Entries Tagged 'Public Works' ↓

How much did the public know about the $260 million dollar sewer plant expansion?

There has been a common theme from City Hall, Public Works and a majority of city councilors; The sewer plant expansion was being planned for a long time. Their evidence? The 5-Year Capital Plan.

While it is true that the studies were listed in the Capital Plan, unless you were a crystal ball reader, a genie or Gaia himself, as a citizen you would have NO idea what the study meant, what pricetag would be attached to the expansion, or when it would be started and completed.

Here are the graphics I created with the specific pages in the Capital Plans going back to 2015 with references to the Expansion (studies):

Click on each image to enlarge and read clearly;

Besides the fact that the information is conveniently buried in the center of the capital plan (which is well over 200 pages) There isn’t a lot of specifics.

In the 2015-2019 plan there is only reference to a half-million dollar study (Which would have been implemented in 2014). In 2016-2020, there is the exact same reference. In the 2017-2021 plan there is NO reference to the study. In the 2018-2022 plan, the study reappears and they FINALLY admit in the document that the sewer plant will have to be expanded (that was in 2017) with NO numbers on an estimated cost and finally in the 2019-2023 plan (prepared this summer) there is an actual plan for the expansion with a price tag of $160 Million (approximately). I find it interesting that in the 2017 plan (prepared in the summer of 2016) there was ZERO mention of a study OR expansion. NONE.

But let’s look at some public meeting video evidence;

The video below is the 5-year Capital Plan/Budget hearing from August 19, 2014. (FF: 1:09:30) during the Sewer presentation NO mention of expanding sewer plant except these words from director Cotter, “Key Projects” coming.

The video below is the 5-year Capital Plan/Budget hearing from August 18, 2015. (FF: 56:00) during the Sewer presentation there is a brief mention of a ‘System Master Plan’.

The video below is the 5-year Capital Plan/Budget hearing from August 16, 2016. (FF: 2:00:00) during the Sewer presentation there was NO mention of expanding the sewer plant. 

The video below is the 5-year Capital Plan/Budget hearing from August 8, 2017. (FF: 2:22:30) during the Sewer presentation there was mention of the life of the sewer plant running out, as the master plan identified, but nothing was said of when expansion would occur.

I even went back to the 2013 budget hearing. The video below is the Capital Plan hearing from August 13, 2013. (FF: 1:33:00) during the Sewer presentation there was a mention of expanding the sewer plant, and Cotter even said “It will be our largest investment” (gave no dollar amount) then said “We have captured the land for it and we will keep our eye on it.” but did not give a single clue of when that would happen only saying, “In the future.”

I also listened to the 2012 budget hearing, (FF: 2:07:40). No mention of sewer plant expansion, just arterial improvements.

While I appreciate being corrected that Public Works has been working on this for awhile, as we have seen in the videos above, the public certainly wasn’t aware of it. No press releases, no press conferences and certainly no final price tag or date of starting the project, or date of completion, only off hand remarks that it was being planned and coming in the future. Is that ‘COMPLETE’ transparency, integrity and honesty?

Obscure pages in the middle of a 200 page report and off-hand remarks in a once a year budget hearing held in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon doesn’t cut the mustard with me when it comes to open and transparent government. If this project was being planned (at least 4 years ago) why weren’t we made aware of it before building the Denty, the indoor pool, parking ramp or administration building? As Cotter said in 2013 “It will be our largest investment (in the sewer system)”. OK. Thanks for the heads up. But will it be bigger than the Events Center? Will it be bigger than the county jail? Will it be bigger than the School District expansion? Just how ‘large’ is this investment? We never even got an inkling until a few months ago, and those numbers weren’t even accurate.

I guess there is two schools of thought when it comes to government openness in city government. Mine is simple, open all the books all of time. City Hall’s philosophy is, if you want open government, you are going to have to look for it, and even than you will only get clues and hints.

Pathetic.

Why are sump pumps running so damn much in Sioux Falls?

Lora Hubbel warned us well over 16 years ago when running against Munson for mayor, she said Sioux Falls will continue to have ‘water issues’ because it is flat. Who knew the voice of reason was the Hubbel-Craft?

So this has been a topic I have been hearing a lot of side talking about. Not just poor, middle-class or richer neighborhoods, but many neighborhoods in Sioux Falls have to run their sump pumps constantly. Some have had to install multiple pumps, some have said they run all the way into December.

I have also heard from developers, plumbers, contractors, city employees, residents even police about why this may be happening (usually in developments that are from the past 20-30 years or older developments that get taken over by big retail and big parking lots).

There has been even multiple reports of city employees even police officers with warrants asking OR telling residents they need to re-plumb.

Why might this be happening?

• There may be as much water running along side the piping that is in the ground as there is in the pipes. When you dig in the ground you make a great path for the water to run. Water always runs along the easiest path. When you dig thru the clay and then backfill with gravel you make a waterway. If your water supply or sewer breaks the water will run the easiest way. When the break is in the street the water may follow your water supply or sewer piping under your house. If you have a sump field, that is a easy path for it to follow.

• When the city looks for sewer leaks. If you watch the sewer department look for a leak they dig a hole and find which way the water is running, Then they dig another hole, and another hole, and another hole until they find where the water quits running outside the piping. Then they go back and dig between the wet hole and the dry hole and repair the leak. When the frost starts to heave the ground or when it goes out is when most of the breaks happen. With this wet year this may be a busy year for water and sewer line breaks.

Is our sewer system upgrades way behind?

Remember Bruce talking about the ’emergency’ of the sewer upgrades? Maybe it is past that point. As we have pointed out, over the past 8 years it was hush, hush, about the sewer upgrades so Bucktooth & Bowlcut could build his palaces of pleasure.

Many residents are being told that the sanitary sewer system just can’t handle all of the water anymore. When the sewer pipe blew up by the prison well over 7 years ago, wasn’t that our freaking warning sign? Instead, they raised water rates so they could hoard $25 million to make a re-finance payment on Lewis & Clark. Shouldn’t we have spent that money elsewhere?

With global warming and all of these 100 year rains almost every weekend during the summer, we best get our water problems under control, or we are screwed.

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!

Jesus plows return without ‘Disclaimer’

Well there was one positive thing about the Jesus plows this year, Former Sioux Falls City Attorney Fiddle-Faddle’s stupid disclaimer is not on them anymore. There is also NO words about ‘Jesus’. ‘GOD’ or ‘Savior’. They are getting more clever with how to paint the plows. Still doesn’t matter, they are still a violation of separation of church and state.

What a bunch of knuckle heads.

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 🙂