Entries Tagged 'Public Utilities' ↓

UPDATE: City Hall still in denial about what the 2nd Penny is for

The 2nd penny was designed to help pay for roads and infrastructure, like sewer plants, but city hall seems to be clueless about it;

Stehly’s repeal efforts, though, face long odds of gaining success. T.J. Nelson, deputy chief of staff for Mayor Paul TenHaken, said the administration opposes the resolution because it is a less equitable way to provide sewer service to Sioux Falls residents.

That’s because right now, sewer and water customers — including businesses like big box stores and industrial type companies — pay for what they use. Nelson said if the city shifted from consumption-based pricing, the average citizen who pays sales tax could end up subsidizing water and sewer services for the heaviest water and sewer users in the city.

“Councilor Stehly’s proposal goes completely against the heart of the issue,” he said. “Her resolution would to have the opposite effect of what she thinks it will.”

Yet every time I go buy groceries or anything in this town I am subsidizing people who are attending shows at the Denty. Doesn’t that go against the ‘Heart of the Issue?’ Why should I have to pay extra for milk and eggs so people can be entertained? If we truly want to use user fees, then we need to have the users of the Denty pay for the Denty.

Stehly’s proposal is simple, use user fees to pay for operating and maintenance of the sewer system, use the 2nd penny to upgrade the infrastructure of the sewer system. It’s not rocket science, in fact it is the fiscally responsible thing to do and worked for decades in Sioux Falls until the former mayor had to get his mitts on extra money for his play things.

Also, the bigger question is why didn’t hear about this expansion until after the election, they have known about this for a very long time (Public Works).

UPDATE: I wrote about this TWO years ago, changing all the entertainment facilities in Sioux Falls over to Enterprise Funds.

Sioux Falls City Council avoids the 700 pound gorilla in the room

That wasn’t all entirely true, Councilors Brekke and Starr brought a little reason to the sewer rate increase discussion tonight after Rick Kiley had a total meltdown when Stehly called him out about disparaging the work of staff. Which made it even more ironically funny, because all Kiley does is constantly compliment staff sometimes just for opening the toilet stall door. So when Theresa reminded him that staff helped her come up with her numbers, Ricky Lee went ballistic, twice. Memorable stuff.

Soehl suggested that she share her information in advance (you know, like the rest of the council does with Theresa and Pat . . . LOL!)

But let’s get to the serious stuff. Janet was smart to bring up the history of the 2nd penny and it’s use for infrastructure and Starr quoted Citizen Stanga wondering why so much of the 2nd penny goes towards ‘play things’.

Most people don’t realize, when you buy anything in this town, a portion goes towards paying down the bonds on the Denty from the 2nd penny. Whether you use the facility or not (in which you have to purchase a ticket) you still have to pay for it’s mortgage. You can always sit outside for free and admire the ‘interesting’ siding.

The council totally ignored the gorilla. While they argued up and down that sewer rates must rise to pay for upgrades because it is only fair to charge the user, they avoided the fact that the play palaces bonds in our town are not paid for by user fees, not one penny. Brekke and Starr came the closest to suggesting we have a long term strategic plan to look how we spend the 2nd penny (to which they got crickets). All they could focus on was that Stehly said $300.

If you want to have an honest and fair conversation about user fees and paying down bonds, as several councilors suggested, then we need to start talking about how the Denty is going to start paying it’s own bonds moving forward. I don’t think a person who can afford to pay $150 to see a Jackass in a cowboy hat would blink an eye at paying an extra $3-5 ticket fee for bonds. Heck, most wouldn’t even notice it after there $10 Coors Light and $8 dollar pretzel.

If the council thinks it is fair to raise rates to pay for sewer infrastructure then they need to also pass a city ordinance that attaches a bond repayment ticket fee to all the shows at the Denty. Otherwise they are just a bunch of hypocrites . . . wait?!

There is an alternative that would cost us less

Another portion of the conversation that was left out tonight is the simple word ‘conservation’. Actually, Public Works Director Cotter was the ONLY one who brought it up, recognizing that the conservation programs he helped implement have reduced water usage. And you can’t argue with his numbers, they are astounding and measurable (bravo to Cotter). While he gave this ‘gentle hint’ to the council, no one decided to run with it. We could actually spend a lot less by implementing even stronger and more stringent water conversation programs which would decrease our sewer usage. Many have even suggested eliminating lawn watering by planting more draught resistant natural grasses instead of non-native ones.

Besides just considering the 2nd Penny, we have alternatives to save us money on these projects, but as Brekke has suggested since she ran for the office, it takes PLANNING!

UPDATE: KSFY edits Councilor Stehly’s ‘OPINION’ after Mayor TenHaken sends out chastising email to the media and Theresa

UPDATE: Just when you thought this couldn’t get any better, KSFY decided to put Stehly’s comments back in the story with this disclaimer;

Mayor Paul TenHaken has called into question Stehly’s comment about sewer bills rising to $300 a month. He calls it an absurd assertion. KSFY News initially removed the comment after the story aired over concerns that it was confusing, but we have since put the comment back in. Stehly says she stands by her comment.

Prairie Values TV Journalism at it’s best. Maybe KSFY should just stick to doing stories about charity dog races, halloween decorations and food trucks and let the newspaper and blogs cover the ‘real’ news.

It is one thing to edit a story based on having a name misspelled, or numbers and places that or incorrect. That is responsible journalism. But to edit an ‘Opinion’ of an elected official after another elected official in same government entity sends out an email, well, is horrible journalism. I often chuckle at Trump when he says ‘Fake News’ but in this case, one has to wonder.

The other night on KSFY they did a story on the wastewater treatment plant, Councilor Stehly said she has a ‘concern’ that water bills could exceed $300 dollars a month. While I kind of cringed when she said that, it is what it is, an OPINION. (she really isn’t that far off the mark, while our bills will increase $2 a month, for a small business owner they could easily see bills increasing to $300. In fact, over the past decade our water/sewer bills have increased 93%).

Well this ‘Opinion’ did not sit well with Selfie Paul, he sent out this email to city staff and the media (I was conveniently NOT included);

Councilor Stehly:

Thank you for the opportunity this week to once again provide you with information on the Water Reclamation System. Upcoming investments in the collection and treatment systems is a foundational investment crucial to both current and future residents who expect a reliable wastewater collection and treatment system.

The administration has invested hundreds of hours on this project due to the importance of this infrastructure for our city as well as the large price tag attached to it. We have also spent time briefing the City Council, media and public on the importance of this project.

Unfortunately, this week you broke a sacred trust elected leaders have with their constituents. As elected officials we have an obligation to present factual information to the public. That is what I have done in my role as mayor and that is what I expect of city employees. Yesterday, on KSFY and on Tuesday at City Council Informational you stated wastewater customers will experience a $300 per month rate increase as a result of this project. Spreading such misinformation when factual projections have been presented to you is a disservice to your constituents and I’m disappointed you knowingly spread this false information.

Talk about misinformation! It was simply an opinion of ONE city councilor. In the original KSFY story (the edited version is here) Stehly’s ‘Opinion’ was in there, after this email was sent it was edited out of the video (almost) and the text.

Ironically though they didn’t edit the close captioning, it still remains there;

I’m NOT blaming the reporter for this, I’m sure the higher ups made this decision to edit the story, which makes it even more egregious. There’s a fine line between FACTS and OPINIONS, maybe someone should explain this to the producers of KSFY or more importantly the Mayor.

UPDATE III: Should new Sewer Plant bonds be paid for through user fees?

Before I give you my answer to that question, first, I want to say I don’t think it is fiscally feasible. The bond payments combined with current debt service will easily exceed $25 million a year. A question councilor Stehly has been asking but not getting an answer on.

Don’t you think it is kind of bizarre we planned out $260 million in water reclamation upgrades over 7 years, a rate increase model and a 1st reading on Tuesday, yet NO ONE has an estimate of what those bond payments will be.

Yeah . . . right . . .

UPDATE II: Here are the projections;

UPDATE III: Here is the full report and answers to Stehly’s questions from Tuesday’s informationalCouncil Stehly Response – 11-16-18

Reminds of the SFSD and how they ran from the $300 million dollar bond repayment number.

So what is the justification of paying the bonds down through user fees besides the enterprise fund model that former mayor Bucktooth and Bowlcut concocted with Turdbak? They feel that bonds for infrastructure should be paid for through user fees. (I partially agree, but we will get to that in a moment).

Let’s be clear, like the Pavilion, the Denty has never made one dollar’s worth of payments towards the bonds and debt service which is around $9 million a year for the facility. That payment comes directly out of a fund we pay into when we purchase anything in Sioux Falls, groceries, clothing, etc. The 2nd penny is supposed to be for things like infrastructure (sewer plants) and roads, but we use it now to pay down the bonds on entertainment facilities. Does the Denty make money? Well kind of. They have tons of sponsorships* which offset the operational costs and any money left over above and beyond doesn’t even go back to the city. It goes into a revolving fund that the city maintains financially but that SMG uses to promote the EC. While it doesn’t cost us anything to operate the facility, we get ZERO from it to pay down the bonds. It’s like paying a mortgage on a house you can’t live in and the renters keep their rent payment, but do invite you over for an occasional BBQ – BYOB of course.

Something that was suggested long ago was a ticket fee attached to each ticket that would go directly to the bond payment. It was nixed by SMG because they said promoters don’t like it. But if it is written into city ordinance promoters and artists would have to obey. The 7th penny, which is the entertainment tax was used to pay down the Pavilion bonds, it was supposed to sunshine after that but never did and now is used for the maintenance of the Pavilion and EC and CC.

It is hypocritical to say we need to raise sewer rates to pay these bonds since the EC, the Pavilion, The Midco Aquatic Center and many other play palaces in SF have never paid down their bonds through user fees.

The user fees for sewer should go towards operating and maintaining current sewer lines. We should pay the bond for new sewer infrastructure out of the fund that was created for that, the 2nd penny.

When I have suggested this, many have said, “Then where will the debt service come from for the entertainment facilities?” My response is the same as Public Works Director Cotter’s, FROM USER FEES!

It’s time we change city ordinance so that the play palaces can start paying their own way. Clean water is essential to the health and well being of a growing city, seeing Garth Brooks 20 times in a row isn’t. We need to look at our fiscal responsibilities more closely.

*UPDATE: I wonder how the sponsorship negotiations are going with most of the sponsors at the Denty? Most of those agreements expire in 2019 (except the main naming rights). Makes you wonder if SMG’s latest termination has anything to do with this?

Well this isn’t good . . . Firefighting foam in Sioux Falls drinking water

So while it is a good thing the wells were turned off, makes you wonder how long we were drinking this crap before they found it;

Important questions about today’s PFAS contamination remain unanswered. From the date PFAS entered a private well or municipal water system to the date it was detected and mitigated, what was the effect and on whom? How many airmen and women handled and used the foam for decades without proper protection? What was the effect and where are they now?

Lubbers and Stefanich balked at addressing those questions. Bak simply stated, “You can’t really speak to what was in the past.”

Reminds me of when I warned the city about this a few years ago, and I think they changed some of the chemical mixture. But I often advise people to NOT eat the vegetables you grow in an outside garden in Sioux Falls because it is covered with dangerous mosquito spray residuals. ever notice we don’t have as many bees and beneficial insects? That’s because the mosquito spraying is killing them.

There’s a lot of chemicals our government is feeding us, that they do NOT want us to know about. Yet all the conservatives want more deregulation when it comes to the EPA. Idiots.

The Denty bonds have never been paid for with user fees

Remember former Mayor Bucktooth & Bowlcut’s mantra? Facilities/services should be paid for through user fees.

This has been the argument for raising sewer and water rates to pay the treatment plant bonds.

Yet, all of these facilities have NEVER been paid for through user fees;

Indoor Pool, Admin building, Huether Tennis Center and most famously the Denty.

The idea was certainly pitched that every ticket purchased at the Denty would have a fee attached to it to help pay down the $9 million a year mortgage. The former mayor responded something like this, “We will certainly look at it.”

While the Denty has done a good job covering operating expenses and management fees, it has contributed very little to capital improvement or paying the mortgage, both which come from the 2nd Penny (we all pay it when we purchase something in Sioux Falls).

A $5 ticket fee or more could easily be attached to the ticket price to help pay down the mortgage, other facilities across the nation do it, but SMG has said that artists and promoters set ticket prices and are opposed to it. Phooey!

Smart City or Big Brother?

I get a little nervous when government, especially local governments start suggesting video monitoring in public spaces outdoors;

It’s a reoccurring crime in Sioux Falls, vandals damaging art on the Sioux Falls SculptureWalk.

That’s why Sioux Falls’ IT manager says the city is looking at monitoring the area through video cameras.

“So if somebody is starting to climb onto a sculpture, that video technology can alert a staff member. Then somebody can go check it out,” IT Manager Jon Klemme said.

Trust me, not a fan of art vandals, but when you put expensive bronzes in public spaces, things can happen, that is why they are insured. Besides, I think the expense to taxpayers to protect art that is insured with video monitoring isn’t worth it. I also find it ironic that the city would consider video monitoring art when they said it is too expensive to store data for police to have body cameras? Let’s talk about priorities.

The city has also added several traffic signals that move cars more safely and quickly using artificial intelligence.

As I have told people, I haven’t noticed a difference on Minnesota Avenue with traffic flow, so not sure how well it is working. What they do need to fix is the light at 26th and Cliff that is timed goofy all the time, and while they are at it fix the roller coaster ride over the RR tracks in front of Avera on Cliff. Quite possibly one of the worst street repair jobs I have seen in the city.

How can we also forget the UNCONSITUTIONAL red light cameras that had to be taken down?

Think about all of the street lights in Sioux Falls. To save money and electricity, those lights could be turned off at night until technology senses movement nearby.

Now that is a good idea, I much prefer movement detectors over video monitoring.

Culbertson says people are often concerned when a city starts collecting more data, so city officials should make sure citizens are comfortable with the technology before it’s rolled out.

In reality, this should really be dictated by city ordinance and voted on by the citizens through the Charter Revision Commission and a city election. We must take government monitoring seriously. They already snoop in our yards and Bruce has even caught them digging around his junk pile during Project NICE. We pay city employees to SERVICE us, NOT SNOOP on us. If you are concerned about the well being of your private property that is the responsibility of the individual, NOT the city.

*You know what would be really fun, live web feed cameras installed in the City Center Admin building so we can watch city employees work 🙂

City Junk Truck sits in park for over 3 weeks

Funny, as a homeowner you are not allowed to have non-operable vehicles in front of your house or in your driveway, but apparently the city can just park them in a park (Frank Olson) for weeks at a time. Maybe someone should call code enforcement. Oh, that’s right, the city doesn’t have to follow it’s own rules.

Inside Town Hall, the water rate increase ‘The Fix is In’

How long did Sioux Falls Public Works know about the $260 Million dollar water plant expansion

Several city councilors have told me they have known little about the water reclamation expansion until after Former Mayor Bucktooth & Bowlcut left office. They have admitted that there was mention that the expansion WAS coming, but the price tag and water rate increases were NOT talked about.

The latest proposal is to increase our rates by 6% each year for the next 3 years and 3% every year after that. We will see how the council debates this proposal. My suggestion would be to bond $160 from the enterprise funds and $100 from the 2nd Penny to spread out the bond payment costs. In reality, the 2nd Penny should pay all of this since technically this is infrastructure/capital.

It is very curious that the pricetag was NOT talked about in the final months of the last administration’s term. Did he ask his Public Works director and finance department to embargo the information over the past year so he could justify bonding for the Administration building, parking ramp and $25 million dollar bond payment for Lewis & Clark? We can only imagine the answer to that question. I would suspect that the Public Works Department has known for at least the past two years this was coming AND it would be very expensive. Funny how this got dumped into TenHaken’s lap after Bucktooth did all his monument building. Go figure. Not to mention the $50 million dollar jail and $190 million School Bond.

If I was the city council I would grill Mr. Cotter on how long he knew about this expansion and the possible costs. Following orders to keep something a secret from Bucktooth is unacceptable.