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?

Update 3-4-19:  This video link highlights how City Council caved to Republic Service.

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.

Update 8-25-19:  City Council held a budget session on major funds, including water, in early August. Once again staff avoided sharing current fund balances which now total over $31 million.

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.