Friday, January 10, 2014

City Staff Is Back To Telling Us Sierra Madre's Water Rate Increases Are All About Infrastructure Repair

Really? You'll fix the pipes this time?
"As indicated by Councilman John Buchanan at the last meeting, the situation "isn't going to get better with age." More than 30% of the city's water mains need replacing and, especially during the next few months with hot weather and greater demand, the strain on the system will put further stress on the system. "We just can't take another two or three years to resolve this problem," said one resident who supports the increase ... In addition, at the time of the last increase, there was, and still is, no way to determine the amount and rate of electrical power increases." The Mountain Views News on July 3rd of 2010

I for one have never doubted that Sierra Madre's water enterprise needs more cash to survive. Having been literally run into the ground by incompetent management over the years, along with being saddled with immense amounts of bond debt by elected officials who really could benefit from having their heads examined, the money is obviously needed. And where else can they get it except from us?

My objection is that we have not been told what the actual reasons for this rate increase are. And by that I mean who exactly put us into the woeful condition that has made asking for more money necessary, what their motives were, and how exactly they managed to screw up a $6 million dollar water bond deal so badly that it ended up turning into $15 million dollars in hard debt. Which is the actual reason why our water enterprise is in the terrible financial condition it is today.

I stated from the very beginning of this process that if the City actually told the truth this time I would have no burning objections to this rate increase. Of course, City Hall chose instead to feed us a lot of nonsense. They usually do. Veracity aversion apparently being a chronic psychological malady plaguing at least a few of those working there.

The one solution bad government can alway rely upon to save its bacon is initiating additional cash confiscations from the public. And this year with the 61% water rate increase, along with an attempt to extend some of the highest UUT rates in the State of California out through 2022, we are currently being set up for a very expensive double-dip by one of the worst City Councils in Sierra Madre's history.

And, shame on us, they might actually pull it off. Besides, in the end bad government is the responsibility of those who vote it into office. And with a few notable exceptions, we the people have somehow kept electing ourselves a steady diet of lulus.

There was a quaintly deceptive article in yesterday's Pasadena Star News regarding our pending 61% water rate increase. I personally do not know the reporter responsible for this mess, but I thought that perhaps I should share with him the following pointed observation.

If all you are going to do is talk to Sierra Madre's city employees when writing an article about this town, and then take everything they say to you at complete face value, and with no attempt whatsoever at corroboration or fact checking, then you are no longer a news reporter. You are instead their publicist. And while both occupations do involve typing, they are two very different things.

Here is the Pasadena Star News publicity piece I am referring to.

Sierra Madre water rate increases hinge on resident approval (link): The city has approved a five-year water revenue rate plan to alleviate the city’s deficit, but it’s up to the water customers whether it goes any further.

“In order to reverse a deficit position in the water fund, total water revenues need to increase by 61 percent over a five-year period,” City Manager Elaine Aguilar said. “With individual rates, it differs based on a customer’s water use. Not everyone will see 61 percent. Almost 52 percent of customers will see 10 percent in water rates with the first rate increase.”

Per Proposition 218, residents can protest the rate hike by either returning a ballot that was mailed to them or simply submitting a written statement voicing their disapproval.

Ballots are due Jan. 28, and will be opened publicly at a City Council meeting that night. It won’t be known exactly how many residents have protested the rate hike until then, but Public Works Director Bruce Inman said the city has received at least a couple of protest ballots.

If approved, rate hikes will go into effect on July 1. If the city receives enough dissenting ballots, the planned rate increases will go back to the drawing board.

“It’s not the ideal situation, but we want to keep the water flowing and meet the community’s needs, so we don’t have any other option at this point,” Inman said.

The rates were approved by the City Council on Nov. 12. They will cover operation costs such as employee salaries, purchasing reservoirs across the city and day-to-day maintenance, according Inman.

“It needs to be understood that 61 percent is a revenue increase,” he said. “It’s not that everyone is going to pay 61 percent more. It will vary based on water usage, and so on.”

The city’s water utilities department is operating out of their reserve funds as a result of ongoing expenditures to operate the utilities department, users cutting back on their utilities expenditures during the recession, and the city spending more on capital improvement projects than previously anticipated, Aguilar said.

“The city’s water and utilities is operating in the red and has been for a number of years,” she said. “(The revenue increase) will put the city’s water and utilities in good financial ground, and they will no longer have to use reserves to meet current operations.”

A consultant surveyed the city last year to discern what kind of rate increases would level the city’s water funds out of a deficit, and did “a number of different formulas,” city spokeswoman Elisa Cox said.

A couple of things that are not true in this release. Bruce Inman states here that the city has received "at least a couple of protest ballots." The actual number of Prop 218 protest ballots as of today is approaching 800. Or approximately 45% of what would be required to overturn the water rate increase. A number that will only increase as we draw closer to the City's January 28 deadline.

The other problem with this article is actually more troubling because it evokes some of the deceptions used during the Joe Mosca water rate increase "process" of 2010 (link). And that is claiming the reason for taking more water ratepayer money is to fix our water department's woeful infrastructure rather than its preeminent purpose, servicing vast quantities of decaying bond debt.

After all, who doesn't want to fix the pipes? But digging deep to pay off some idiot's $15 million dollars in bad water bond investments? Or telling people that $9 million of it is because some elected buffoons back in 2003 chose to pay only the interest on that debt? And that we will continue to do so for yet another 4 or 5 years? Not quite so appealing.

The crazy thing is, in its official documents City Hall actually does admit that bond debt is a big part of it. Something quite different than what they chose to share with their Star News publicity agent. This from a document currently available on the City of Sierra Madre's website.

Without proper revenue to cover operational expenses, which include the City's bond covenants, the City's Water Fund credit and bond rating could further deteriorate. In September 2011 Moody's investor service downgraded the City's Water Fund Enterprise bond to an A3 rating from an A1 rating. The rationale for the downgrade was the insufficient debt service coverage levels and slow implementation of increased rates.

As I am certain you know, since the above was written Moody's actually did go and dump our water company's bond ratings down to junk. You can read their scathing appraisal of Sierra Madre's disastrous water bond condition by clicking here.

But look, I can talk about this stuff until I am blue in the face. If people are willing to allow themselves to believe fairy tales told to them by city employees who only want more of their money, and for purposes they don't care to talk about in newspaper articles, then there is nothing more that I can do. You either submit your Prop 218 protest ballot, or you accept being treated disrespectfully.

Sure Sierra Madre's water company is in trouble. But I can't see myself wanting to give more money to a group of people who apparently believe they can get what they want by treating the residents of this town like fools.

Even though they might be right.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

62 comments:

  1. The City has orchestrated a fine protest balloting system that will and does work in their favor. Many people who received the protest did not know what it was all about, did not read it, and threw the ballot and accompanying papers in the trash as junk mail. If the protest was so strong, the number of protests would be higher and since we are closing in on the final vote count... it looks like the City has succeeded once again to fool many and obtain the monies it wanted under the guise of a vote!

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  2. For those who think the city council member's of Sierra Madre run this city are sadly mistaken and under a voodoo spell cast by:

    1.) the city clerk
    2.) the city attorney
    3.) the city manager
    4.) those council member's
    5.) public works director
    6.) finance director
    7.) counter help at help desk

    If you chose number 3 you would be correct, coupled with number 2, number has to get in on the act to legally cover up their finger prints.

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    Replies
    1. The City Clerk is not part of the voodoo team. She is a 100% trustworthy lady.

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    2. I agree, 9:53. Nancy Shollenberger has served Sierra Madre well for over 30 years.

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    3. Even though this was a multiple choice question, I resent even listing our city clerk who as 9:53 says is a 100% trustworthy lady and I'd like to emphasize lady.

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  3. Part of being an intelligent effective adult is developing the ability to focus on what is relevant. Punishing yourself by making it impossible for your own water company to pay its debts and keep its system functioning is childish. The government you elected and the staff they hired lie. Government lies for money. Horrors! Do you actually think you can punish them into telling the truth? Guess what they will do (actually legally forced to do) if they don't have enough money? Hint: it doesn't require a UUT election or a rate ballot. THEY WILL BORROW MORE MONEY!. Stop whining and get in the arena and kick them out/keep them out of office for their cowardly dishonest representation. But the last thing you should do is bring ruin to yourself.

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    Replies
    1. So you're saying shut up and hand over the money? How North Korean of you.

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    2. Governor Brown is going to push through a ballot measure to make it easier for local governments to have bond measures passed. It will lower the 2/3 vote to 55%. Thank you Jerry and those who voted for him.

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    3. Yeah, like more debt is going to end well. What's the phone number for U-Haul? I need the interstate rate.

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    4. It worked for Detroit. Oh, wait.

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  4. I believe that Nancy Walsh actually told the truth in her interview with the Star News several months ago. she stated that the reason the rates need to increase are because of the bond debt.

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    1. Yes, but she did it only once. Since then she has stayed on message.

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    2. Her meaning was quite clear - the plan is obviously to pretty up enough to borrow more, put us in constant debt as a strategy for the future.
      Poor Walsh - she had her instructions, but nobody told her to be subtle about it.

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    3. Exactly. Raise rates so Moody's will repair our bond ratings, and then sell more bonds to finally fix the infrastructure. Sierra Madre could come out of this with an excess of $40 million in bond debt. Live for today, as they say.

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  5. so the city has admitted to the truth, yet you refuse to accept it. what are you waiting for, the entire staff to wear ribbons of shame and stand under the pergola shouting "the bonds, the bonds are coming!" ?

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    Replies
    1. At the very least. Bad management, ruinous investment schemes and lying are things frowned upon in most business and government circles. You seem to be OK with it, though.

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  6. purchasing reservoirs across the city ... what does this mean? (in paragraph about CC approving rate increases)

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    1. I don't know. Should I dig one in my back yard? The city pays top dollar for just about everything it buys.

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    2. I think that means our bond debt.

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  7. When does a vote count when not voted... Only in Sierra Madre. It's Play Time again at City Hall. Imagine in America that NOT going to the polls to vote or if a person does not want to vote, because that is a right too, or does not want to vote by mail that his or her vote now counts as yes vote. When a persons in a America wanted to vote for change or for that matter voted for anything that was of importance had to go to the polls to vote. Going to the polls and voting for change.
    Now in Sierra Madre, City Hall or City Manager want to change the rules.
    If a person is to tried or to consumed with life or just doesn't give a rats tail to vote that vote now counts as a yes vote. Maybe we are about to set a new voting trend in America or maybe just another lawsuit.
    There is no wonder that we are in soooo many lawsuits... we the taxpayers are just like a toy doll to be played with by our City Manager and lawsuits are just part of doing play time. Toys break. Elaine needs money to buy some new dolls to play with, but with city elections around the corner, new play toys are on the way.

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    Replies
    1. The 218 "process" is a state thing.

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    2. Colantuono and Levin had a big hand in it. Getting residents to send back protest ballots is hard. You have to figure at least 40% don;t have a clue what it is about. But if the water rate was put on a ballot it would go down in flames. That is what Prop 218 does. It is a less democratic solution to resident opposition to money confiscation by the local govt.

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  8. Ok 7:48. what is your solution to the problem?

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    1. Send the city back to the drawing board, hold their feet to the fire and force them to actually tell the entire story about how the water company got into the financial mess it is in today. The entire story. Complete with names, dates, motives and whatever the hell was going on in the minds of various players at the time they made their terrible mistakes. Is that OK?

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    2. You're asking city hall to throw the big dirts under the bus.

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    3. I think that city hall staff could be cut by one third.
      How about putting our own city hall in order, and then seeing where we are?

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    4. Vote down the UUT 25% increase in April. Lack of $$ at City Hall will make pay increases vaporize.

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  9. I find it funny that people who hide behind anonymity want the government to tell the "truth". The truth is some people who aren't held responsible lie for money. Some people are selfish and self-centered and full of sin. So instead of destroying your own water supply to "punish" the evildoers why don't you focus on electing people with integrity who will fire city staff for lying and bad management. Your plan will make it monumentally worse...for yourself...while city staff laughs and bides their time running up their years of service so they can collect giant pensions.

    I know, maybe you should burn your own house down to "prove" that the fire department sucks. Or destroy your own water company because...Bart Doyle!

    You are the people that have elected one cowardly alienating zero common sense nutcase after another. Basically, like the leeches in Detroit who want something for nothing, you have the government you richly deserve.

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    1. Err, OK. But do you really think politics isn't at play here?

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    2. Wait, people lie? Who knew?

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    3. Ae you just a victim of imaginary conspiracy theories and "politics"? Stand up and get in the arena and sweat and bleed and fight. And fight winnable battles not suicide missions.

      In the arena its scary and frightening and intimidating...and that keeps the timid whining yammering souls out.

      Stop talking the problem to death. Fight.

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    4. I think talking is how people fight most problems. Unless you are talking about raising a militia and going to war.

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    5. Talking is part of the process. Ask the MPT*.

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    6. The "Talking Process" involves the use of words that mean as little as possible.

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  10. You can begin by rolling back pension benefits. Are you aware Sierra Madre has an unfunded pension liability of $12,714,766?See Page 9 of Sierra Madre's October 2012 CalPERS Annual Valuation Report

    Every man, woman and child in Sierra Madre owes $1,100 each for unfunded city pension benefits. Pension benefits should be eliminated or rolled back to prior levels. City employees shouldnt get 2.5% of their salary for each year worked and shouldnt get to retire at 55.

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    Replies
    1. That certainly helps explain why extending our sky high UUT rates until 2022 is such a big priority for them.

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  11. Is Walsh running for City Council? I heard she was running around City Hall in a panic.

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    1. That happens every day. Do you have anything new?

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    2. Hair on fire or not, Mayor Walsh has yet to draw papers. As an incumbent she would need to have everything in by this coming Monday.

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    3. Nancy Walsh is not running. Expect an article in tomorrow's Looney Views News announcing this shocking development.

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    4. I wonder who she will blame.

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    5. "You people."

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  12. I agree with 9:40
    The low information voters of Sierra Madre are getting what they deserve.
    The few honest and competent council members we have had, have been slandered by the Doyle dirts and their stupid followers.

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  13. And you owe the cops another $10,515,781 Page 9 of the "Safety Plan

    So for the year ended June 2011 that is a total of $23 million in unfunded pension liability for little Sierra Madre. It's probably more now. Do you people understand that these battles over water rates and UUT etc are to keep you from looking at this? Look a squirrel!

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    Replies
    1. You have made some very interesting posts. Thank you.

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  14. I wonder how breakfast tasted with all the frothing at the mouth of the "you people" poster at 9:40

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  15. Mod, I agree with your penultimate paragraph. the city needs the rate increase on the water to fix past problems, but they certainly don't need any additional money from us in the form of the UUT "extension". (aka a 25% tax increase)

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  16. Neil the Pig didn't get Citizen of the Year. I guess the fix was in.

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    Replies
    1. The City's "War On Neil" continues.

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  17. I cant wait to try the dogs at the old sushi place opening end of next month

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    1. They're opening a Dog Court there? Who will the judge be?

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    2. Who let the dogs out?

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    3. Don't bite the mailman.

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  18. Replies
    1. I blame it on hogophobia.

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  19. Although Sushi is not my favorite gastronomic goal when I go out to eat, I knew a lot of people that really liked that restaurant and went there lots of times. I was surprised it stayed in business as long as it did. The restaurant business is not easy by any means. If a hot dog joint is going in there, another trend has hit town...there is a chain of them starting to crop up...Dawn Haus in Pasadena, for one. Tubes of pig grease on white bread with high fructose corn syrup sweetened catsup and pickle relish. NO THANKS!

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    1. I hear it was a Buxton recommendation.

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    2. 3:21 you most not have read the menue a lot of other s besides pig

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  20. The city clerk has more to do with than you give her credit for.

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