Tuesday, August 30, 2011

San Angelo City Council Outlasts Budget Commentors

This City Council report is from a concerned citizen who shares my interest in area citizens retaining health insurance coverage.  I've interspersed my comments with their assessment of today's budget meeting:
This was the most discouraging City Council meeting I have attended. The budget discussion did not begin until 3 pm so by that time only the hard-hard-hard core of us was left!
City Council wedged a 90 minute Executive Session between the morning business and the afternoon budget hearing.

On the part of the council members, their total discussion was focused on proposed salary increases for current employees. Staff has proposed percentage increases differentiating between "meets expectations" and "exceeds expectations".   But Dwain M counter with a proposal to take all the funds and distribute then on a per capita basis as a "bonus" not a salary increase. This was of mixed appeal: some viewed it as a plus because it would give greater per centages to lower paid and would not commit that amount to next years budget should it be a bad year. But Harold countered that no salary increase would diminish stated objectives of improving salaries relative to other cities.

And how do those stated objectives relate to the City Manager's bonus pay?
City workers will need increased pay for health care, either increased insurance costs or increased patient responsibility due to poorer benefits. The best option in the health insurance RFP is maintaining the current plan.  The rest are benefit cuts.

In the long run, they (largely led by Alexander and Hirschfeld) put together a mixed proposal: higher % increases possible for "meets expectations" for lower paid folks and with lower rate for higher paid --- then for "exceeds" group a possible bonus payment.

I contacted Rep. Paul Alexander with my recent posts on no budget increases for health insurance and retiree coverage, given the city's inability to file an Early Retiree Reimbursement Program (ERRP) claim.  He never replied.  After meeting face to face with most council members on health care in May, I e-mailed data on other Texas cities getting ERRP money.  Not one e-mailed me back.  Does anyone detect a pattern?

Not one word was spoken about retirees and/or health insurance until I got up to do so briefly -- heads nodded but absolutely nobody picked up and commented on retirees or health insurance. Immediately thereafter they approved the "mixed" proposal.

Silent on retirees?  Harold and Human Resources Manager told Councilman Morrison in June that retiree representatives could be added to the Insurance Advisory Committee.  How many times do City leaders need to ignore retirees before the media or public notice?

The final (budget) hearing will be at 9 am on Sept 6.  The only semi-good news is that Charlotte Farmer asked for an update on the ERRP application/funds. Have you shared any of your data with her on drop outs etc?

Retired Police Chief Russell Smith communicated with Councilwoman Farmer, among other elected officials, on ERRP.

Nearly a year after the City's ERRP application was approved, an elected leader asked about the program "that shall not be named."

If leaders can't talk about this in front of a nearly empty room, my next question is taboo:  How do the city's retiree health insurance moves impact Harold's incentive pay?

I find the City's obfuscation around ERRP and retiree health insurance continually brazen, and frankly, quite sad.

Update 9-4-11:  The above slide was shown during the August 30 Council meeting.  While employee/retiree health care implodes, the economic development kingdom explodes.   Recall the City's $1 million tax break for Ethicon's maintaining employment and improving facilities.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

City Wants to Dump Services to Nonprofits

San Angelo's City Council set priorities in their June 28 meeting.  Unfortunately, the meeting wasn't aired on Channel 17, thus city employees and retirees missed council's budgeting no increased funds for health insurance .  Elected leaders prioritized reducing operating expenses and steering savings to capital projects.  Minutes from the meeting state:

City Council suggested the following: taking lower tiered programs, non-public safety involved, e.g. parks and recreation, pulling facilities off line to maintain other facility improvements and recently approved projects; privatization of facilities and programs; reallocating recreation monies, e.g. partnering with school district to utilize their park areas, expending a one-time expenditure for equipment and schools maintain; salary savings for reorganization, and reducing to 4/10 work week. Once the changes and financial savings are determined, such savings may used for street reconstruction.
This isn't new given the decade long decimation of the City Health Department.  It's down to an Immunizations/Sexually Transmitted Diseases/ Tuberculosis Clinic and food permitting/inspections.  The City shed a Pediatric Clinic, AIDS Clinic, Pharmacy, Pharmaceutical Assistance Program, and Social Services. 

Next up for disposal to the private sector is Animal Services.  Anyone in discussion with the City, regarding taking over the Animal Shelter, should take their time evaluating any offers/commitments.  Harold needs to close deals before October 1, when the new budget year begins.

As for what they're taking over, here's a hint from the July 21 minutes of the City's Animal Service Board:

Susan – I was going to ask – on the statistics report – can we add a percentage? I think that would be helpful to know. That way we could have a goal to work toward

Julie – I honestly don’t know if our program can do that.
A manager doesn't keep reports showing volume and percentage changes?  That seems a basic managerial skill.  The City used to have it, when Harold was Assistant City Manager (click on the image to make it larger):

Any nonprofit group expecting long term funding from City Council should review the City's treatment of early retiree health coverage and Hickory Aquifer water fees.  This council reneged on promises made by their predecessors.  That could be the future for San Angelo's animal service community.

The City needs financial savings to lower taxes and build roads.

That comes on someone's back, given old plans aren't enough, once again. Texas Government Insider offered in January 2009:

Under the new plan, the city will issue about $13 million in bonds in October 2009, which will move the projects forward without increasing taxes, Dominguez said. In the past, the city issued a series of three six-year bond issues that expire every two years. Now the city will pay off those bonds over the next five years without renewing them. That revenue then will be directed into two city funds, a new capital fund to pay annually for road improvements and a second fund to pay for the bond issue for renovating the city hall and build the fire stations. The city's architect advised that doing the city hall renovations all at once rather than in phases could save as much as $1.74 million.

The City discussed getting more out of nonprofits in the June meeting, specifically through increased franchise fees.  How many ways can they tap nonprofits before the new budget year?

It remains to be seen.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

COSA Health Insurance - Draft Budget Priorities

City of San Angelo leaders sought feedback from City Council on the 2012 budget in June.  As a result, I asked city staff:

What are the city's budget assumptions for health insurance for 2012?

The reply by HR Manager Lisa Marley on June 13 indicated:

Budgets for 2012 are still being prepared. Nothing will be firm on health insurance until the RFP is completed. 
The City later posted a draft budget on their website.  FUND 310 includes COSA's self-insured health benefit.  The budget includes revenue and expenses.  The revenue picture shows:

Self Insurance - Revenue

FY 10 - $5,955,062
FY 11 -  $7,226,044 (budget)
FY 12 - $7,917,129  (budget)

The draft budget shows insurance premiums rising nearly $700,000 or 10% overall in 2012.  City Council directed no increase in health insurance costs in their June 28 meeting.  Thus, the city's portion is targeted at $7.2 million.

Other aspects of the draft budget are of interest.  One is the treatment of retirees and employees with dependents.  Draft budget numbers indicate these groups will take a beating for the second year in a row.  (Click n the image below to make it larger)

Savings from 45 city workers dropping health insurance for 2011 can be seen in the Premiums/Employees number.   Marley spoke to this in her June e-mail:

The annual savings in premiums for those 45 people is $189,603.96, which simply remains in the self-insurance fund and is used to either pay for claims or for new employees who enroll during the year.
Draconian premium increases of 34 to 58% for retirees and dependents sent 147 people off the city rolls.  It's not clear how many of the 147 losing city coverage remain uninsured.  If they can't afford subsidized city coverage, they likely can't pay for individual health plans in the open market.

What happened to Early Retiree Reimbursement Funds, expected to make benefits better or lower premiums?  The feds approved the City's ERRP application one year ago.  City staff struggled to complete claims forms, eventually farming out the project to BC/BS.  Yet, nary a claim has been filed, meaning the City received none of the expected $300,000 reimbursement.

I find it hard to believe retirees and dependents can pony up the $940,000 projected in the draft budget.   As the city expects no health insurance increases and sought no ERRP aid, retirees and dependents would shoulder higher insurance costs or get dramatically lower benefits.

Insurance premiums generally exceed self-insured expenses by 6-7%.  Projected expenses in the draft budget are:
Self Insurance - Operating Expenses

FY 10 - $5,644,153
FY 11 -  $6,755,672 (budget)
FY 12 - $7,399,096  (budget)
There are four major components of health insurance operating expenses.

Two of the four, Special Services and Administrative Services, are projected to rise a combined 97% in two years.  Expected Claims Liability is projected to rise by 9% next year. 

This budget is only a draft, but it does indicate management's expectations and reflects their priorities.  If anyone feels otherwise, they'd best attend one of the next two City Council meetings, which will also serve as public budget hearings.

The picture shows more uninsureds in the retiree-dependent arena or significantly poorer coverage.  It remains to be seen where employees fall on that continuum.

Update 8-29-11:  While Harold was Assistant City Manager, the 2004 budget stated: "To administer the employee and retiree health benefit program in a professional manner and to contract for these services at a reasonable economic level for both the City and its employees and retirees."  The pendulum swung fully toward the City.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Zero New COSA Health Insurance Funds for 2012

A critical San Angelo City Council meeting did not air on public television due to technical problems.  An audio feed failed, making the June 28 meeting a silent, six hour movie on Channel 17.  Oddly, enough audio channels worked for the DVD to play on a computer, however citizens needed to request a copy.

While minutes summarized the discussion, they left out critical guidance for the 2011-2012 budget.

Discussion was held on a proposed stratified pay plan and related percentages, proposed percentage salary rates for employees making less than $50k, proposed innovations for better services and efficiencies, health insurance premium contribution rate and percentage, employee health committee, the percentage allocation for salaries from the general fund, decreasing the property tax rate, and increasing franchise fee rates.

While Council talked health insurance, there was no discussion of the "premium contribution rate and percentage," only a "desirable" budget increase.  The following summary did not make the minutes.

At the 4:36 minute mark with public seats virtually empty, Council heard staff's health insurance proposal.  CFO Michael Dane described the work done to date, much of it by Human Resources and an Insurance Review Committee appointed by City Manager Harold Dominguez.   Councilman Morrison asked if any retirees were on the committee.  The answer was no, but staff indicated they could be added.  Dane suggested the city increase the health insurance budget by $250,000 for 2012.

Councilman Kendall Hirschfeld quickly indicated his expectation that there be no increase for health insurance for the coming year.  He referred to meetings in January and February where he thought this expectation had been shared with city staff. 

Dane and Human Resource/Risk Management Director Lisa Marley explained why the city thought it should do something to help employees.  Marley said renewal under the current plan design would require a 35% increase, 24% relative to the existing plan and 11% due to health reform requirements.  The $250,000 proposal amounted to 5%, which would leave employees and retirees to pick up the other 30% or $1.5 million.

Last year's increase, roughly half that amount, drove nearly 200 from the city's health insurance rolls, 47 city workers and 147 retirees or employee/retiree dependents .  Marley stated the city solicited bids with specified changes to the plan.  She discussed eliminating the Low, Medium & High designations, i.e. offering one plan with large deductibles like the Low option.  Committing to a single provider, Shannon or Community, would result in savings.

Marley cited the need to cut benefits by increasing copays and deductibles.  While she used the language of cutting costs, a better description would be cost shift.  The city will simply pass more costs to the employee.

Council budgeted for a 4% pay increase for staff, but decided on no increase for health insurance.

How much of employee salary increases will be eaten up by higher health insurance or medical care costs.  Retirees won't have an increase to apply. Their voice wasn't at the table, given their lack of representation on Harold's Insurance Review Committee.  This appears to be a pattern, given City leaders kept retirees out of the communication loop on a number of health related issues the last few years. 

The meeting punctuated many things for city workers and retirees.  City Council prioritized capital items, property tax cuts, roads and storm-water drainage over health coverage.  It shouldn't be a surprise.  This is the same organization that qualified for federal funding to help pay for retiree health insurance.  A year later the city is yet to file a claim, while other Texas cities were able to do so.  This raises serious doubt about Lisa Marley's August 2010 health claim:

"It will either be a better benefit or their premiums can be lowered." 

Sorry, city workers and retirees.  It's clearly neither.  This was the meeting to be seen and heard.  It set the agenda in motion.  The axe will fall in early October when the city brings its recommendation to Council.  I bet the seats are full.

Update 8-26-11:  Council direction supersedes the draft budget, but that document has stories to tell.  Search "FUND 310" if interested.  Also, the City scheduled two public hearings on the budget, which take place during regularly scheduled City Council sessions.  Council meetings and public budget hearings will begin at 9:00 a.m., Tuesday, August 30, 2011, and September 6, 2011, at the McNease Convention Center, South Meeting Room, 500 Rio Concho Drive.

Update 9-1-11:  COSA accepted an extra $640,000 from Texas Department of State Health Services for a capital projected, renovating WIC facilities.  DSHS is funding $1.6 million in renovation costs.  Despite this gift, City Council squeezed city employees and retirees for more capital.

ERRP: Pardon Bernie

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) identified ten companies not paying their share.  It turns out six of the ten have their hand in Uncle Sam's wallet, specifically the Early Retiree Reimbursement Program (ERRP).  As of June 10

GE was paid $38.5 million
Boeing - $34 million
Bank of America - $4.4 million
ConocoPhillips -  $5.5 million
Citigroup -  $4 million
Valero Energy - $1 million

These are checks, that come with few strings attached. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Employers to Jettison Health Insurance Benefit Come 2014

Health reform set the stage for employers to slowly shed that pesky health insurance benefit.  The pace is projected to pick up in 2014, when health exchanges come to life.  The AP reported:

Nearly one of every 10 midsized or big employers expects to stop offering health coverage to workers once federal insurance exchanges start in 2014, according to a new survey from a large benefits consultant.

Towers Watson also found in a survey completed last month that an additional 20 percent of the companies are unsure about what they will do.
This raises questions regarding CBO projections for health reform (PPACA).  As depressing as they are, employer estimates may be overly optimistic.  An earlier McKinsey study revealed more employers ready to ditch health coverage for workers. 

It's hard to trust those leading the health reform charge, the wolf in sheep's clothing and the conflicted PEU designer. There's lots of pain between now and 2014, when many workers get a long foreseeable kick in the teeth.

Update 12-2-12:  Walmart plans to jettison workers from their employer health insurance plan in 2013.  Lots of health care pain looms before, during and after PPACA as employers shift responsibility to workers and the government.  .

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Quake Under Nuclear Plant

The epicenter of today's 5.9 earthquake was Mineral, Virginia.  It's the home of the North Anna Nuclear Project owned by Dominion Resources.

Who knew a fault line sat under a Virginia nuclear power plant?  Even environmentalists, opposing expansion at the site never cited earthquake risks.

Bloomberg reported power failures at the plant, requiring emergency generators to kick in.  The article addressed seismic concerns, given the lack of earthquake design:

A study by North Anna of the plant’s fire and flood protection structures had identified vulnerable areas that were “not seismically designed.”

“The licensee will evaluate the issues above in order to determine if additional mitigation strategies are required,” the letter stated.

When North Anna was built, some of these systems were not required to be designed to seismic standards, a Dominion spokesman said.
Power to the plant needs to be restored. That's the short term solution.  Who knows about the long term

Update 8-29-11:  Virginia's power needs shrunk precipitously after Hurricane Irene left hundreds of thousands without power.  Only one disaster behind, the feds boosted inspections of the North Anna Nuclear Project.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

ASU DI vs. TL 82

Angelo State University decided to explore a move to Division I athletics in April, smack in the midst of draconian budget cuts by the 82nd Texas Legislature.  ASU supporters defended the hiring of consultants, citing the bill will be footed by the Athletic Foundation.

Jack Cowan of the Standard Times shared a projected budget increase for a DI move:

Funding the athletic program probably would triple to $12 million a year.

That's an increase of $8 million per year, $16 million for DI over a two year period.  ASU President Rallo wrote in May regarding budget cuts from TL 82.

We now know that the final reduction to ASU is $7,088,248, a decrease of 10.1 percent for the biennium. Although our state representatives were successful in replacing one-time funding for our nursing program, there still are no Texas Grants for incoming students and our overall loss in Special Items remains at 25 percent.
ASU cut academic muscle, increased fees, put more classes online, even doubled class sizes in many cases.

Despite the budget pain, the University hired expensive consultants to help educators put courses online.  They did so after eliminating the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Research, an internal resource in this regard. 

President Rallo is excited about a $300,000 work of art that "won't look like aliens dropped it from space."  Rallo believes his magic statue will attract students.  Will the statue entice intra-solar system students?

A friend reacted to this idea:

Rallo would need to create several new positions to recruit from space. In fact, he will probably use student tuition to fund a shuttle expedition to recruit from space. There is so much evidence and research that supports the notion that statues attract and retain students. Yep, you can find this information in "Everyone Thinks We Are Insane Academic Journal." 
Vision drives innovation.

Maybe Uncle Sam will fund ASU's 10,000 head student drive.

Round up the space cowboys!

(Click on the above images to make them larger)

Update 8-17-11:  It seems CITR pulled an Honors Program and got a last minute reprieve!  It's a day to day thing in ASU's administration madhouse.  Shaking the black 8 Ball for CITR reveals ...."You;ll live to see another day."

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Angelo State's Two Trains to Meet in a Tunnel?

Standing in a dark tunnel, a light appears before me.  It's followed by a bleating horn, which grows louder by the second.  I turn 180 degrees to flee the advancing train, only to find another bearing down.  

Angelo State University chugs toward 10,000 students, maybe Division I sports status.  It's the growth train, with shiny new cars, some over-packed with students while others are incomplete in construction.  Conductor Rallo yells at every stop, "All aboard, this train is going places."  He doesn't say exactly where.

The second train is ASU academics, specifically the university's accreditation.  The engine is held together with duct tape and bailing wire.  Conductor Rallo radios orders to this train.  "I know I cut your fuel and maintenance budgets, but I need you to pull more weight."  Engine-man May throws more coal into the hopper, while singing this ditty:

This train is on a race
Online or face to face
Main campus or satellite
Our goal is right, the aim just
Ten thousand heads or bust!

I see ASU achieving ramming speed.  Here's one anonymous view from the inside, which I summarized:

Frankly, it's getting harder to put up with ASU's "grow at all costs," body count mentality. There's lip service about quality programs, but quality takes a back seat to increased numbers.

What happens when the two trains meet the end of 2012?   Will they safely pass one another or collide in a fireball?  It depends on their track.  There are signs pointing to a collision, but that's for another post.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Calling Rick Perry

Two things are clear regarding Texas Governor Rick Perry.  First, the 2011 Texas Legislative session seemed orchestrated to give Perry his conservative bonafides for a Presidential run.  Second, consultants wrapped him in the Savior's cloth, turning his campaign into a calling.

Many a scallywag has been called to heroic tasks.  The call wipes out past transgressions, such as Perry being a Democrat at one point in his political career.  Does it wipe out Perry's bearing false witness on his Texas Enterprise Fund claims that Vought Aircraft Industries employed over 29,000 people in Texas, when the company's website said it had 3,315.  

Perry is courting establishment Republicans, economic conservatives and business leaders.
Will economic conservatives count Vought's jobs without a 26,000 person margin of error?  How many business leaders would love a share of President Perry's largess, given the U.S. budget dwarfs that of Texas?

Will the Red Team hero stick to his job creation lies regarding Vought?  Will he beg forgiveness for bearing false witness?  Will he make public the changes to the Texas Enterprise Fund deal, renegotiated during The Carlyle Group's selling of Vought to Triumph?  Does a calling really wipe out malfeasance in a current core competency?

Nevertheless, Mitt Romney has a challenger. Perry vs. Romney, it'll be quite a race, the Boring Mormon vs. Gov. Rickly Pear.  Who can pander to America's billionaires better?  Given those billionaires own the media, don't expect a challenge to Perry's job numbers, however absurd they seem on their face.

Update 8-15-11:  The Daily Beast ran a story on Perry's savior status within the Dominionism movement. An ex-staffer and Perry consultant served as event coordinator for Perry's revival meeting, The Response.

Update 8-16-11:  Rick Perry said he is "pro-business" and called jobs created by Obama's stimulus plans "a joke."  Perry's Vought claims fall into the same joke category.  Only a lucky SOB could get away with Perry's record.

COSA's "Positive" Health Insurance Projections

The Standard Times reported the "positive side" of city operations:

We didn't put any increases in with health insurance accounts, either," Dominguez said.
While area employers face 20-25% health insurance increases, the City budgeted zero or no increase.   That translates to a cut in benefits or a second year of draconian premium sharing with employees and retirees.

Employees will have their $920,000 pay raise to put toward increased premiums.  Retirees won't.  Health insurance bids are due to the City August 19. 

"Positive" City leaders expect no increase while other employers face runaway health insurance costs.  That positive scenario might call into question their sanity and/or mendacity.  However the city has two trump cards, savings from 45 employees dropping coverage last year and federal Early Retiree Reinsurance Program funds.  They stand to provide a combined $350,000 to $575,000 to weather the coming storm. 

Recall what Human Resource Manager Lisa Marley said when the feds approved the City's ERRP application:

“It will either be a better benefit or their premiums can be lowered. Those are the two choices we have to use the funds for,” said the city’s Human Resource Director Lisa Marley.

Better benefit, premiums lowered?  Hardly....

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Honoring Amy Pettit

Tuesday morning members of Amy Pettit's extended family gathered at Old Runnels Cemetery, just North of Ballinger, Texas.  A breeze broke the heat as it tried to advance.  Reverend Ben Hubert read a Bible passage on love, one normally heard at weddings.  Amy lived many facets of love.  I saw the words as our test.  True love would not have her suffer for our need to have her close.  

Amy's nephew Buddy spoke of her passing in his sweet honesty, "It was a blessing.  It's human to hold people close in our heart, focusing on our loss instead of Amy's going to where she needed to be." 

Family and friends were invited to say goodbye to Amy.  One by one the brokenhearted stood before Amy Pettit. Knees turned weak and tears fell.  It took some time for family to leave Old Runnels.  I attribute it to Amy's knack for pulling people together.

Amy was honored in a Memorial Service at San Angelo's First Christian Church later that morning.  Ben's gift from God is honoring the storied and complex lives of those who've passed.  This became his gift to Amy and her family.  His rich remembrance cannot be summarized in a blog post.  Should I get a copy of his eulogy, I'll post it.

The church ministered to the family with a meal Amy would've loved.  I could see her starting with dessert and savoring a cup of black coffee. After her first sip, I hear her pronounce it "just right."  Family members told Amy stories.  They caught up on their lives since the last Lee funeral, promising to gather in a deathless time. 

Vayden, Kristin and Alan prepared a slideshow honoring Amy.  It was unable to seen at First Christian due to technological difficulties.  The pictures begin and end with black and white pictures of the children she raised.

Between 1915 and 2011 Amy Pettit raised so many spirits, so many lives.  May your life be enriched by elements of her story, her poetry and Amy's endless drive to personally improve the human condition, one soul at a time.  She lives in our hearts.  Is there any place she'd rather be?   

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Amy Pettit: Poet Extraordinaire

Yesterday I wrote of Amy Pettit's passing.  Amy made a huge difference in countless people's lives.  The piece mentioned her poetry, as well as a number of poems we wrote since her 96th birthday.  They can be viewed in the document below. 

I'm grateful for her dear friendship.  A toast to the lady in the purple and dark blue dress for a life well lived.

Pettit Prest Poetry

Friday, August 05, 2011

Amy Pettit Remembered: Carnegie Library & Old Runnels

The American Way inflight magazine highlighted the hundred year old Carnegie Library in Ballinger, Texas. The column closed with author Carlton Stowers at the checkout desk, the one used throughout the past century. Stowers didn’t write about Ella Mae Lee, born four years after the library was built. As a little girl, Ella Mae grew to love books and the written word in that very building.

Ella Mae married and had children. She became “Amy” Pettit, then Mammaw Amy to her grandchildren. Along the way, Amy dabbled in writing and poetry.  She received the Jefferson Award in 2008 for her lifetime of community service in San Angelo. Amy began her award acceptance speech in Washington, D.C. with “I put one foot in front of the other and never stopped.”

While West Texas baked in this summer’s record heat, Amy focused on her final steps. In July she saw her great granddaughter, Katherine Amy Song McCall. Yesterday, her son Robert and his wife Christen arrived from Indiana with their family. They completed Amy’s circle of love with daughter Lois, son-in-law Vayden, granddaughters Kristin, Amy, Michele, Tess and Brynn, and grandson Grayson.

Mammaw Amy was like a grandmother to me. I visited frequently, often with Kristin’s prized orange-cranberry scones in hand. Mammaw lived by three maxims. The first was “eat dessert first.” My sweet tooth appreciated her courage and role modeling in this regard.

Her second rule was “dessert needs a coffee chaser.” She acquired her love for coffee as a toddler on a Runnels County farm. Many times I watched her savor the black brew, declaring it “just right.” Her third maxim was “my food is yours.” Amy knew deep hunger during the depression and never wanted another to experience what she did. She always offered freely from her plate.

My last few months with Mammaw could be characterized as “Poetry and Pictures.” Lois provided me with poems Amy wrote in the 1950’s, 70’s and 90’s, as well as old pictures. I read Amy's poetry, “Indian Summer,” “Stillness” and “Being Old” to her. Like the “just right” coffee, she found her words satisfying. Pictures jogged long ago memories from the part of her brain still accessible.

Neither Amy nor I were content staying still. A word or photo should go in front of the other and never stop. After her highly photographed 96th birthday, I wrote a poem “Amy Walks in Time.” Amy pronounced the pictures and poem good.

She said she had a poem in her head and wanted help getting it to paper. The next day I sat with pen in hand, ready to write. Mammaw Amy confessed, “I lost it.” That became the title for “Amy Lost Her Poem,” a Seuss like lark. Over time we added “Amy’s Good Memories” and “A Tribute to Al.” She talked for five minutes about her husband Al.

I contributed but one line to the poem, a memory aid. It was “My kiss, his portal to another world.” Dementia robbed her of this precious recollection.  While Amy often thought Al still alive, if asked where Al was buried, she'd invariably say "Old Runnels."

Yesterday, I showed up with the Carnegie Library article, only to find my dear friend unable to speak and able to open her eyes ever so slightly. As Amy’s breath labored, I read to her. I started with her poems, before shifting to the ones we’d crafted together. We prayed together, like we’d done many times before. I read “Thank you, Mr. Carnegie” to the little girl in Amy who’d spent enchanted hours in the Ballinger library.

Before midnight, Amy passed away. She died at the age of 96. She’s reunited with Al, five siblings, her beloved Grandma (who taught her to pray), Mini Bee, Momma and Daddy. I imagine St. Peter welcomed her by her deserved title, “First Rate Person, Poet Extraordinaire and Beloved Child.”

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

COSA Average City Water Bill to Increase 47.5%

The Standard Times reported on the August 2nd San Angelo City Council meeting:

The average monthly residential water bill, which is now about $31, will increase by $14.75. That is based on an average monthly usage of about 8,000 gallons.
That 47.5% increase sat at the very bottom of the article.  How will people afford the increase?  A property tax cut should help.  Unfortunately, the paper implied much of the cut is sleight of hand:

The San Angelo City Council gave preliminary approval to a property tax rate of 79 cents per $100 valuation — a reduction of 2 cents from the current rate. Under state law.

However, only one cent of the cut will be a "pure" tax rate decrease, as the council is expected to make up for the revenue lost for the remaining 2 or 3 cents by raising two types of fees.

The story didn't specify the two types of fees that would be raised.

There was no mention as to how the city plans to pay for or pass on health insurance cost increases, up 25% for other area employers.  Last year the city imposed draconian premium increases for employee and early retiree dependents.  Will they do the same again?

Council minutes from June 28 state:

Discussion was held on a proposed stratified pay plan and related percentages, proposed percentage salary rates for employees making less than $50k,  proposed innovations for better services and efficiencies, health insurance premium contribution rate and percentage, employee health committee, the percentage allocation for salaries from the general fund, decreasing the property tax rate, and increasing franchise fee rates.
No preliminary health insurance numbers were shared in the minutes or the paper.  The topic hasn't arisen since.

City leaders made two claims that seemed specious in their August 2nd council meeting.  First, they claimed Quicksand's request for raw water from Twin Buttes led it to require citizens water only on certain days of the week based on street address.  Those two items hardly seem connected.

The second odd claim came from Harold Dominguez, who stated the City was better off now than 2004.

The graph showed the city's current lake levels slightly above where they were in 2004, when they had reached a historic low.

Compared to that time, Dominguez said that the city is much better off and cited that as reason not to panic or enact restrictions that are too extreme. "We're really not close to where we were a few ago," he said.

O.C. Fisher is dry and Twin Buttes is going down daily.  For a memory jog, here's a GoogleEarth image of Twin Buttes during its dry time.

Harold's right, there is a big difference between 2004 and today.  It rained a lot in 2004, the15th wettest on record for San Angelo.  NOAA reported:

At San Angelo Regional Airport...The annual average temperature for 2004 was 65.0 degrees.  This was 0.5 degrees above the normal annual average temperature of 64.5 degrees.  Total precipitation for the year was 30.48 INCHES. This was 9.57 INCHES ABOVE THE NORMAL annual precipitation of 20.91 INCHES.

Harold should remember 2004's rains, given his hiring as Assistant City Manager in 2003.

The Texas Water Development Board shows Twin Buttes with only 5,894 acre feet or 3.31% of conservation capacity.  O.C. Fisher shows "no data."  Local lakes are sparse and dwindling in record heat and no rain.

"So there was a significant shift in usage and so by not using that water out of Twin Buttes first, we actually have it available now."--Harold Dominguez

In less than a month, Twin Buttes lost over 2,000 acre feet.  Harold says the city wasn't pulling from it.  Did it evaporate in our record heat?