Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Final, Final Chance to Offer Your Comments On Ogden's Proposed Water Rates Ripoff - Updated

Time to "put your foot down" once and for all

As a followup to Friday's Weber County Forum article, here's another quick reminder of tonight's regular Ogden City Council meeting, where among other things, the Council will make its final decision regarding the much discussed Ogden City Water Utility Rate Ordinance proposal, which we've been fretting about here at Weber County Forum over the course of the past several months.

If you still haven't contacted the city council about your preferences regarding this proposal, check out our May 18, 2012 article where we provide handy issues cribsheets and council contact info:
If you're opposed to the current plan, which boils down to a highly "complex system of rates that no one can understand, rewards wasteful users, punishes those with secondary water and only serves as a smokescreen to 'raise' money for the city general fund," it's time to "put your foot down" once and for all. If you don't all speak up now, we're all likely to "get soaked."

We'll dedicate this thread to coverage of tonight's important Water Rates Topic, and cordially invite anyone who'd like to comment before, during or after tonight's meeting to do so.

Don't let the cat get your tongues, O Gentle Ones.

Update 5/22/12 5:35 p.m.:  Attention everyone.  Dan Schroeder is now live blogging from the City Council chambers.

Update 5/23/12 6:50 a.m.:  Here's this morning's Mitch Shaw story:


Carolyn Saam Bennion said...

Water is such a precious resource that this will all seem like much ado about nothing when climate change precipitates water wars. Getting "soaked" would be a small price to pay for having running water available.

rudizink said...

Yes CSB.  No doubt  about it.  We need a reliable water supply in Ogden City.

The big question is who'll pay for the upgrades.

Problem is... The bureaucrats of Ogden City are ready to  heap the additional expences on average Ogden City water users.

What's missing in the new Ogden Water rates ordinnce?

Equity and Fairness.

Dan S. said...

With only minor exceptions, the past and future rate increases have nothing to do with adding to Ogden's water supply. The major costs are in treating, transporting, and distributing the water. Temporary storage has also been a major cost in recent years but that's only enough to cover a few days at most, not to get us through a drought.

Dan S. said...

I'm now at the city council study session where Mr. Cook is reviewing the agenda for the council members.

Breaking news:  The mayor will be commenting on the utility-related agenda items during the regular meeting!  There's no mention during the study session of any proposed amendments to what's been proposed.

Dan S. said...

The regular meeting is now underway with all council members present as well as Mayor Caldwell. First they're appointing a bunch of folks to the Christmas Village Committee. Next is a presentation about brain injuries, followed by a proclamation on stroke awareness. I'll check back in when they get to the utility rate stuff.

Dan S. said...

Now (6:25) they're up to the utility-related agenda items. Council staff person Glenn Symes is briefly summarizing what happened last week.

Mayor Caldwell: "I just want to applaud the council" on the thorough, open process. Also thanks the administrative staff. Trying to limit liability and be as fiscally conservative as possible. (That's all!)

Chair Garner: We've received a lot of public input and education. New rates are needed to eliminate inequity in the rate structure. The new structure is simpler, with more revenue based on usage and less from base rate [not true!]. Residential sewer rates will now be partly based on winter water consumption (after first 6000 gallons).

Council is proposing "legislative intents" to review fiscal charges (tax going to general fund) and also the funding of Weber Basin water purchase through a property tax.

Blair speaks next, repeating general comments that others have made. "I don't think we'll ever agree on what the rates need to be." "We did try to focus on consensus." "This is not an easy decision." It's a responsible decision; "I feel comfortable with that." "A very open and a very fair process."

Gochnour says this has been one of the most difficult issues in her time on the council. "Delicate balancing act." "We feel good about it but we are going to review it annually."

Van Hooser: I've had many phone calls and emails. It has been difficult. It would be much easier to vote against this but that would be just passing the buck. It's time that somebody stand up and say this infrastructure has to be fixed. Sewer fund balance is already earmarked for projects that we'll learn about in the upcoming sewer master plan. Our water [rates] are very reasonable for the communities that are around us. Paid much more when lived in Virginia long ago. It's very complex.

Stephens: Most important, we need to thank our council staff and the steering committee and administration, and our consultants. But the most important aspect is that we opened it up to the citizens of Ogden. You've had an opportunity to voice your concerns and ideas and many of them were helpful.

Dan S. said...

Stephens continues for quite a while, discussing specific upcoming infrastructure projects, analogy to repairing an old car, and so on, and so on.

Interestingly, the two council members who haven't spoken yet, Hyer and Wicks, are the ones who have arguably been the most engaged on this issue.

Wicks speaks next:  I realize there are some expensive needs, and there were some inequities in our old rate structure. But by deciding to bond, we're diverting residents' funds to interest payments. I'm concerned with some inconsistencies in the information we've gotten. We're shifting the burden from one group onto another. We're putting an unfair burden on residential customers for sewer rates especially. I have not received answers to a number of questions. It's easy to place blame on the consultants but I can't do that. We need to get it right.

Dan S. said...

Now they're voting on the culinary water master plan. That's unanimous.

Next is the storm water master plan. Also unanimous.

Next is the FY 2013-2017 capital improvement plan. Also unanimous.

Dan S. said...

And now for the utility rate ordinance. Stephens moves to pass, Van Hooser seconds. All vote in favor except Wicks.

And finally is the utility rate joint resolution. Gochnour moves, Blair seconds. Again, all are in favor except Wicks.

Dan S. said...

Councilman Hyer excuses himself from the rest of the meeting so he can attend a family member's graduation ceremony.

The next agenda item is a budget opening for a $650,000 airport terminal expansion. Airport manager Royal Eccles is presenting. The goal is to provide space for passenger screening and security, as well as larger numbers of passengers. Most of the money would come from the BDO Retained Earnings Fund.

Dan S. said...

The airport terminal expansion passes unanimously.

Some of the remaining agenda items look interesting but I need to leave so that'll be all for tonight. While I'm writing, I'll mention that Mr. Johnson is still in the process of providing various pieces of information that I've requested regarding utility rates. As that information comes in, I'll undoubtedly have more to say on the subject.

rudizink said...

Thanks for providing tonight's LOWdown, Dan.  Once again, the City Council becomes the Lewis & Young rubber stamp, and reveals that the whole public input process was a charade and sham. 

And a Weber County Forum Hat Tip to Councilwoman Wicks, the sole council member who demonstrates the ability, as per usual, to think for herself and rigorously represent her constituents' interests..

apatheist said...

So, how much money from BDO was diverted from expected water infrastructure improvements to the junktion center?

Also, if treating and distributing culinary water for our lawns is so expensive, why can't we just expand secondary water? I would love to have irrigation or a secondary water tap. I honestly don't understand why this wasn't made more widely available.

apatheist said...

Oh, and kudos again to Ms. Wicks for her elegant representation of her constituents. I have never been disappointed with her performance on a single issue, at least that I've been aware of. We are very lucky to have her.

At least in Caldwell's defense, he gave praise and gratitude to the council - I wonder how many years it's been since an Ogden mayor did that?

Dan S. said...

Here's Mitch Shaw's writeup in the Standard-Examiner:


BikerBabe said...

 you mentioned Chair Garner said: " Residential sewer rates will now be partly based on winter water consumption (after first 6000 gallons)." above ...

I thought the WATER rates were the ones being discussed, and someone said prior to this that sewer and garbage rates would NOT change ...



Dan S. said...

Garbage rates were not revised (but will still get an automatic cost-of-living increase). If someone said sewer rates wouldn't change, they were wrong. Overall, sewer rates are actually going down (because the current rates are considerably higher than necessary), with some commercial customers getting rather large reductions. The consultants also studied storm sewer finances but ended up recommending no rate change other than the automatic cost-of-living increase.

Dan S. said...

Many citizens have asked why Ogden can't provide secondary water to more neighborhoods. Whenever this comes up during meetings, the administration raises several points. First, the city itself has no direct control over the secondary water systems which are owned by Pineview and Weber Basin. Second, in order for one of these providers to extend secondary water service into additional neighborhoods, they would have to acquire additional water rights and this is difficult. Third, retrofitting an existing neighborhood with a new set of distribution pipes is quite expensive, so there would undoubtedly be a large hook-up fee which many residents would be unable to pay.

The neighborhoods that do have secondary water paid for it at the time the system was put in (generally when the neighborhoods were developed), and presumably, this cost is still factored into the value of the properties. In other words, I paid more for my house because it has secondary water service, and you paid less for yours because it doesn't. Either of us could have chosen differently at the time when we bought our houses. Of course, I'm also billed $150 each year on my property tax for secondary water service--whether I use it or not.

Nevertheless, due to popular pressure, Ogden has chosen to give you a discount on your summer culinary water use, to allow you to water your lawn more affordably. As far as I've heard, Ogden is the only city in Utah that does this. Many cities, in fact, charge more for water during the summer rather than less.

Dan S. said...

Regarding BDO: In my view, we shouldn't be using other city revenues to subsidize the utilities. By the same token, we shouldn't be using the utilities to raise money for other city services (with the possible exception of a reasonable franchise tax like commercial utilities pay). One of the most important things I've learned during this process is that in recent years, Ogden has been doing the latter: using the utilities as cash cows to subsidize the general fund. The council is now aware of this as well, and I think they'd like to do something about it, but they're paralyzed as usual and certainly did nothing about it last night.

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