Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Sierra Madre City Hall Goes Into Full Panic Mode Over Prop 218 Water Rate Protest Robocalls

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Ordinarily I am not a big fan of robocalls. Especially when they are trying to sell me carpet cleaning services, come from political candidates I don't support, or inform me that I have just won a free cruise to the Bahamas. I have been there, and ever since I've tried hard to attend church services. I fear an eternal return.

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.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com   

52 comments:

  1. thank you Mr. robocallDecember 17, 2013 at 6:08 AM

    For your succinct public service call. We sent our envelope in yesterday.

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    1. sort of ironic - for the city (mainly the city manager, attorney and a handful of enlightened superior intellect Council Members have been spreading misinformation, outright lies and burying the facts with regards to the water bonds and who did what and why....and now somehow without their knowledge residents are getting robo calls with misinformation and now the city wants to say that this misinformation isn't the same as their own misinformation and distortions?

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    2. City Hall hates competition.

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  2. I am not sure how this helps the City Manager maintain Prop 218 message control.

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    1. REMEMBER KAREN'S STATEMENTS AT THOSE TELEVISED CITY COUNCIL MEETING ?

      1) Karen stated... time after time...

      2) The City of Sierra Madre "Wants More Revenue" !

      3) When the City gets more revenue "Money from its residents", the city can borrow more long term debt "money"


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    2. We are being asked to finance more debt. Crazy.

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    3. when we elect 2 utility company lawyers, building lobbyist, a construction company owner, commercial banker, another blowhard lawyer who openly violates campaign regulations and a reverse mortgage salesperson...this is what we deserve

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  3. It seems steps were taken to insure a honest election in Sierra Madre, the hand of fate has intervened a big thank you for the Robocalls.

    I feel the information contained in the robocall message was as or more accurate than any information that comes out of city hall.

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    1. maybe the city didn't do this but it's a great idea whoever did it cause the city has been threatening and spreading complete misinformation for several years

      turnabout is fair play

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  4. Roboman! Thank you for the wake up call!

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  5. Have to make sure that the pensions of the city employees are fully paid for. If you look at the news around the country, the biggest issue is unfunded pensions. This is what the rate increase is about. When we let the city employees give themselves huge pensions someone has to pay for it. Rate increases are the only way. Yes bond debt is taking money but pensions are the real culprit.

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  6. The short robo message was much easier to understand than the volumes for paper the city sent me.
    Thanks .Rob Robo

    PS I am sending in my ballot.

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  7. Another call to action, Tattlers! Call, email, text your neighbors and let them know the truth, AND to turn in their ballots checked NO if they don't want this aggregious tax increase. Oddly enough, my street was just dug up by SM's water department. Why does this only seem to happen when a controversial tax increase is in the works?

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    1. I have noticed a lot of pipes being dug up. Guess it is water rate protest time again.

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    2. Prepare for a deluge.

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    3. there were 4 major water leaks before Thanksgiving and one school had to be closed for awile but No we dont have a problem . just keep your head in the sand . I did not send a protest and nobody else should

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    4. How is paying bond debt going to fix pipes?

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    5. The water rate increase is not about fixing pipes or infrastructure. It is all about fixing the credit rating so more money can be borrowed in the future. Right now the bonds are junk bonds. Buyer beware.

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    6. Leaks and disasters ?? always seem to happen when they want money. Send your ballot in.

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    7. 10:00 a.m., such extremism gets us nowhere. No one is saying that the system is not in need of repair.

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    8. Yes. 11:12 speaks the truth. I need guarantees that the money I send in will actually go for repairs, not to pay off 10 year old bond debt. They told us in 2010 the money would be used to fix leaking pipes. They are still leaking.

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    9. Max Tax Nancy will save us!

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    10. I just don't trust Nancy, Josh or John Harabedian. At all.

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    11. Major sleaze factor with that bunch.

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    12. the rate hike will not be used for water infrastructure repair, regardless of "supposed" water leaks or what PR spin is being posted or mailed to us

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    13. I sent my protest in today. It felt good.

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    14. I'm not sending in a protest. When was the last time this City Council was unanimous on anything? not the UUT, for sure.

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    15. Why don't you just stop by city hall and give them your wallet?

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    16. No UUT increase! Enough is enough.

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  8. The timing of the Prop 218 process stinks. They always plan important things either during the summer or over the Christmas holidays. City Hall is closed from Dec 24 until Jan 2.

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  9. It is done on purpose. The city picks times like the Xmas and summer holidays to roll out tax hikes. Did you know the Planning Commission is looking at downtown homeless shelters this Thursday? Merry Christmas!

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  10. What I love about the city council and staff is that they are quibbling over whether the rate hike is 61% or 69%. Just think about it. They think a 61% rate hike is reasonable. And as thought that is not enough, they will be compounding that rate hike by asking for a utility tax increase. Which will be applied to the increased rates.

    Please do what I did. Mail in your yellow protest form.

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  11. I don't see why I need to pay the city more money so they can get is farther into debt. They must think we are stupid.

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    1. we are that stupid - look at who we've been electing to the Council - starting with the current Council and working backwards till you reach Bart Doyle, the building lobbyist who orchestrated this mess and has always been around supporting alike minded candidates

      we've only had one decent Council in the last 15 years that wasn't supported by the real estate agencies and utility companies

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  12. CITY HALL NEEDS A COINSCIENCE....

    The sky is falling is a great choice of words!


    City Hall is forcing retired residents -

    the right to continue living in their family homes in Sierra Madre

    CITY HALL is forcing residents to sell their family homes and retire to a less expensive place to live!

    Solution...

    there are many solutions,
    take away the City PERKS
    City Hall needs to reduce its spending.... city employees need to turn in their company cars / gas credit cards / free car insurance and make life style a just ments!


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    Replies
    1. Having city employees do some work instead of hiring those expensive consultants, yes I know, Elaine insists that city employees are already overworked and don't have the time.

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  13. City Hall is closed Dec 24 to Jan 2? Yikes. What other cities in the southland are closing their doors for such an extended holiday period?

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    1. City Hall in Arcadia is closed December 25.

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  14. Lets put something in perspective. I just received my Edison bill and the third page was a notice in small print with a chart of fees that Edison is proposing a rate hike. As you remember, they had one last year too. In order to protest you must write a letter to Sacramento to be presented at a hearing. No 218 process because they are a private company. We did get an earlier notice a couple of months ago in the bill, but other than being curious about it, I did nothing Now, with all the dog and pony shows that the City has given us, plus a full packet of information, plus a web site where you can figure how much it will cost, plus an opportunity to speak at multiple meetings, I read on the tattler, suspicions about fraud, lack of information, and downright conspiracy. Well, everything is public record. Everything has been explained, and I think any sensible person can see that we want to keep our own water department so we don't have to go to Sacramento to complain. Bonds or no bonds, repairs or no repairs, the water company needs to raise the rates to stay afloat. Bottom line - even though I collected multiple signatures last time, I'm not sending in my protest this time and am advising people who ask to throw theirs away as well. I paid my Edison bill without protest.

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    1. Not everything is public record. How much of the water rate increase will go to service bond debt, and how much will be used to fix the mess we call our water company's infrastructure? Remember, we wer epromised infrastructure repair last time, and the pipes still seem to leak. Or worse.

      Since everything has been explained, perhaps you will share that information. I too went to the meeings, and found them to be almost entirely useless. And yes, it is good that we don't have to go all the way to Sacramento. All we need to do is sign a piece of paper and mail it to the city.

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    2. "Bonds or no bonds, repairs or no repairs, the water company needs to raise the rates to stay afloat."

      If they don't pay the bonds, they go under. If they don't do the repairs, they will not be able to deliver water for much longer. That is, if they ever actually find some. These are the core issues. Unless those are dealt with it won't matter if they stay afloat. Not whether or not meetings were held, or where.

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    3. 4:16 - what if you don;t agree with what was said at the meetings? Is it still OK to vote no? Or would that be bad.

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    4. It make no sence to protest , all the things that need to be changed need a rate increase a no vote only makes things worse

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    5. Much of the rate increase money will go to pay for Bart Doyle's junk bonds. How can it get any worse than that? I'd rather hold back the money until the city gets real.

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    6. I don't get it, 4:16. Things are bad at the water co., so we need to give them more money. But it doesn't matter what the money gets used for? That makes no sense.

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    7. whether or not you like the bonds, they have been made and are now debt obligations for the city. we need to pay those off. we also need to repair infrastructure. this is why I will to submit a protest ballot, but I will protest, and loudly, the UUT rate increase!!!!!!!! the city can.'t have both.

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    8. I might support the 61% increase if the city had laid out the entire bond debt, the terms of the debt and how the funds generated would work to pay that debt down. In addition, if there is infrastructure repairs needed, a specific plan laying out those repairs/upgrades would be in order.

      Sorry, I can't buy into the concept of raising rates simply because the powers to be have mismanaged the water dept.

      "I paid my Edison bill without protest" - that is unfortunate, you and every ratepayer should be sending in their protests. Electric use is down, yet rates are going up? Have you looked at the percentage of revenue going to mid to upper level management positions? Talk about a top heavy organization.

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    9. Edison is reconfiguring its rates. The lower tiers will pay more and the upper tiers will pay less. It appears that they are trying to recoup money from those that have solar.

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    10. "Sorry, I can't buy into the concept of raising rates simply because the powers that be have mismanaged the water dept." - Exactly!

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  15. Still only 6 people on Facebook like the city's press release on robo calls. And some of them are city staff.

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  16. I am a little confused…

    The city states that the city’s yearly income is 8 or 9 million dollars.

    The city states that 61% of the city’s income goes to paying the police department?

    I know that the city web site states something entirely different (2 pages)

    If you add up the city warrants (2013) as stated on the tattler, those warrants add up to $18,014,134…

    How is this possible?

    Where did the other $10 million dollars come from?

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  17. 4:16 must be making plenty of money ... and has no idea of what government does. 4:16 pull your head out and look at the history, gov will always ask for more money no matter how much you give them. Only the uninformed will vote for more taxes. they ask for more money and keep hiring more people, get informed 4:16

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