But yesterday's Prop 218 water rate protest robocalls did work their way into my heart. In part because I didn't think of doing it myself, which left me feeling a little bit of professional pot stirrer envy. But also because it put City Hall into a state of sheer panic (link). How often have we at The Tattler tried to do that, and with only marginal success? From reports I've received they were literally going bananas down there yesterday. Which is so heartening to hear. Whoever did this deed really set off something special.
On the City of Sierra Madre Facebook page the following press release was posted late yesterday morning. As of this typing (12:06 am) it has received a total of 6 "likes." Which does go to show there are at least a few water rate increase fans in town.
CITY NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ROBO-PHONE CALLS
Residents have reported receiving a “robo-call” from a group identifying itself as, “Water for You”, no other identification or return number is provided for this group. A number of residents have reported the calls as “threatening” and the City felt it was important to clarify that the City is not responsible for the calls. The City of Sierra Madre does not know who has paid for these robo-phone calls, nor does the City have contact information for this group.
While the City is confident that our water customers will read the information that was included in the Proposition 218 mailing that was mailed to all water and sewer customers and will ultimately make their own decisions regarding the proposed water and sewer rate increase, the City felt it was important to correct misinformation provided in the robo-call.
First, the “water rate increase” is not a 69% rate increase, but a total revenue increase of 61% over five years. This does not translate into a direct 61% increase to every water customer’s bill. (For the impact on individual customer bills please see the next paragraph.) The water fund needs to increase its total revenues in order to reverse the deteriorating financial condition of the fund. Currently, the water fund does not generate sufficient revenues to support its annual operational, capital and debt payments. Please refer to the “Fact sheet” that was included in the Proposition 218 mailing, and is also available on the City’s website for a complete explanation of the difference between a “revenue increase” and a “rate increase.”
Secondly, under the proposed rate increase, the majority (more than 50%) of Sierra Madre water customers’ bi-monthly water bills will increase less than 10% the first year of the proposed increase. A typical residential water customer, who uses 33 units of water is estimated to experience the following increases in their water bill:
• 10.3% ($12.70 bi-monthly, or $6.35 a month) increase the first year,
• 14.3% ($19.40 bi-monthly or $9.70 per month) increase the second year,
• 12.7% ($19.71 bi-monthly, or $9.86 a month) increase the third year,
• 2.5% ($4.24 bi-monthly or $2.21 per month) increase the fourth year, and a
• 3.7% ($6.70 bi-monthly or $3.35 per month) increase the fifth year.
There is a Water Rate Calculator available on the City’s website to assist customers in determining the estimated impact on their own water bill.
Lastly, the Sierra Madre City Council unanimously approved presenting the proposed rate structure to the City’s water and sewer customers.
For information about the proposed water and sewer rate increase, please call City Hall at (626) 355-7135 from 11 am to 5:30 pm on Monday to Thursday.
Now after reading all of this City Hall palaver you might assume that these robocalls were voluminous affairs, and that terminology such as "operational capital" and "revenue increase" vs. "rate increase" had been left on answering machines all over town. However, it turns out this was not quite the case.
Here is what I heard when listening to the robocall we received here at the Maundry Compound:
This is a public service announcement from Water For You. Recently you received a mailer from City Hall about the 69% water rate increase. You need to fill it out and send it in or the City will raise your water rates 69%. You have the right to say No. If you don't want your water rates raised 69%, it is urgent you mail it back to the City. Call the City at 355-7135 if you did not receive a ballot.
That is pretty much it. Rather pithy. The male speaker did seem a little rushed in his presentation, and because of that perhaps came off as being a bit strident. But I must confess I did not feel threatened by anything that was said. Though perhaps City Hall feels differently. After all, it is their nearly $20 million dollars in toxic water bond related debt they're trying to get us to pay for.
I am also not certain if that 69% vs. 61% discrepancy can quite be described as "misinformation." It seems to me to be more of an error. I know that I have been posting here on the blog that the cumulative rate increase comes to 60%. So I suppose by City Hall's definition I have been engaging in misinformation as well. Though that was certainly not my intent.
I did receive an email recently from someone who had calculated out what he thought the cumulative effect of these rate increases would mean to his water bill. Here are his findings:
I sent my protest ballot in tonight for both the water and sewer. I sent detailed emails to four people outlining in a nutshell what this means in dollars and cents. I calculated out that my current bill of $196 for 23 units of water will be $314 under the new system in 2018. Outrageous! I included these figures in my emails. I also text messaged a couple of my neighbors that I don't have email addresses for. I heavily encouraged them to send the ballot in, as not doing so results in a "yes" vote.
That seems to me to be a result quite different from the impression the City was hoping to leave with their press release yesterday. So perhaps the "misinformation" charge can be leveled at them as well?
Of course, the biggest piece of misinformation of all is the impression the City has left with many residents that the water rate increase has a lot to do with infrastructure repair. And that any increased water rates are going to somehow "Fix Sierra Madre."
While the City has admitted that water bond debt does play a significant role, they have also spent a lot of time discussing capital improvements as well. Which in this case is nearly a non sequitur. I can only assume this is being done in order to make people believe that some actual good will come from their increased cash contributions.
Sadly, that is not the case. Much of what City Hall has planned for your additional money deals with problems associated with the massive amounts of toxic water bond debt dumped on us by past city administrations.
If the City does want to make some truly significant capital improvements (replace all of those bad water mains for instance), they'll likely need to float even more water bonds to do it.
Which in my humble opinion is what this is really all about.