Sunday, April 28, 2013

Mayoral Forum at Chicken Farm

The Chicken Farm Art Center hosted a Mayoral Forum Wednesday evening.  Concerns expressed included water, the appropriate use of hotel occupancy tax money, children's advocacy, and the information city staff provides for Council and the public.  Later in the session a worry emerged on how the oil boom would distort our beloved community on so many fronts.

Organizer Allie Devereaux kindly allowed me to ask a question:

When there's an issue of public concern and city managers state they'll conduct an internal investigation, like the Furniture Fiasco or a rash of incomprehensible water bills, what is your position on sharing the results of that investigation with the public?

Essentially all three said they'd not gotten answers to the examples cited and each said they would share the results of any investigations with the public. Councilman Dwain Morrison emphatically stated he wants an investigation of the water department.  "If there's $2 million annually in the water fund that could be used to fix our streets and we're not giving money back to the citizens, something's terribly wrong."  Councilman Paul Alexander said he voted for the investigation, while Councilman Kendall Hirshfeld did not. 

The water fund came to the city's rescue in 2011.  Compare these two characterizations:

1.  "Capital projects Funding - excess fund balance was transferred to a capital projects fund to assist paying for needed improvements.". - in presentation by Assistant City Manager Michael Dane at April 16, 2013 Council meeting.

2.  "In fiscal 2011, the city supplemented its general fund with a $3.5 million one-time transfer from the water and sewer utility, which helped boost general fund reserves back to 21% of spending and within the city's policy level." Source:  City of San Angelo debt rating by Fitch Ratings March 2013

These are clearly two different representations.  Which do you find more informative?

I did get a bonus question, later in the session.  I asked about regional water use in light of fracking, given Eagle Ford Shale wells use 3.5 million gallons of water per well and the increased regional water burden was 5-7%.  I stated as an avid windsurfer, I'd like there to be water in area lakes on which to sailboard.

Dwain Morrison talked about the aquifer in North San Angelo declining, with the prospect of people losing their well water.  He spoke of huge tanks north of town where there are no restrictions on ranchers selling water to oil companies.  He noted the rains would come, but he didn't know when and he's worried about people in San Angelo running out of water.

Paul Alexander spoke of seepage loss through Lake Nasworthy's dam and evaporation loss at Twin Buttes. He continued with his theory of raising the North Pool five feet.  That didn't materialize last summer and there's no evidence of increase this year after 10 days of pumping.

Councilman Hirschfeld said regional water use belonged to Rep. Drew Darby and the State of Texas.  The City of San Angelo has no control over water use outside city limits.

Two other issues simmered during the meeting.  One dealt with the minimalist approach paid city staff seems to take with Council.  It's not clear if staff is intentionally keeping information away from council or if staff actually don't know what's going on.   Ignorance is only a tad more reassuring than mendacity.   Both are deeply disturbing.

The second dealt with a financial time bomb, one council is not talking about.  While this issue wasn't expressly identified, one bomb is the city pension fund.  , According to Fitch (the city's bond rating agency).

The city's actual payments to the pension plan have been about $1 million less than the actuarial required contribution in the last two reported years, so actual spending was somewhat below this level. 

Add the need to pre-fund retiree health insurance and a huge bill will come due in the next Mayor's term.  My prediction is San Angelo will sell their water franchise to fund these two items.  I wouldn't be surprised to see our local patriarchs as equity owners in such a venture.  Might two Mayors in a row have a significant stake in an entity doing business with/receiving funds from the City?  The bomb could also be the expense of operationalizing San Angelo's next water supply, i.e. post Hickory Aquifer. 

I would like to compliment all three candidates on their genuine responses and positive interactions with their competitors.   If Councilman Paul Alexander inspires you, imagine that energy focused citywide.  If you like Mayor Alvin New, Kendall Hirschfeld will fill his Italian leather shoes nicely.  If you loved Mayor J.W. Lown, Dwain Morrison promised to beat his record of public appearances as Mayor.   I encourage everyone to vote their heart and mind. 

Update 6-16-13:  Councilman Morrison won the runoff race, beating Councilman Hirschfeld.   J.W. staged an upset win and Morrison followed.  It looks like the people will be heard. 

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