Saturday, November 03, 2018

Mayor Asks, City Staff Ignores

Mayor Brenda Gunter made a clear request of San Angelo city staff during the October 16, 2018 Council meeting.  It was not recorded in the minutes or acted upon for the November 6, 2018 City Council meeting.

Mayor Gunter asked staff to present the financial results from the just closed fiscal year.  This item is not on the November 6th agenda as requested.  The Mayor made a clear request that the minutes do not document in that section or under future agenda items.

The Water Enterprise Fund Balance rose to $10.3 million as of 9-30-18.  That's 158 days of budgeted water revenue.  The city said its target is 75 days.  Other water fund balances total $20.5 million.  That does not include the Lake Nasworthy fund of $14 million.  With massive runoff the last two months the City's water supply is the healthiest I've ever seen. 

The Solid Waste Fund Balance rose to $4.3 million.  Council will deal with the solid waste contract in Executive Session.  Republic Services requested to walk back its recycling commitments.

Council makes strategic budget decisions and should hear the results of their actions prior to the completion of the fiscal audit.  I applaud Mayor Gunter's request for timely feedback.  Time will show if staff intend to deliver. 

Sunday, October 14, 2018

City Staff to Bring New Water Conservation Incentives to Council

San Angelo's City Council held existing water conservation credits in place until staff can bring new water conservation incentive program(s) to Council.  I wasn't sure the program was ill conceived and researched City Council history on the credits.  The City's Slideshare repository produced the following.

In April 2011 City Council heard a presentation on the impact of the 2006 Water Conservation Credits.

The City had two water rate increases, one in 2007 and another in 2011, during the evaluation period below.

Citizens conserved greatly between 2011 and 2015, reducing daily water usage by 37%.  The 10% conservation credit was in place during this period of significant conservation.

Two thoughts entered my mind as the 10-2-2018 discussion ensued.  First, hadn't prior City Council's asked staff to bring updated water conservation incentives for consideration?  The Alvin New, Kendall Hirschfeld and Paul Alexander era had leaders high on water conservation and pursuing new options.  A number of faces changed since Councilman Kendall Hirschfeld asked staff to do this very thing.  In May 2013 Hirschfeld called for advancing:

 "user conservation efforts via incentives for improvements such as rainwater collection, drought-tolerant landscaping, and high-flow toilet replacement, as examples".
Kendall Hirschfeld served on a private citizen group that proposed water conservation strategies to City Council in June 2014.  Hirshfeld was appointed to a re-constituted Water Advisory Board in 2016 where he echoed his call for a comprehensive water conservation program with incentives for citizens.  Despite the calls for new, updated conservation incentives city staff never delivered.

It's 2018 and staff, albeit different due to turnover, are still working on a water conservation incentive package. City staff's recommendation to cut the 10% conservation credit for low water use until they had time to bring back a more comprehensive updated program looked lazy in light of this history of waiting.

My second thought centered on the increase in water rebates from $150,000 in 2006 to $400,000 for 2018.  As water rates have gone through the roof since 2006, most of the huge increase in conservation credits occurred solely because of city induced water rate increases.

The City enacted water rate increases in 2007, 2011, 2016, 2017 and 2018.  Another water increase is coming January 1, 2019.

2007 - Average increase of $13.22 per month
2011 - Average increase of $14.75 per month
2011-2016 - Additional fees of $5.42 per month added.
2016 - Average increase of $5.88 per month
2017 - Average increase of $6.56 per month.
2018 -Average increase of $7.32 per month
Two more rate increases are planned for 2019 and 2020.  Combined they total $7.96 per month.

Math shows rate increases to be the sole cause of increased conservation credits since 2011 for the 3,000 gallon a month user.  It's not fair for the city to act like conservation credits rose rapidly outside their repeated jacking up of rates.

It looked like another $400,000 grab from citizen pocketbooks, but fortunately City Council put that on hold.  We'll see how the proposed conservation incentives compare to the current program.  That is if staff present cost projections in a regular agenda item.  

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Ruffini Parking Lot Nearly $200,000 More Expensive than 2018 CIP Budget

Staff presented San Angelo's City Council with an October surprise, a $279,000 parking lot for the Ruffini Chapel and Station 618 Senior Center.  The background information made no mention of the history of the project under a prior City Council.

The December 6, 2016 City Council background packet stated:

"This project, to construct the parking area, is funded and moving forward."

The December 2016 agenda item was for an amendment to the Old Town Conservancy agreement allowing for construction of the chapel. 

"There is no cost to the City for approving the amendment to the agreement. In fact, approving this item will add funding from the Conservancy for development of the City property.In terms of development of the City property, $175,000 was allocated to abate and demolish the old building (which has been accomplished) and to develop the parking lot. At present, about $90,000 remains for development.

Staff also omitted the $85,000 capital improvement budget for Station 618 parking lot (CIP 2018-2023) approved by this Council in February 2018.  Assistant City Manager Rick Weise left out these key details in representing the project to Council.

Staff informed the public via a Standard Times article by Parks Chief Carl White.  His piece on 9-27-18 stated:

The property upon which it sits was acquired by the City about 20 years ago for construction of a parking lot. That budgeted parking lot project, pending successful bid and Council approval, is planned to begin in the late summer or early fall. 
Neither the newspaper piece or staff's presentation gave an explanation as to the scope of project changes that drove it from $85,000 to nearly $280,000. 

Weise did say they could reduce the project some by eliminating a few decorative planters such that it would give them more parking spaces.  Don't planners used site specifications/requirements, like the number of parking spaces required for optimal/peak use, to design a project?

Apparently the requirement is spending excess city dollars without detailing the history of a nearly $300,000 project and why it changed so dramatically in such a short period of time. 

Thursday, October 04, 2018

City Rams Through Wastewater Reuse

The City of San Angelo discussed future water supply in Executive Session on 9-18-18.  Only Council members heard the presentation by hired consultant Scott Hibbs.  With no discussion of the facts or their deliberations Councilman Tommy Thompson made a motion for the city to apply for permits that would allow for discharging treated wastewater into the Concho River for a short distance then pulling that water back out of the river for citizen use.   There was no public comment.

The Water Advisory Board learned of this on 9-24-18, nearly a week after Council acted.  Consultant Scott Hibbs updated the water board as to City Council's planned strategy.  This may explain the poor attendance as four members missed the meeting.  It's hard to see any advising from this board if City Council already acted.  Educated and talented people don't like to be used as a rubber stamp. 

The Water Board did hear from members of the public concerned about the city pursuing groundwater south of San Angelo.  One did ask about the city's arrangement with the Tom Green County Water Control and Improvement District #1 (TGCWCID).  Water Chief Allison Strube said City Council would address the irrigation contract with TGCWCID but hopes the city could send effluent water to the district during times when the city does not need treated water for citizen use.

The City's broken pipeline to Lake Spence will remain unusable.  There are no plans to fix the intake or pipeline for the city to garner 3,000 acre feet annually.  City staff may wish to remove Lake Spence from the water supply web page after Council passed on a workable Spence strategy.

On 10-2 the city published a video on Council's strategy staring two hired guns, the lead consultant and the city's water rights attorney.  This video mentioned the city's current use of wastewater one time.

For all the discussion of process the video failed to mention City Council decided the top water supply strategy behind closed doors without any public comment.  Continuing the lack of disclosure theme was Water Chief Allison Strube who said the city wanted the water fund balance to be "closer to 75 days cash on hand or greater."

She failed to mention the gusher of funds currently in that account, nearly $9.4 million as of 8-31-18.  That's double the amount needed for citizen water rebates cited by staff in November 2017.

How does all this nondisclosure happen under the leadership of City Manager Daniel Valenzuela and Executive Director of Public Works Ricky Dickson?  Why does City Council allow it?

Update 10-14-18:  Another level of nondisclosure arose with SanAngeloLive's piece by Yantis Green on the change.  Green is the former Executive Director of the Tom Green County Water Control and Improvement District #1.  He left the position after embezzling over $60,000 in public funds.  Author Yantis Green provided no disclosure as his history with the TCGWCID. 

Friday, September 28, 2018

City Staff Want to Eliminate Water Conservation Credit

City staff recommend the cancellation of the 10% conservation credit for water customer users who consume 3,000 gallons or less on a monthly basis.  Not on the October 2, 2018 City Council agenda is staff's botched billing of the conservation discount since 2009.

Staff recommends the 10% conservation discount be removed.
Water Chief Allison Strube indicated in the decade long over-billing press release:

“Many of the customers who earn the discount currently are not actively seeking to do so,” Strube said. “They manage to earn the credit simply by circumstance, such as the case with a realtor briefly needing water service for an inspection or a single person living alone in a home. We want to create a robust conservation program that encourages our customers to actively take steps to save water.”
Horse hockey!  Our household regularly uses 3,000 gallons per month due to conservation.  We have low flow shower heads and water sparing toilets.  We have not operated our sprinkler system since our last major drought when Council worked hard to bring Hickory Water online.

At the time City Councilman Kendall Hirschfeld suggested the city not charge citizens the monthly base fee if they turned off their sprinkler meter.   That was never implemented.  Our contribution to conservation is low water use in the home and no sprinkler use in the yard.  For this we pay $100 a month in the smattering of water associated fees.  That's $33.33 per thousand gallons used.

The city wants to take away the 10% discount we received or were supposed to receive.  I haven't seen how much the city owes for not applying the discount since 2009.

Rather than come clean with Council on their decade long billing errors, city staff will propose taking away the conservation credit, the only means currently in place for citizens to get a portion of their ever increasing bill returned to them.

The Water Enterprise Fund Balance stands at $9.37 million as of 8-31-18, nearly twice the level the city cited as needed for a citizen rebate in November 2018.  Council dropped the regular review of the water fund balance for possible rebate.

There is no urgency to drop the conservation credit while staff look for other programs to incentivize conservation.  City Council should retain the credits until a substitute program can be designed, shared with the public and be evaluated for potential impact.

Update 9-30-18:  SanAngeloLive ran a piece on the proposed change.

Update 10-3-18:  City Council did not eliminate the conservation credit as proposed by staff.  They may in the near future when staff has another incentive program to offer in its place. 

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Republic Gets Answers from U.S. Cities on Recycling Concerns

San Angelo's City Council heard from citizens last night about possible changes to its trash contract with Republic Services.  The public meeting is worth the watch.

Republic has approached San Angelo about needing to rethink a 10-year contract - signed in 2014 - after local processor Butts Recycling quadrupled its price last month. The San Angelo Standard-Times reports that options include raising rates, scaling back the program or cutting it entirely. 
Republic Services employed various strategies in response to recycling changes in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, and West Virginia.

Arab, Alabama denied Republic Services request for a contract change.  WasteDive reported:

Republic Services asked Arab for a cost increase in June, but after exploring its options, WAFF reports that Arab decided to stay the course. Its contract terms are technically still valid through May 2020.
Alaska municipalities are wrestling with the same concern.

Multiple communities were informed by Republic Services and others that markets for their mixed paper, and in some cases mixed plastic, no longer existed.
Arizona communities experience includes:

Municipalities and MRF operators throughout the state begin reporting more issues, with hints that some material is now being disposed, according to The Arizona Republic. Republic Services tells CBS 5 News that it continues to meet with municipalities about potential contract changes. The town of Bisbee considers cuts to its drop-off program, according to the San Pedro Valley News-Sun, and is landfilling low-value materials.

Arizona Daily Star reports on wide-ranging issues in the state, focusing on a host of potential changes in Tuscon such as reduced collection or higher fees. The city's recycling program is projected to run a $500,000 deficit this fiscal year and local MRFs are reporting high contamination rates. Green Valley News later reports that Republic is still moving material at its local MRF and has even offered skeptical residents ride-alongs to prove recycling continues as usual.

Kankakee, Illinois held Republic to the terms of its contract.

Republic Services, the city’s waste hauler, recently stated the curbside program was being discontinued because so much of the recyclable materials in the containers were not acceptable.
However, the city administration explored the matter and determined Republic would not be living up to the terms of the contract, and after discussions with the company, it was agreed the program would continue as it has for several years.
In Indiana Republic will raise prices.

Republic Services is nearly doubling rates for Indianapolis residents, the maximum allowed under its contract.
St. Lous, Missouri citizens are luckier:

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports on cost pressures for the local Republic Services MRF and its regional customers. Mixed paper is reportedly moving at a loss, though Republic said pricing is better than it was a couple months ago and no program changes are currently being considered.
Missoula, Montana restricted the types of plastics that could be recycled:

Republic Services and Garden City Recycling stop taking mixed plastics #3-7 in the Missoula and Lake County area, according to the Missoulian. Glacier National Park does the same, while Yellowstone hasn't made changes yet.
The City of Brotherly Love will pay Republic more while other Keystone state communities have long term contracts with Republic.

Philadelphia's recycling budget could take a $2 million hit this year now that it's paying Republic Services $38 per ton, according to The Inquirer. Others, such as Camden County, may be spared for now due to long-term agreements.
The City of San Angelo has a long term agreement with Republic Services.  Will City Council hold Republic to it, amend the agreement or rebid a new scope of trash/landfill services?

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

City Owes Citizens Conservation Credits from 2009-2018

 A City of San Angelo news release stated:

The Water Utilities Department is seeking to refund $284,138 to 25,031 water customers who did not receive conservation discounts they have earned since 2009.  City officials unearthed an error in a handwritte, 48 page computer code that a former City employee created in 2006 to determine who receives the discount. 
It's not clear why refunds don't apply to bills after the computer code was implemented in 2006.  The City's website describes the credit:

A conservation credit applies to customers who use less than 3,000 gallons in a month. Ten percent of the base rate and usage fees credit the customer’s account in the following month.
This is the latest decade long billing error by Public Utilities.  It follows the city's overcharging commercial trash customers.  Executive Director of Public Works Ricky Dickson was aware of Republic's overcharging commercial customers in August 2011. 

City leaders promised a rigorous response to that overbilling, including auditing utility bills for compliance with local ordinances.  That did not happen.  The city's practice of ignoring compliance with city laws went beyond public utility billing. 

Ten year over-billing of water customers is hardly a "mishap."  It's the latest sign that the City of San Angelo is lackadaisical about complying with local ordinances.  The city charges citizens late fees for paying their water bills.  Council should implement an incompetent billing refund bonus for effected citizens in recognition of the time value of money.

Water Balances Grow for City of San Angelo

San Angelo is much richer in water resources and water fund holdings.  Twin Buttes Reservoir doubled in the last month from recent rains.  The Water Enterprise Fund balance rose to over $9.3 million, nearly double the level city staff said was required to offer citizen water rebates in a November 2017 City Council meeting.

The Water Advisory Board heard a report on future development of water supplies.  Former City Councilman Kendall Hirschfeld missed the meeting.  He would have been disappointed in the analysis which included an ongoing contribution from Lake Ivie.  Hirschfeld was on City Council when San Angelo faced the prospect of a dry Lake O. H. Ivie along with our three local lakes, Nasworthy, O. C. Fisher and Twin Buttes Reservoir.  The city's pipeline to Lake E. V. Spence has not worked for decades.  Hirschfeld wanted the city to plan from a scorched lake perspective. 

During dry times City Council decided in Executive Session to put treated wastewater into the Concho River and pull it back out further downstream.  The Water Board learned six days later of Council's decision.  Staff informed the Water Board that farmers would no longer get the city's treated effluent for irrigation during extended droughts.  I don't know how farmers would've known to attend City Council on 9-18-18 or the Water Advisory Board on 9-24-18 to make public comment. 

There is an agreement with the Tom Green County Irrigation Control District that would need to be reworked.  That should happen in conjunction with City Council's strategic water decisions which clearly have begun.  San Angelo has significant funds in the Water Enterprise account and been blessed with a huge increase at Twin Buttes Reservoir, which no longer needs expensive pumping to move water around.

Friday, September 21, 2018

ASAC Effectively Neutered

San Angelo's Animal Shelter Advisory Committee had five of its nine meetings cancelled thus far in 2018.  The ASAC met in January, March, May and July.  The last two meetings, August and September were cancelled. 

City Council undertook three strategic decisions without input from the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee, the most recent being approving $200,000 for garage expansion/processing room changes. Earlier this year the City contracted with Concho Valley PAWS for veterinary services and leased land to PAWS for an adoption center.

City Council not only missed input from ASAC members it limited the opportunity for public input in bypassing the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee. 

The February meeting had the item pulled from consent for council discussion.  Several members asked questions about compliance with the spay/neuter ordinance.  Shelter Director Morgan Chegwidden did not provide the data she shared with Councilman Tommy Hiebert a month prior.

After considerable discussion the Mayor did not ask for public comment.  Council voted to award PAWS the contract for veterinary services.  City Councilman Tommy Thompson asked if it would "get pets out of the shelter better, faster, more efficiously and get the capability to meet the guidelines we want as far as they are vaccinated and altered."  Morgan said it would.  She also stated "this is the solution to removing our pet overpopulation epidemic."

The strategic vision of PAWS adoption center has not been shared with the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee or the public.  The land lease was not pulled for council discussion on May 2, 2018.  It passed within the consent agenda for that meeting.

In the last City Council meeting Mayor Brenda Gunter pushed for the city to spend $200,000 on improvements to the current animal shelter building.  This was embedded in a budget amendment.  There was no discussion as to how the $200,000 fit into the Capital Improvement Plan priorities for the Animal Shelter.  I haven't heard any discussion in Council strategic planning/budget sessions about Animal Services.

The Animal Shelter Advisory Committee assists with compliance with state law.  Proposed facility changes fit within this scope of responsibility.

It would be difficult for a busy citizen or Animal Shelter Advisory Committee member to discern this shelter renovation/expansion was even on the agenda.  Getting time off work to attend would've been the next hurdle for the aware.

I'm not sure the city could design a better system to keep planned animal service changes a secret from an interested public with its neutered Animal Services Advisory Committee and propensity to bury strategic animal services decisions within City Council procedures.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Animal Shelter Released 500 Unaltered Dogs over 6 Month Period

Animal Shelter Director Morgan Chegwidden informed City Councilman Tommy Hiebert in January that the shelter released approximately 500 unaltered dogs to PAWS or other approved facilities.  The recipients would be responsible for spaying/neutering the unaltered pets.  The City of San Angelo adopted a mandatory spay/neuter ordinance in May 2017.

Morgan's numbers to Councilman Hiebert indicate the city paid for spay/neuter surgery for 188 of the 688 unaltered dogs adopted from April through November 2017.  That's a mere 27.3% of the unaltered dogs processed and adopted by the shelter during that period.  PAWS took responsibility for fixing 14.5% and other facilities 58% of dogs adopted over the six month time frame.

Morgan cited 8 dogs were not yet spayed or neutered, a higher number than represented to City Council.  For some reason city leaders chose not to share these numbers with the public, despite numerous inquiries and renewing the PAWS contract.

Update 9-29-18:  The Animal Shelter is experiencing a Parvo virus outbreak among the dog population.   From April to November 2017 vaccinations and spay/neuter surgeries were done in the same veterinary visit, thus 500 of the 688 dogs left the shelter without vaccinations or spay/neuter surgeries as required by city ordinance.

Monday, September 03, 2018

COSA Budget Cites $7.8 million Water Fund Balance as of July 31

City Council examined the Water Fund in a special budget meeting on August 14.   Finance Director Tina Diershke mentioned the need to grow the water fund balance to a certain number of days revenue but never shared the Water Enterprise Fund Balance, over $7.8 million as of the end of July.

Council could remember Finance Director Dierschke's representation of Water Fund Balance as of 9-30-18 as a mere $3.5 million.  The 2017-18 budget shows a beginning fund balance of $6.1 million.  That's a $2.5 million difference.

Mayor Gunter tried to get a picture of the current water fund balance with direct questions on the number of days and amount.  Dierschke would only give the adjusted budget fund balance of 62 days.  She did not give an actual fund balance figure in days or dollars.

City staff can compare budget to budget but it has accounting documents that show actual figures.    The Water Enterprise Fund is holding enough cash to cover 109 days of water enterprise expenditures.  Council should be astute enough to recognize staff's sleight of hand.

City Council eliminated the twice a year rebate discussion requirement in April of this year.  That may well have been a mistake. 

Update 9-25-18:  As of 8-31-18 the Water Enterprise Fund balance stood at $9,369,008.  That's nearly double the last 75 day fund balance goal shared with City Council in November 2017.

Saturday, September 01, 2018

MedHab Back on City Council Agenda

For the first time in five years City Council will take up MedHab's economic development agreement with the City of San Angelo.  The item is slated for Executive Session.  In return for a $3.6 million economic development package MedHab promised to provide up to 227 jobs within six years.  Over two years ago MedHab President Johnny Ross reported the company hit a key milestone for ramping us San Angelo employment.

The contract is due to expire on January 1, 2019.  Will the city ask for early cancellation, like the Mesquite Solar Project announced to great fanfare in 2014?

I'll venture the Development Corporation Board is itching to do something with money reserved for MedHab.  Will they give it back to nonperforming MedHab?

Update 9-2-18:  MedHab is pursuing a $3 million equity capital raise and already sold over $900,000 of new equity, according to an 8-20-18 SEC filing. 

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Vendor Warned City of Click2Gov Problems 2 Months Ago

The City of San Angelo issued a statement on online water payments on August 17, 2018.  A followup press release on 8-20 stated:

Credit card information for water customers who made payments in person and automatically online may have been breached in addition to those who made individual payments online.
Another press release update 8-21 added:
“We know this breach has caused a great deal of inconvenience, and for that we are truly sorry,” Water Utilities Director Allison Strube said. “Since learning of this issue Friday, the City has worked diligently with our vendor to provide an additional layer of protection for our customers. We are continuing the process to learn how many customers might have been impacted and over what timeframe.” The City received a concern Friday that online water bill payments seemed to have led to illicit activity on customers’ credit card accounts.
The company reported security issues in October 2017.  On June 15, 2018 Superion gave an update on problems with its payment software system:

Upon learning of the activity, we proactively notified all Click2Gov customers. Additionally, Superion launched an investigation and engaged a forensic investigator to assess what happened and determine appropriate remediation steps.

Throughout our investigation with the third-party forensic team, we have kept in direct contact with every Click2Gov customer to assist in the resolution of this issue, informing them of our findings via email, phone calls, and one-on-one working sessions. We assisted many customers with analyzing their Click2Gov environment and provided them with best-practice guidance to assist them in securing their servers and networks.
Neighboring city Midland, Texas reported breaches with its payment system on June 27, 2018.

The city of Midland, Texas, on Monday reported a potential security breach of the utility billing online payment platform, administered by Superion. The city reports learning of the possible breach on Friday. Superion’s Click2Gov function is the payment server used to make online payments for utilities. The security breach, according to the city, affected users who made one-time, online payments between December 2017 and June 2018.  
San Angelo City officials are working to find the extent of the breach.   The time frame for the breach will be interesting to learn in light of this timeline.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Six Year Anniversary of MedHab Deal

Six years ago San Angelo's City Council inked an economic agreement deal with MedHab.  It can be canceled January 1, 2019.  That's three months and ten days away. 

Friday, August 17, 2018

San Angelo Solar Farm Fizzles Out

Four years after approving the initial lease for San Angelo's first solar farm the project is dead.  City Council will pronounce the deal after OE Renewables defaulted on their obligations and ignored the city's inquiries.  Former Mayor Dwain Morrison said this deal would "make the city a lot of money."  That hasn't and won't happen.

Update 8-20-18:  San Angelo Live reported on this development.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

City Council Goes After More 1115 Waiver Federal Funding

December 4, 2012 was the last time staff presented information on the City's Medicare Section 1115 Waiver grant funding to City Council.  Staff could've given Council an update in today's meeting but the item started on the Consent agenda.  Any member of City Council could've pulled the item from Consent to Regular agenda.  None did.

The City currently holds $441,000 to $620,000 in excess federal funding.  That's 3.5 to 5.4 years of 1115 Waiver funding.  Both numbers come from city documents.  A public information request produced the $441,000 number while the City's Bluebook documents show a $620,000 surplus since grant inception.

City Council approved seeking more federal funding beginning with fiscal year 2017-2018.  Health Services comprise 0.31% of the City's operating budget for 2018-19.  That's minuscule.   An ethical city council would ensure a need exists to seek additional state/federal funding.  There was no discussion, just silence. 

Update 8-13-18:  The City is seeking another $500,000 in funding, even as it sits on excess federal/state funds of $441,000 to $620,000.  The application for more money does not require participants to expend current excess grant funds prior to receiving new Medicare 1115 Waiver funding. 

Sunday, August 05, 2018

City Wants More Federal Money for STD Clinic

As of 6-30-18 the City of San Angelo reported an unspent $411,491 Medicare Section 1115 Waiver grant funds out of an initial award of $960,000.  That $411,491 is enough to fund 100% of the STD clinic's expenses for 3.5 years.

The City's Bluebook documents reveal an even bigger surplus.  Out of $952,413 received the city spent just $331,657, leaving an excess of $620,756 as of 6-30-18.  That's 5.4 years of 100% federal funding of STD clinic operations.

City Council will consider staff's recommendation for more federal/state funding in their Tuesday meeting.  Staff has not presented any information to City Council on the grant since 12-4-2012.  As the item is on the consent agenda that may remain in place.

In March staff did not inform Council of this substantial surplus when it raised lab fees for patients to cover costs.  Federal money was intended to keep health care accessible and affordable for at risk populations. Staff and Council ignored the significant surplus in March and will likely do so again on Tuesday. 

Friday, July 20, 2018

San Angelo's Water Supply Prediction

City staff provided projections for San Angelo's surface water supplies in response to a public information request. The high evaporation toll can be seen in how much (little) of Lake Nasworthy is left, a mere eight days. This does not seem realistic as Twin Buttes water will be pumped from its two pools into Lake Nasworthy, keeping its level up.

City Council held a substantive discussion on entering Drought Level 1 on Tuesday.  Most comments and questions were intended to help the public understand the need to cut water use while raising prices even more.

One City Council member derided citizens researching the water volume in area lakes by suggesting a significant amount of water is not accessible due to lakes reaching dead pool status.  The City proved its ability to get nearly all of Twin Buttes water via rented pumps at both the South and North Pools in 2012, 2013 and 2014.  City staff have no dead pool assumptions visible in their analysis.

During the 2012 drought Water Chief Will Wilde did not deduct evaporation in his calculations.  Roughly 23,000 acre feet will be lost to evaporation in the above projections.  That's 1.75 years of water gone into the atmosphere.

The projection shown above was not included in the City Council background packet or the slide presentation to Council on 7-17-18.  That's why I posted it for the public to view.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

City Staff Recommend Applying Drought Level 1 Price Increase

San Angelo's City Council will entertain raising water rates 5%-20% and restricting water usage under Drought 1  restrictions enacted when the city reaches a 24 month supply of water. City Council's background packet does not reveal the method city staff used to calculate the 24 month supply.

Past presentations assumed no runoff rain for the period and apply a loss of five feet per year in evaporation.  Publicly available data shows the city's primary water source O. H. Ivie with over 83,000 acre feet.  The city shares this water supply with Midland and Abilene.

San Angelo's three local lakes contain over 36,000 acre feet as of 7-14-18.  Add our one third share of Ivie and current water supply is 64,000 acre feet.

The city uses 13,441 acre feet per year according to its website.  That is 4.76 years of surface water left, not including any water from the Hickory aquifer.

City Council raised water rates  the last three years.

2016 - Average increase of $5.88 per month
2017 - Average increase of $6.56 per month.
2018 -Average increase of $7.32 per month
A look out the horizon reveals two more rate increases planned for 2019 and 2020.  Combined they total $7.96 per month. 

The city changed its water supply forecasts under Ricky Dickson.  Former Water Chief Will Wilde did not apply the heavy evaporation load when forecasting months of water supply remaining.  As a result citizens pay increased water rates earlier than before.  

Here's how council's background packet predicts the "financial impact:"

Usage Fees will be assessed per City's Code of Ordinances.
Drought level one pricing is (from the city's website):

  • Landscape: 1.1     10% increase
  • Nonresidential: 1.05      5% increase
  • Residential users: 
    • Usage from 0 to 2,000 gallons: none
    • Usage from 3,000 to 15,000 gallons: 1.05      5% increase
    • Usage from 16,000 to 39,000 gallons: 1.1      10% increase
    • Usage over 39,000 gallons: 1.2                       20% increase
  • Fire hydrants and untreated water: none
Citizens need to begin reducing water usage to make the supply last longer but 5% to 20%  price increases are excessive on top of the 38.6% water rate hike imposed by council the last 31 months.

City Council has an obligation to ensure the 24 month remaining supply calculation is fair to all concerned and that citizens don't pay excessive water fees.  

Update 7-15-18:  The Standard Times ran a story on water rates increasing under Drought Level 1.. Also, I asked city staff for the methodology used to project remaining water supply and encouraged Mayor Gunter to have staff present their assumptions to City Council on 7-17.  That the public can be informed for a likely $100,000 community wide price increase for August under drought level one restrictions.

Update 7-16-18:  The May 21st Water Advisory Board heard a presentation from staff on the methodology the city uses to project remaining water supply.  Board member Chuck Brown commented that our three local lakes held 41,000 acre feet.  Add Lake Ivie and Brown said area lakes held 138,000 acre feet.  That is ten times the city's annual usage.

Update 7-17-18:  City Council unanimously passed placing the city under Drought Level 1 status as of August 1, 2018.  The city produced a slick video on Water restrictions but the actual City Council discussion/action was not available on the city's YouTube page around 7:00 pm.  At 9:00 pm I was able to access City Council's discussion of Drought Level 1.  It is worth the watch as the discussion was substantive from both staff and council..  

Friday, July 13, 2018

City Talent Drain Continues

The City of San Angelo lost its longtime Airport Manager today.  David Knapp, the city's construction manager quit in May for work in Austin. 

Oddly, Austin is where former Economic Development Director Roland Pena landed after leaving city employment in February.  Over the last eight months Fire Department and Street/Bridge leadership had big changes as well. 

The City's top leaders remain firmly entrenched, City Manager Daniel Valenzuela, Assistant City Managers Michael Dane and Rick Weise and Executive Director of Public Works Ricky Dickson.  Dickson has not been heard from in years despite being over our streets (in bad repair), water (which has become unaffordable for many), and trash/landfill (which Mayor Gunter wanted to rebid). 

The state of the City address will be held in August.  It could be blistering.

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Elizabeth Grindstaff's Bullet Term Ends for Development Corporation

Former San Angelo City Councilwoman and Assistant City Manager Elizabeth Grindstaff returned to public service via the Development Corporation Board.  Her first meeting was March 28, 2018 and her last occurred May 23, 2018.  Ms. Grindstaff informed the board she accepted a position with Texas Central Partners which plans to offer bullet train services between Dallas and Houston.  Grindstaff said she will be based in the Bryan/College Station area, the only stop.

San Angelo residents may recall Grindstaff's role in renovating the City Hall building, which seemed chronically late and over budget.  The project's final bad taste came from the unauthorized $100,000 purchase and delivery of furniture for the Water Department.  Grindstaff denied any role in the Furniture Fiasco but e-mails indicate she played cheerleader to then Water Chief Will Wilde.

Grindstaff left the city in 2012 for the allure of trains, serving as Vice President for Sales and Marketing for Texas Pacifico Railroad.   In February 2014 city staff proposed City Council grant a $247,500 economic development incentive for Texas Pacifico for moving their corporate office to San Angelo.  Staff and City Council failed to inform the public the company's corporate office moved to San Angelo in October 2011.

Ms. Grindstaff ran for City Council in May 2014, won and served the Santa Rita area for two years.  In addition Gindstaff served on the Airport Advisory and TIRZ Boards.

Citizens may remember City Councilwoman Grindstaff brokered the city's $1.4 million settlement with Hirschfeld Industries over failure to meet employment promises.  The 2016 deal had a promise for Hirschfeld to build a $1 million railroad spur within two years.   The deadline should hit this summer.

Elizabeth Grindstaff moved to the Brazos Valley to help make Texas' bullet train a reality.

Yet her presence lives on in ever surprising San Angelo.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

City Losing Key Public Safety Leaders

The City of San Angelo received resignation letters from its Fire Marshall and Emergency Operations Manager in the last week.  Fire Marshall Ross Coleman resigned unexpectedly last Tuesday.  Emergency Operations Director Steve Mild resigned to work in the oil field.  Mild's last day is June 15th.  Fire Chief Brian Dunn has two key public safety positions to fill.

Last fall the city saw the exodus of Street and Bridge leadership, as well as staff.  That set of resignations impacted the city's ability to rehab roads using the $1.2 million Benedetti machine.  It's not clear if the city has its Street and Bridge division back to full staffing, given interim leadership remains in place after Superintendent Paul Hathaway resigned in November 2018.  Stormwater Superintendent Stephen Conley is serving as Interim Road and Bridge Superintendent. 

It remains to be seen how Coleman's and Mild's leaving will impact public services. 

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Benedetti Update Concerning

San Angelo City Councilman Tommy Thompson asked staff for an update on the city's $1.2 million Benedetti Machine purchased to resurface city roads.  As the request was made in City Council one might expect a public update.  That did not happen.  Staff sent out a memo update in the March 16th Friday packet.  Operations Director Shane Kelton added a bit more information on the Benedetti Machine during Council's strategic planning session on March 29th.

Council learned the $1.2 million machine had been idle.  It broke within the warranty period and needed repair, according to Kelton's memo:

The hot in place asphalt recycling machine, better known locally as the Benedetti machine, has not been operated since fall of 2017. The initial reason for its lack of use was due to a faulty rear main seal on one of the Caterpillar drive engines. This engine issue was a Caterpillar warranty issue and unfortunately we were not high on Caterpillar’s repair list and the repair took some time to be accomplished.
Surely the manufacturer made warranty commitments for a $1.2 million piece of equipment.

The Street and Bridge division had more problems than a broken seal.

By the time this repair was made, the Street and Bridge Division had suffered a significant loss of personnel. Moving into late fall and early winter the division was down approximately 50% to 55% of its approved staffing level.
With staffing levels so low and the wet cool weather we received in the fall, pothole repair, trench repair and crack sealing in preparation for the annual seal coat contract was all the remaining staff could manage. Although low staffing levels was the primary reason for not returning the machine back to use over the winter months, colder than normal weather also has played a role in its lack of use. Air and pavement temperatures need to be above 45 degrees for the machine to work properly.
As of March 29th staffing remained a concern. Kelton's memo stated:

The Street and Bridge Division is currently working without its Superintendent, Supervisor and five Heavy Equipment Operator positions, one Maintenance worker position and one Shop Technician.
The lack of permanent divisional leadership during this training and reimplementation period is less than ideal. In an effort to ensure the success of the training and reimplementation of this machine and its process, I am assigning Patrick Frerich, Assistant Director of Operations, to oversee the daily operations of the Street and Bridge Division until permanent divisional leadership is established.
In summary, the expensive road refinishing equipment had a seal fall apart.  City Street and Bridge leadership fell apart and staff left in droves.  I can see why Shane Kelton sent a memo in a Friday packet.  A public presentation would have good leaders asking multiple why questions.

1.  Why did a seal fail in a new piece of $1.2 million equipment?
2.  Why did Street and Bridge leadership disappear?
3.  Why did Street and Bridge staff leave?  Was it related to either of the first two questions?
4.  Why does the City have to bring back the Benedetti people to train staff?  Why can't a local knowledge base be built for the expensive equipment that staff sold as the savior for some city roads?  The city knows how to make videos.  
5.  What role did Patrick Frerich play in questions 1-4?  If he helped turnover happen is he the right person to right the ship?  
The city has to patch up its road repair division so it can patch up city roads in disrepair.

The first streets that will be reworked with this machine are collectors and arterials that are candidates for mill and overlay rehabilitation. Such streets include: North Chadbourne from 29th Street to 47th Street and the 29th – Edmund – Glenna street segments.
City management has work to do.  It may need to start with itself.

Update 5-26-18:  The equipment came with a 12 month bumper to bumper warranty.  The city can require the vendor to buy back the equipment at 18 months.  City documents showed a "buyback guarantee:after 18 months, vendor option to repurchase the equipment, less half the current charge-out rate for recycling, multiplied by the total amount of square yards already completed."

Update 7-16-18:  City Councilman Lane Carter believes the Benedetti machine is critical to improving San Angelo's roads.  He told PIO Anthony Wilson that in a recent interview (at 10:50 mark).

Thursday, May 24, 2018

MedHab Has Three Months Left per COSA Agreement

MedHab's $3.5 million economic development agreement with the City of San Angelo expires in August 2018.  MedHab had six years to add promised jobs.  It committed to provide a minimum of 75 jobs and up to 227 jobs by the end of the contract.

A Standard Times report from February 2018 indicates MedHab CEO Johnny Ross will make one final push.

Market analysis shows there is a great need for the MyNotifi device, Ross said, leading him to believe his company may soon need a larger facility. Right now MedHab is in the West Texas Training Center, with 10 employees.

Ross said he expects sales to take off since he came to an agreement with the National Senior Corps Association, which works with several organizations that assist seniors, such as Meals on Wheels.

His hope, he said, is to hire about 50 new employees by the end of the year to help with the San Angelo-based distribution and tech support.
MedHab is not the only performance agreement coming due this summer. Hirschfeld must complete a $1 million rail spur this year.  Both MedHab and Hirschfeld failed to meet lofty employment promises.  2018 will reveal how far short they fell. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

One Rabies Case Per Month in 2018

The City of San Angelo had one rabies case per month in 2018 according to city documents.
 In three of the four cases a pet dog was exposed to the diseased animal.

Despite multiple cases of rabies the city failed to produce compliance data on rabies vaccinations for shelter pets, saying the contractor had that information.  No paid city leaders or elected officials compelled Concho Valley PAWS to produce compliance data, even as local rabies cases were confirmed.

The Animal Services Advisory Committee did not meet in February or April of 2018.  The February meeting was cancelled due to lack of agenda items.

The cancellations seemed odd as the City undertook two strategic arrangements with Concho Valley PAWS, the contracting of veterinarian services and leasing land next to the Animal Shelter.  City Council missed the advice and consent of this potentially important committee on these issues.

A lot was going on for a group that was given nothing to do.

Update 5-17-18:  Shelter Director Morgan Chegwidden informed the ASAC the April meeting was also cancelled due to lack of agenda items.  City Council undertook the PAWS land lease on May 1st.  An April ASAC meeting would have been the time for this committee to advise City Council.  That did not happen.

ASAC Board member Jenie Wilson gave an operational update from the board level.  Ideally she would have taken off her board hat and given testimony from the staff podium.   City Attorney Theresa James viewed Jenie's talk on May adoptions as fitting within the April statistics agenda item and allowed it to occur from the board level.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

City of San Angelo: Love is in the Air

The April Development Corporation meeting indicated big changes could be underway for the City's contract with the San Angelo Chamber of Commerce.  Chamber Board and COSADC board member Elizabeth Grindstaff set the stage for changes in an exchange with Assistant City Manager Michael Dane, currently filling in as Economic Development Director.  At the 1:22 mark Dane waffled as to the motivation for any changes and avoided details of what those might be.

Love, specifically SANANGELOVE is a theme of the San Angelo Convention and Visitors Bureau, which is a Division of the San Angelo Chamber of Commerce.  City Manager Daniel Valenzuela and Chamber executive Suzanna Aguirre found that very thing, according to sources.

Suzanna Aguirre played a role in Daniel's first blemish, the Furniture Fiasco.   City e-mails show Aguirre facilitated the ordering and installation of Water Department Furniture as the City Manager's Executive Office Coordinator.   Daniel's investigation into the unauthorized purchase of over $100,000 in furniture failed to answer the most basic questions.  Six years later the two parties are in SanAngelove.

Valenzuela had nothing to do with the Furniture Fiasco, other than a hapless investigation.  The unauthorized purchase occurred under Interim City Manager Michael Dane.  Assistant City Manager Elizabeth Grindstaff served as project manager for the City Hall renovation and encouraged the Water Department to order furniture.  Valenzuela's investigation never interviewed Dane or the city's purchasing manager.

The same players, Valenzuela, Dane, and Grindstaff hold key roles relative to the the Chamber contract renegotiation.  Aguirre's professional role is less direct but she has a significant relationship with City Manager Daniel Valenzuela.  This may just be interesting history but it is background for critical players in the upcoming City-Chamber contract drama.