Friday, April 25, 2014

The More Things Change...The More They Stay the Same

Breaking News!

Maybe if a REALLY BIG water utility customer paid their fair share...

Well, sort of. It's not really news to learn that the City of Port Angeles is, once again, considering utility rate increases. Water is wet, the sun rises in the East, and Port Angeles raises its utility rates. Some things in life are just dependable that way.

The City Council still lets themselves be distracted and confused by the argument between "raising rates" and "delaying infrastructure improvements." As if it were an immutable law of nature (like those listed above) that if one doesn't raise utility rates, then infrastructure issues necessarily have to be put off.


Here's an idea, and I'll even use a phrase the Council itself bandied about for a bit: Budgeting for priorities. In other words, Council members, take an active role in shaping the City budget. Get involved. Get creative.

Maybe you could find some money for infrastructure if you said no more money for the ridiculous CSO Turd Tank, and instead pursued a less-costly/more effective approach. Maybe you could find some more money if you halted your spendthrift plans to gussy up the waterfront since it's, you know, a time of tight budgets and failing infrastructure. How about if Nippon paid a fair market share for the water you supply? That would raise a HUGE amount of money. And speaking of huge amounts of money...Maybe, just maybe, some of your utility departments, rather than raising rates so regularly, could eat into their millions upon millions of dollars in reserves. Ya think?

Hey, here's another idea, one you don't even have to pay an out of area consultant to give you. It's shockingly simple, and incredibly basic, but you've never really considered it. If you realize that the City's infrastructure needs maintenance, you could, you know, build funds for that into the City budget. Not just for one project, not just for one year. But, you know, as an ongoing, regular thing that needs to be done. That way you won't find yourself at these manufactured "crisis" points nearly so often.

But you'll have to raise them high to drown out the wailing
of the City Council.

Stop wringing your hands and moaning, Council. Get your hands dirty in the budgeting process and solve some problems rather than perpetuating them. You're supposed to be the adults in the room - act like it.


  1. Hey City Council! Like it says here, try bleeding Nippon a bit more, and everyone else a little less. You'll get more money and less headaches. Heck, you might even get yourselves re-elected.

  2. The huge reserve funds are another legacy of Cutler. Some reserve funds are, of course, sensible. But this unquestioned stockpiling of such large sums is very disappointing. If these funds are for a rainy day, given all the utility issues the city is grappling with (infrastructure maintenance, AMI mishaps, garbage bluff, etc., etc.) it might be a smart time to say it's raining.

  3. "City officials are considering a lease of between 5,000 and 10,000 square feet of convention center space in the building from Neeser to increase off-season tourism, West said."

    Which city officials, exactly, are proposing to prop up a private construction project by leasing 15 to 30% of the space? Isn't increasing tourism the job of the Chamber of Commerce, who already get $340k from the city?

  4. The utility funds have long been raided for purposes of bolstering other budget items. The Council should immediately decree that utility revenues and funds should be spent only within their departments.
    For example,in 2010 and 2011 when rates started to really skyrocket, the city transferred (and probably still does) around $30,000 per utility per year to the "Economic Development" fund. And this happened even when that fund already held millions of dollars received from the state's $7.5 million graving yard "settlement".
    Then there was the line item in Cutler's six-year capital improvement plan to pave the City Hall parking lot with utility fund money. When citizen activists questioned this, Cutler claimed that the potholes were largely caused by customers coming to pay their utility bills, so ratepayers should subsidize the repairs.

    Council members: Please do the hard work of scrutinizing the budgets and expenditure ledgers of the city utility departments, and plug these leaks before considering rate increases. While you're at it, examine whether it is really necessary to spend tens of thousands of dollars on outside consultants to do frequent "rate studies".

    Maybe Yvonne Ziomkowski would be willing to offer some insights on this topic? She undoubtedly could tell us a LOT about shady dealings and financial mismanagement by city officials. Which is probably why the former administration pushed her out.

    1. Hopefully Yvonne's suit will be resolved, or should I say SETTLED, before too much longer. Then I look forward to her being publically exonerated, and being free to speak (one-on-one, of course) about all the insane dirty deals she doubtlessly witnessed during her time in City Hall. It is painfully clear that the whole baseless "criminal" investigation was just a way to keep her out of reach to City Council members who wanted information.

      On a related subject, I just have to say again that Bill Bloor is an embarrassment to the legal profession.

    2. It's pretty darn hard to embarrass the legal profession, so that's some assertion.

    3. If you can count the huge amount of money that "Bill Bloor's Legal Department" pays to OUTSIDE law firms as a measure...Then Mr. Bloor, who funnels a LOT of money out to said firms, ought to be pretty embarrassed.

      Instead, the party line inside City Hall is to feel sorry for him...Ugh!

  5. A phrase keeps running in my head when I think of how the City Council has been buffaloed and bullied by city staff into approving projects like Cutlers' ridiculous Turd Tank: "Urgency Statement."

    Remember that phrase? It came from Jim Haguewood, acting as a consultant as he advised the attending members of that "Port Angeles Unties" group to come up ways to phrase issues in a convincingly urgent manner to get millions in taxpayers money from the city.

    Sound familiar?

    1. What gets me is that when these situations come up - and they do quite regularly - when the "crisis" has passed, members of the Council act like they've had to do the hard work, like they've had to endure the hardships, of making these decisions.

      But the real hard work is foisted onto the backs of the ratepayers of Port Angeles. They're the ones who have to pay these ever-increasing rates. They're the ones who have to make their stagnant wages cover increasing costs from the city. And they're the ones who not only have to pay for truly unavoidable costs (like BPA rate increases) but also for city-initiated fiascos like the "smart" meters on top of everything else.

      Meanwhile, the city goes back to business as usual, hiring consultants to do studies that are either extraneous, or that could be done by city staff.

      And then, as the final insult, whenever these dupes run for re-election, they always talk about how important the budget is, how it's their primary responsibility, etc. But they absolutely get led around by their noses by staff - because they don't take the time to actually dig into and understand the budget.

    2. Anonymous 9:33AM - "Sound familiar?"

      Yeah, this does. It seems like about every six months or so the city discovers that they "have to" raise utility rates. Usually they temper such announcements by graciously explaining that they're not talking about raising ALL utility rates, just some. Usually.

      Deja vu all over again.

    3. Led around by their noses, by staff? Do you remember when a delegation of these morons HAD to FLY to Florida to meet with Rayonier people, to negotiate the purchase of that old 5 million gallon tank?

      Now that the staff got what they wanted, the tank and the contractors to refurbish it to make it useable, now the "urgency" has passed. Now the City is content to wait until the State coughs up another X millions in "loans" so that they can finish the project.

      CK has it right. Most cities anticipate future needs, repairs and scheduled maintenace of city infrastructure, and set up funds they regularily put money into, so that they have money when they need it. Most cities know things like potholes and street repairs are a normal part of running a city, and have designated accounts funds for it are regularily put into it.

      But, Port Angeles city staff learned they could scream "urgency", and state agencies would throw money their way. Those days are gone, but city staff still think they can use the old "brinksmanship strategy".

      Now, they have created a financial situation where prospective businesses or home buyers do their required research, and see a city at it's "taxing limits". No sane individual or CFO would move to a city at it's "taxing limits".

      So, thank the city staff of Port Angeles for the situation you find us in, now.

    4. the city also pays everything out of one General's something that went the way of the horse and buggy. We have computers now, and each department could be in it's own cost center, and there could be some structure and accounting. Money (sucked from our wallets through the utilities, and the money received from the county, from our property taxes) could be set aside in separate accounts for street upkeep (usually on an 8-10 year cycle pavement needs to be replaced, some cities have a 6 year cycle, others try and go cheap and use a 15 year one). We could also set aside $$ for capital projects (Civic Field, etc) and other budgets. When the piggy bank is empty, then projects wait until they are filled again. Gee, doesn't take a rocket scientist to know this stuff. Evidently, the one big-fat-general fund is accounting sleight-of-hand, and the slush funds that undoubtedly exist....are not open to public scrutiny. Why is this? And, without a statement of income, there is no way to see what our REAL financial situation is. But, that's the point, right?

    5. There's an expression - one I actually like - that goes "In chaos there is opportunity." This is similar to "Never let a crisis go to waste."

      You correctly point out that city staff have internalized these expressions to a dangerous degree. Too many of them now see that if they manufacture a crisis, they can (to borrow a phrase) also almost certainly manufacture Council consent. Staff yells "Fire! Fire!" and the Council, dutiful morons that they are, respond as intended by throwing money at the problem, no matter how unreal or preventable.

      But then again, maybe they know something we don't. Maybe, just maybe, they're smarter than we are. After all, if they keep on going the way they are, and the streets crumble away and the utility poles topple over, it won't matter if by that point they've already driven 90% of the people out of town. Who will be left to complain?

      Maybe the real vision city staff has in mind is to turn Port Angeles into a smaller, biomassier Detroit (west Coast Chapter)?

  6. The City Council Sheep are lead by the Staff.

    Baa-aaaa! Baa-aaaa!

  7. Sell the utilities to a private company and use that money to get us out of debt. Any rate increases imposed by a private company has to go through the state utilities and transportation board and city (I believe) has the final say so what difference does it make? Port Angeles is one of only five city owned utilities in the state (Cheney, Port Angeles, Richland, Seattle, and Tacoma).

    As for consultants, you do realize that the first thing the consultant asks the client is "What are the results you want". So the city can then go to the council and say "See we always told you so because we have the definitive proof". Predetermined results! Didn't the city hire a consultant to convince the council on the Smart Meter program? That worked well.

    I know this on good authority from someone who used to be in the public works department at the city and was not allowed to do his job. This gentleman had a masters degree in engineering for the UW (more than qualified) and was told by the public works director to let the consultant do the job he was hired for? He has since left the area and is doing the job he went to school for in the private sector (I think for a consulting company).

    So why does the city have a bunch of high priced engineers that are not allowed to do the job they were hired for. If the city continues to hire these outside consultants then they should fire all those engineers standing around with their thumbs up their arses. Oh that's right they are union and you need another commandment from the almighty to get one of them fired.

    I know everyone talks about the good ol' boys club that the city has always had. I remember there were a dozen of so individuals that met once per week at Haguewoods Restaurant back in the day. They were the original club inherited from their fathers. To earn a seat at the table you had to be an original to PA with clout and money. The difference between now and then is that the streets were fixed, we had sidewalks, the water ran, the lights turned on, fires were put out etc. There was not all this bull**** that is going on now because the things that mattered to all of us were taken care of. Yes there may have been some favoritism on who got the job but we didn't care because it worked and came in at or under the budget agreed upon at the table. (no consultants involved just business people)

    This all changed when the city started to accept money from the public trough of Olympia and the other Washington. When you start to take money from these shysters there are always strings attached. Well the more money we took the more strings hence today with always these unneeded projects that don't mean anything to the majority of us (these are the strings).

    The city is a heroine addict, they can't stop because it feels so good. Well we all know what happens to that addict, they eventually die!

    Unless we change we are going to be dictated to by the outside sources forever. I wonder what Olympia would do if we just said f*** it we are not doing this CSO project and we are going to fix the dump the way we want! So put that in your pipe and smoke it!

  8. Clearly the states and cities are now being attacked the way that we used to just do for foreign countries (to get them under our thumb). It's trickle down bad economics. Read: Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins "Perkins writes that his economic projections cooked the books Enron-style to convince foreign governments to accept billions of dollars of loans from the World Bank and other institutions to build dams, airports, electric grids, and other infrastructure he knew they couldn't afford. The loans were given on condition that construction and engineering contracts went to U.S. companies. The deals were smoothed over with bribes for foreign officials, but it was the taxpayers in the foreign countries who had to pay back the loans. When their governments couldn't do so, as was often the case, the U.S. or its henchmen at the World Bank or International Monetary Fund would step in and essentially place the country in trusteeship, dictating everything from its spending budget to security agreements and even its United Nations votes. It was, Perkins writes, a clever way for the U.S. to expand its "empire" at the expense of Third World citizens"

    In our case it's in the form of GRANTS, not loans. Hell, we even participated in the Operation Stonegarden (the Dept of Homeland Security grants to police departments. In 2011 the police were bragging about "US Department of Justice Office of Community Policing (COPS) when we learned that our application for a COPS grant had been approved." equipment for vehicles "accomplished through the Border Patrol administered Stonegarden grant program. We have also leveraged port security grant funding offered through FEMA to rebuild and expand our waterfront surveillance camera system and to enhance the lighting systems that will be put in place during the waterfront improvement project."

    Oh we are sucking that Federal teat....and sucking it hard.

    1. You are right on target. It's never a question of, "Does the community need this?" Or, "Will this serve the community?"

      No, it boils down to a simple "Can we get someone else to pay for it?" Reasons, explanations, necessity or not - these are details left to be decided after the fact.

      It's totally backwards and insane. Which is a pretty good description of life in Port Angeles.

  9. So now that the school board has said they'll contribute $60,000 to the Civic Field lights, rather than the $140,000 the city had asked them for, it'll be interesting to see what the city does now. My suggestion to the city, if they want to find that $80,000 to make up the difference, would be to fire Nathan West, put his salary towards the lights, and then institute real, rational and transparent budgeting from now on. No more mixing funds, no more intentional confusion. Plan for the future, and know how you're going to PAY FOR the future...ahead of time. Like the real world does.

    1. A good suggestion about cutting city staff whose "work" is a disservice to citizens.
      More suggestions: Also fire Sue Roberds, and elevate one of the college-degreed planners* in the department to act as planning director. (*Not Scott Johns. He is unable to see 1.4 acres of wetlands even when they are designated as such on a Corps of Engineers map.)
      More importantly, FIRE BILL BLOOR!

    2. I agree. Bloor should GO, and Roberds does not play well with others (but she helps to maneuver her hubby into some sweet deals). She should be ready to retire soon.
      Bloor would be better suited chasing ambulances.

    3. Scott Johns is a perfect example of what working in Port Angeles government is all about. He's a smart enough man, and cares deeply about trees, among other things. But when his wife dipped a toe into politics years ago, Scott got threatened. The Rogers crew told him if his wife didn't shut up and go away, and stop making waves, he'd lose his job.

      So Scott told his wife to shut up, he shut up, and he's been a spineless seat-filler in City Hall ever since. All he can see is his approaching retirement - but as others have pointed out, to get there, he has had to be unable to see literally acres of destruction right in front of him.

      See nothing, say nothing, screw the people, and hope for the best for yourself. That's how City Hall forces you to operate. Sure, it's ultimately self-destructive. Sure, it's pretty sociopathic. But that's how it works. And that's why we get the government "product" that we do.