think that it might have been the availability of generous cash reserves that led to water bond sales here in 2003? And that having so much money laying about would make it possible for a John Harabedian to pack up his ties and head to Washington DC in search of yet another $10 million dollar matching fund? Something we would be eligible for if we sold more water bonds? All made possible by the covenant saving powers of Scenario 1?
After all, that is how Bart Doyle was able to swing the deals that got us those attractive water tanks we can see around town. The downside being the City found itself accepting an "eazy payments" interest only payback plan that turned a $6.75 million water bond issue into $15 million dollars in hard debt. A huge financial burden on our city today, and one of the reasons why water rates are being driven higher. Paying all of that back while funding millions of dollars in water infrastructure projects being the equivalent of fighting a two front war.
All of which leads to what I will call Scenario #4. The ratepayers deciding that they don't want to approve the maximum possible water rate increase available. Done out of the belief that putting so much cash into the hands of Bartlings like Nancy, Angry Josh and Johnny is like letting your five year old play with matches. Eventually they are going to do the wrong thing, put us $10s of millions of dollars deeper in debt, and financially burn down the entire City.
Trust me, they're plenty dumb enough to do it.
How the City of San Diego made a Prop 218 ballot available to its ratepayers
Not every city attempts to suppress the vote of its ratepayers by refusing to put a Prop 218 ballot inside its water rate increase hearing notification. As you can see by clicking here, San Diego's 2011 mailing included an entire page explaining your rights to vote down a water rate increase through Prop 218, and then provided a form the ratepayers could use to do it.
As you may recall, in 2010, and under the leadership of oh-so civil Mayor Joe Mosca, the City of Sierra Madre refused to issue a Prop 218 ballot. Instead preferring to treat this voter approved statewide law like a sort of dirty secret. Something that outraged the residents of this City and fueled a citizen-run protest campaign that paradoxically nearly defeated the 2010 water rate increases.
It will be interesting to see if City Hall makes that same mistake again.