Opinion Piece By Donna Westfall – March 18, 2017 – There were so many in attendance Friday, March 17th, that you could barely walk around the tables. There was plenty of food for breakfast and lunch. Lots to drink too – no, not alcoholic drinks; water, tea and coffee types of drinks.
Now for the surprises: the bad news first:
The President of the Del Norte Association of Realtors, Josh Clemons, suggested that in order to increase needed construction of new homes, that water/sewer fees be waived. Several of us shook our heads and groaned wondering if this guy knew what he was talking. Probably not. I raised my hand and asked,
“Do you know why you can’t waive water and sewer fees?”
Nope he didn’t. They handed me the microphone. I stood up and started in:
- The City took out a $43.8 million loan for the sewer plant.
- The ratepayers are on the hook for probably 90-95% of the repayment of the loan.
- But the ratepayers are only supposed to pay for OPERATIONS and MAINTENANCE.
- New construction and developers are supposed to pay for EXPANSION.
- I sat on the City Council for four years. We have had an on-going argument over the expansion component.
- The City says 12%. We say more like 50%. It’s never been resolved.
Afterwards, I spoke with two of our current council members that were in attendance and asked them if they understood what was said.
Nope, they didn’t. Another case of the blind leading the blind.
I requested that the expansion controversy be put on an upcoming agenda for discussion. This goes back to the local taxpayers association requesting that the City Council members and the City, for that matter, consult with us over the issues affecting water/sewer rates and working toward solutions. Three times I have presented this offer since they took office in January and no one has bothered to ask for a meeting.
It’s disturbing that our leaders are so ignorant. Many of them have lived in the City far longer than I have.
If they had to sign on the dotted line to build a room addition to their home and the contractor agreed to provide all the labor if they were to provide all the materials, do you think they would be jumping up and down if the contractor came back to them and told them they now have to pay for all the materials? I bet they would. That, they would understand. When it affects their own wallets and pocketbooks. They need to understand how to extrapolate that feeling into affecting the wallets and pocketbooks of the ratepayers of which about 1/3 live in the City and are their constituents.
If the ratepayers are only supposed to pay for operations and maintenance then why are the ratepayers also paying for expansion? One reason is that there is not enough development going on. Someone has to pay the bill, they tell us. Therefore it rests on the shoulders and wallets/pocketbooks of the ratepayers. But isn’t that why Proposition 218 became law. Wasn’t it so the ratepayers could have final say over how much is taken out of their wallets/pocketbooks? In their quest to raise sewer rates once again, this last time 20%, surely the City must realize by now that when 57% of the voters squashed Measure Q like a bug underfoot, the City will be in default on their loan repayment…for a change. Shouldn’t that send a message to the City that it’s time to sit down at the bargaining table?
A formula has to be devised to come up with the correct expansion component. After all, $30 million of that loan was to install a MBR unit. We never had an MBR unit before and most likely it was overkill for our little area. One could say that $30 million out of $43.8 million was all going towards expansion which then puts the expansion component at over 50%.
The same thing with the generator. The old one took up little space in comparison to the new unit which takes up an enormous room.
The same thing with the lab. $2 1/2 million was spent on the new lab. Former Public Works Director, Jim Barnts said in a workshop in 2007 that it would pay for itself in 2 1/2 years.
The lab may have income, but it has never made a profit since it opened for business and that was about seven or eight years ago.
Another issue the City has to come clean on is the number of hook-ups the Harbor is utilizing. We’ve been asking for the number of single family resident equivalents (SFRE’s) the Harbor is using. In 2007, former Public Works Director, Jim Barnts said by upgrading the sewer plant it would add about 1,000 more hook-ups. In one meeting, someone stated it was approximately 1,000 more SFRE’s by hooking up the Harbor to the sewer plant. In another meeting of the City Council, Eric Wier said 1,850 more SFRE’s. In other words, has ALL the capacity for hooking into the sewer system been used already?
The lies and the procrastination have to be dealt with. These are some of the issues that the City needs to address. Once they address them and stop shoving it under the rug, solutions will arise.
The end goal would be equity for the ratepayers and stop all the hanky panky that has taken place that put us in this mess in the first place.
The good news:
Students from Del Norte High School along with four of their teachers made an excellent presentation. There must have been 20 students and most of them got the opportunity to speak about classes giving them the technical know how to go out into the business world and work. Not all students want to go to college.
More about them in future articles because it was the most exciting and encouraging presentation I’ve heard in a long time.