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Budget Negligence? Or Just Politics As Usual!!

We suspect that as governments found that they could spend money on all kinds of services that helped secure votes, they kicked the replacement infrastructure costs down the road

Mar 11, 2013

As all levels of government find themselves in various levels of insolvency, we have to wonder where things went wrong. Anyone in business in the private sector understands they have to budget annually for depreciation or the cost of replacing assets. If you're a farmer and plant an orchard or vineyard you know it will last 20 or 30 years and will at that time have to be replaced. If you're smart you'll budget for this annually so the money will be there when the vineyard or orchard needs to be replaced. You don't wait until year 30, find you need new trees or vines and throw up your hands as if suprised by these circumstances.

But, this is apparently how governments work. They don't start planning until there is a crisis. They are always in crisis management mode. This goes on at the federal level with stimulus spending where we allocate 800-billion for shovel-ready jobs that should have already been budgeted for years. In the City of Fresno we find Public Works Director Patrick Wiemiller "delivering a message as old as City Hall, said a Fresno stuck in a semi-arid valley must invest and conserve if it wants a secure water supply." No kidding.

We suspect that as governments found that they could spend money on all kinds of services that helped secure votes, they kicked the replacement infrastructure costs down the road for someone else to worry about. Now, there doesn't appear to be any money for the things we need and we are seeing more and more special taxes to get them. In Fresno County we started with what we call Measure C to secure enough money for roads. Why wasn't it already in the budget? There is also now a zoo tax, a library tax, we are selling the trash division to the highest bidder, there is talk of an animal control tax, and a public safety tax can't be far behind. How did we get to the point where we will need a special tax for police and fire? (Campaign just lost in latest L.A. Election). Shouldn't those be the first things we pay for along with water infrastructure and roads? Guess not.

At least there is an effort to look longer term at our water infrastructure. We just have to ask why it hasn't been done all along?


Fresno City Council avoids action on new water rates

By George Hostetter/The Fresno Bee

Fresno City Council members took one look at possible new water rates and fell over themselves running for the exits.  On a Thursday slated for action, the council meekly heard what it knew, said little and did nothing.

The chore before the council was simple: Tell Public Utilities Director Patrick Wiemiller to get the ball rolling on a new list of residential and commercial water rates.

The city's rate structure is complex now that water meters are the norm everywhere. But most homeowners under the proposed step increases almost certainly would see their monthly bill double by July 1, 2016.

Same thing for businesses.

The extra money is needed for more than $400 million of water-system projects, including a nearly $227 million treatment plant for southeast Fresno.

The council's original plan for Thursday was to direct Wiemiller to begin a two-month public hearing process. The council would approve the rate hikes on May 16. The financial pain would begin hitting ratepayers on July 1 and grow in severity for years.

But the council for unexplained reasons lost its stomach for giving orders. Council President Blong Xiong gave everyone fair warning. He said Wiemiller would make a presentation. Then there would be public comment. Then council members could ask questions. Then it would all end without council action.

Xiong kept his word.

Wiemiller, delivering a message as old as City Hall, said a Fresno stuck in a semi-arid valley must invest and conserve if it wants a secure water supply.

Former Fresno County Supervisor Doug Vagim delivered the only public comment, saying there's something fishy about such steep rate hikes.

Vagim, a burr under City Hall's saddle on many issues, is a longtime water meter critic, who says Fresno has more water than it thinks.

Council Member Lee Brand and Wiemiller, working like a seasoned dance team, went through a question-and-answer routine that confirmed everything in the staff report.

Without even a hint of what lies ahead, Xiong called for a five-minute break so the council could march to another room for a housing workshop.

It was left to Assistant City Manager Bruce Rudd after the meeting to explain things:

Council members and city officials will meet individually behind closed doors to dig into various nuances.

City officials probably will hold community meetings throughout the city so ratepayers can explore the same nuances.

At dates still to be determined, a water-rate hearing will be held, the council will vote and, most likely, ever-growing water bills will arrive in the mail.

Stay tuned, city officials said.

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