Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Last Chance to Stop the Convoluted and Ill-conceived Ogden City Water Rates Ordinance Revision Dead In Its Tracks

Speak up today, Ogden City Citizens... or forever hold your peace!

Tonight's the night for final public input (6 p.m. - Ogden City Council Chambers) on the water rate revision proposals  which we've been discussing here on Weber County Forum for the past several months.  Check out tonight's full council packet here:
Despite relatively robust and well-reasoned public objections to the current proposals, which if enacted would essentially ignore water conservation and even reward those water users who use the greatest volumes of water with volume use discounts, as well as unfairly penalize those Ogden rate payers who have the benefit of secondary water and thereby reduce the demands on the Ogden water supply system, the council seems hell bent to blindly ram this plan down our throats.  For the benefit of those who might attend tonight's meeting to lodge their final protests, we provide our chief objections below in summary form:
Tonight's our last chance to stop this overly convoluted and ill-conceived ordinance dead in its tracks.  While we'd hope that all steely-eyed Ogden residents will make a point of attending tonight's meeting to forcefully lodge their protests, we'll also encourage all Ogden City water users to formally register their objections via the Ogden City Council contact link below:
Speak up today, Ogden City Citizens... or forever hold your peace!

Keep your eyes on this article folks, as we anticipate that Dan Schroeder will be live blogging from the Council Chambers tonight, for which community minded effort we'll thank him in advance.

In the meantime, we'll dedicate our lower comments section to those WCF readers who'd like to offer their own remarks before, during or after tonight's regular council session.

Update 5/15/12 5:34 p.m.:  Attention, everyone.  Dan Schroeder is now live-blogging from the City Council Chambers. Click "comments" to monitor his real-time posts.

Update 5/15/12 9:32 p.m.:  In one of Dan's real-time comments, he refers to a "slideshow," presented by Dan during the public comments segment of tonight's meeting.  Having received this document by email and uploaded it to our WCF storage site, we're happy to provide the link:
Update 5/16/12 7:00 a.m.:  The Standard-Examiner provides this morning's post-meeting Mitch Shaw  story:


Smaatguy said...

Unfortunately they are hell bent and wont give a hoot what anyone says...not being apathetic, just realistic...same old crap down there...is the mayor even going to show up?

rudizink said...

 I've spoken with the majority of City Council members over the past few days, Smaatguy, and my impression is that a thumbs up vote on this ordinance is NOT engraved in granite.  Thus it makes sense, I think, to send along a protest email, even if you're a cynic.  Can't hurt... might help.

Smaatguy said...

I'm in for a email protest...lord knows I sent alot to many govt. reps....

OT....these are the same clowns that tell us to buy local yet send alot of our tax dough to SLC for professional services....chaps my hide

rudizink said...

 Good on ya's Smaatguy.  The drones in Ogden City government won't even
know about the citizens' Water Rates uprising, unless we tell 'em about
it in no uncertain terms.

Dan S. said...

Coming to you live from the 3rd floor of the Ogden Municipal Building...

I came early this time for the 5:30  "study session" where the council reviews the agenda. We'll see if there are any last-minute changes or amendments.

Four of the council members are here on time. Gochnour, Wicks, and Blair aren't here yet.

Dan S. said...

Blair and Wicks are now here; Gochnour isn't expected until the regular meeting.

There are no significant changes to the various utility-related agenda items.

There will be a single public hearing for all the utility-related proposals (ordinance, resolution, capital improvement plan, etc.), and each citizen will be given 10 minutes. Mr. Cook explains that there is an option to postpone the actual decisions by one additional week. This would probably be done after the public hearing, so there wouldn't be another hearing next week.

Besides the utility stuff, tonight's agenda includes the first step on reestablishing the downtown special assessment district, and an item relating to expansion of the pickleball courts. The latter apparently includes a general policy revision on the handling of donated funds, with new paperwork and council oversight. Sounds like a great idea, which will increase transparency. The specific proposal calls for four additional pickleball courts, adjacent to the ones already there, by the tennis courts across the parking lot from the Mt. Ogden Golf Course clubhouse. Cost is $80,000 and involves a bit of a shell game with a private donation, RAMP, and another city account.

Dan S. said...

The regular council meeting has now begun, with a group of Boy Scouts here to lead the pledge of allegiance, and then the usual moment of silence. The special assessment process resolution passed by common consent.

Council staff is now introducing the many utility-related agenda items. Council member Gochnour isn't here yet, but Mayor Caldwell is.

Next will be presentations on the Culinary Water Master Plan, Storm Water Master Plan, Capital Improvement Plan, LYRB study, and then the proposed new rate ordinance and policy resolution. The council has heard all this stuff before so it could be quite a snoozer. I'll report only on any notable new twists or questions or comments.

Dan S. said...

The water master plan presentation was mostly review, but with a little extra spin to make some of the projects sound more urgent than they did before. (The council, nevertheless, has tentatively said they want to postpone some projects until later than the engineers are recommending.)

The storm water presentation is all review. Gochnour arrived in its midst, so all council members are now present.

Dan S. said...

There seem to be a couple dozen citizens here. The Boy Scouts stuck it out for 40 minutes but then quietly left.

The Capital Improvment Plan presentation is now underway. Notably, the council has chosen to prioritize water meter replacement (a matter of convenience) ahead of pressure and fire flow up grades (which could be a matter of public safety).Cody Deeter of consultant LYRB is now at the podium once again. He says he feels like a citizen of Ogden (after being here so many times). The council has literally heard this presentation at least three or four times before. Again, if there are notable new twists, I'll report those.

Dan S. said...

As Deeter discusses the goal of keeping a large cash balance on hand, Van Hooser asks if this goal applies to each utility separately or all together. Deeter says that for bonding purposes, they're all together. But Cook tries to object and say they've already decided to treat them separately. Deeter also admits that even the water fund alone already has enough cash on hand to meet the informally agreed-upon goal.

On the other hand, Deeter makes a misleading comment about the so-called "coverage ratio", which is the ratio of left-over cash (after paying operating expenses) to annual debt payments. He suggests that to raise this ratio quickly would require unacceptably high rates. He never considers the other way to raise the ratio, which is to avoid going further into debt!

Dan S. said...

Deeter says the new rate structure will be more "equitable" than the old one. Sheesh.

Wicks asks why they used the usage data from 2011, which was not a normal precipitation year. Deeter says the current billing software system doesn't make it easy to go back more than a couple of years. He says furthermore, you want to err on the side of caution, to ensure sufficient revenue.  "You wouldn't want to base your rates on an average." Wicks says she would rather have to go back and raise the rates later than charge people too much in the first place. [Besides, isn't that what the $6 million cash buffer is for?]

Hyer asks whether we fell short on revenue during 2011. Deeter doesn't know.

Van Hooser: We'll need to come back and look at this again next year in any case. Wicks: Will we have to pay a consultant another $74,000 to fix the problems for us next year?

Dan S. said...

Wicks points out that "equivalent residential connections" are counted differently in the LYRB study than in the Sunrise Engineering study. Deeter gives an obfuscated response.

Stephens suggests lowering the proposed base rate from $17.50 to $16.50 or less; would that matter? Deeter: Yes.

They're really giving Deeter a grilling!

Dan S. said...

Deeter returns to scare tactics: "The lower your base rate, the higher your financial risk."

Deeter says he's been going around making enemies as he tells people to raise their utility rates, but that's ok.

Van Hooser asks what percentage of revenue would come from residential vs. commercial. Deeter either hasn't done the calculation or he's lying: he says it's 50/50, plus or minus 5%

Deeter's boss, Laura Lewis, steps up and says there's no way anyone can predict how much water people will use in the future. If you're lucky enough to collect a little extra revenue, please don't forget that your capital needs aren't going away and you may have to bond less.  [We need to hold her and the administration to this, when it comes time to issue the bond in another year!]

Dan S. said...

Deeter points out that the rate increase for 3-inch diameter connections is disproportionally large compared to the others. He claims that this addresses a problem with the old rate system. (I beg to differ.) He suggests that if a customer is unhappy with this rate increase, perhaps that customer could switch to a smaller meter size. He doesn't know if that would actually be practical. (Someone should ask if the city will change your meter size upon request!)

Dan S. said...

Bill Cook asks Deeter to clarify something regarding the number of connections.

Deeter admits that his count of connections is higher than the claimed 26,000. He claims that this is because they were added between 2010 and 2011. He says this isn't significant to the analysis.

Gochnour asks if Deeter took into account the rate increase that occurred last November. Deeter says yes, their number for FY 2012 is therefore different from what's in the approved 2012 budget. (This doesn't sound right and I need to check it.)

Dan S. said...

It's now 7:44 and Assistant City Attorney Stratford steps up to explain the new rate ordinance itself.

(I checked Deeter's claim about the budget number and he was wrong. Not that it's important. His real error was in telling the council the overall rate increase is less than it actually is, and in claiming that the residential/commercial breakdown is different than it actually is.)

Stratford is now echoing the sentiment that if there is extra revenue, the city can spend it on deferred capital projects. [He doesn't mention that the city will first skim off 17% as a tax for the general fund. Nor does he mention that when this happened with the last round of rate increases, the extra revenue got soaked up by "operating expenses".]

Dan S. said...

It's now 8:00 pm, two full hours into the meeting, and it's finally time for the public hearing.

Four citizens have spoken so far. Most of them have brought up water-related issues that are really beyond the scope of tonight's agenda, although it's still good for the council members to hear their concerns.

Dan S. said...

I was about the 7th speaker, and I gave a slide presentation which I'll email to Rudi.  I focused on the overall change in the water and sewer rates, and on who the "winners" and "losers" would be under the proposed changes.

It's now 8:44 and there seem to be no more public comments. (There was one speaker after me.) So the public comments took less than half as long as all the consultant and staff presentations.

Dan S. said...

Now they're going to try to answer some of the questions that residents raised during the public hearing. The first question is why Ogden City can't provide secondary water to neighborhoods that don't have it. (There are lots of good reasons.)

Interesting factoid: Mt. Ogden Golf Course uses both culinary and secondary water. (Most city parks use culinary, and the annual bill is about half a million dollars.)

City Engineer Justin Anderson is now discussing the filter plant and why they want to go with a newer, more expensive technology. This technology will improve water quality and require less maintenance.

Dan S. said...

Attorney Stratford, in response to a citizen comment, is now giving a speech on how you can't use savings from other city departments to fund water infrastructure, because the utilities are "enterprise funds" that are supposed to be self-sufficient. Wicks reminds him that the utility funds are taxed, by the general fund, at a rate of 17%, and if we could cut other costs, we could reduce that tax.

Chair Garner now invites Mr. Deeter to respond to my slide presentation.

Deeter: Blah blah blah "as equitably as possible" blah blah blah. "Data is never perfect." "We've tried to be conservative." "There's a 5% discrepancy [he means uncertainty] in all that we do."

Wicks asks about the residential/commercial percentage breakdowns. Deeter seems at a loss. Anderson comes to his rescue and says that the cost to provide water isn't always proportional to use. There's also fire flow capacity. Wicks doesn't buy it. Deeter says it's "purely a policy decision."

Dan S. said...

Wicks asks Deeter about percentage of revenue coming from base rate; says it's much higher for residential users. Deeter obfuscates with "ERC" calculation methodology... "5% tolerance."

Gochnour moves to continue further consideration of all the utility stuff until next week's meeting. This passes unanimously.

They'll come back for the pickleball court agenda item after a short break. I think I'll call it a night!

rudizink said...

 I've received your email.  Here's your referenced slideshow, Dan:

Utility Rate Proposal Overview - Dan Schroeder, 15 May 2012

rudizink said...

Awesome reporting, Dan.

Many thanks!

Bob Becker said...

Once again, thanks to Dan. And once again,  the surprising thing that stands out from Dan's account is the lack of thorough prepon the part of Administration/Consultants presenting the recommendations.  At this point in the proceedings, after so many meetings, Council members still got "didn't know" answers to pretty basic questions.  

The lament of Casey Stengal as manager of the hapless first year New York Mets [worst team in major league history] comes to mind: "Can't anybody here play this game?"

Dan S. said...

Here's the (very brief) Standard-Examiner write-up:


(I spoke briefly to Mr. Shaw on the way out of the meeting, and he too was rolling his eyes at all the time spent on repeat presentations.)

Smaatguy said...

WOW!  awesome reporting Dan...many thanks!

Not only are we getting hosed on water (pun)  we also got hosed on what the consultant got paid....$70k+ for "We don't know"...what a crock!

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