Sunday Commentary II: POU Has Emerged as a Hot Button Issue While Roads Are Ignored

Pothole-stock.jpgAs we noted earlier this week, results from a Davis Downtown survey suggest that the city of Davis may lack the support to pass its parcel tax that would fund roads and other infrastructure maintenance.

Our analysis suggests that while the respondents, particularly the Vanguard readers, are found to be highly aware of the issues, even that group only poll at 63% support for the $150 a year parcel tax, leaving it shy of a two-thirds majority.

For the entire survey, 51% support the tax.  If you remove Vanguard respondents, far less than half support a measure that requires a two-thirds majority.

Perhaps despite claims about knowledge, the voters simply are unaware of the magnitude of the problem.  There is a sense that the city is trying to swallow too much at once on the road plan and that the council should plan carefully and prioritize in order to space out the expenditures over a greater period of time.

But how many people were really paying attention last May when the council unanimously approved the funding and budgeting strategy for pavement maintenance, in concept, for the multi-year effort in which a huge amount of money would be spent up front with smaller ongoing payments?

The plan came with a concession that the city will have to reduce its Pavement Condition Index (PCI) goal normally set at about 70 to 63 on average, with higher scores and better pavement on arterials and main thoroughfares, and lower scores on lesser used residential streets.

In his presentation, City Manager Steve Pinkerton told the council, “Regardless of the 20-year maintenance scenario chosen, funding paving up-front will reduce the City’s backlog and future expenses.”

“Budget projections have assumed future costs of $2 million to $4 million annually for infrastructure. Incurring $25 million in capital costs over the next two years would translate into $2 million annually in debt payments,” he said.  “Additional annual funds dedicated towards pavement would need to come from growth in existing revenue, new revenue or cutting of other programs.”

The amounts here are staggering.  Here were the options that the city manager put before council.

Roads-May-2013-01

The key thing to remember is that the more the council was able to front load, the less impacted costs would be by the 8% pavement inflation factor.

Roads-May-2013-02

But there is a second factor here aside from the impact of 8% inflation for pavement, as opposed to the 3% or so inflation that is more typically reflected in the PCI.  The problem has to do with the exponentially increasing costs of repair as the road surface decays.

Joe Krovoza, in his state of the city address, identifies the problem of deferred maintenance on pavement.  “When pavement is in good condition, when it’s at maybe 40 percent of its life, you can maybe spend four dollars to $7.50 per square yard to slurry seal it or cap seal it,” he explained.  “It doesn’t cost that much to keep it in good shape.”

“But if you wait until pavement is at 75% or 90% of its life, then the costs just become tremendous – $26-$27 per square yard, $61 per square yard when you get up into the 90% level,” he noted.  “The city council has worked very hard to figure out where we’re going to find money so that we can repair our roads as soon as possible so that these costs don’t multiply.”

He estimates that we should be spending about $5 million to really get on top of the problem with our roads, but with current budget projections, “that is a lot of money, that’s well over 10% (of the current general fund budget).  So we’re putting something around $2.5 million away to begin to stop the deterioration of our roads but it’s not going to begin to be as far as we want to go.   It’s the best that we can do now.”

The problem is that we’re not doing that.  The sales tax that is on the ballot stripped out about $1.5 million in funding for roads, leaving it at about $1 million.  If you want to see the impact of that change, look at the charts above.

Without the passage of a parcel tax, we are looking for a tremendously increased charge to even maintain roads at their current level.

All of this now illustrates the misplaced concern about the POU.  The way the city has currently proposed financing the study is at the rate of about $600,000 which the city is borrowing from the enterprise fund.  The payback over the next ten years will come to about $66,000.

Many have argued that this is not the right time to pursue this.  Maybe so, but I think we need to come up with a much better reason to oppose the plan than the relatively modest costs.

By 2018, the city projects that their wastewater and water utilities will use about $6 million per year in electricity.  Even a 10% savings rate would generate a savings of about $600,000 per year.  And that 10% savings level is about half of the actual projected savings.

In other words, the city is looking to spend $600,000 over the next ten years in hopes of being able to save at $600,000 per year just on water energy costs.  Never mind the general fund savings for city projects, never mind the savings to the ratepayers.

Many of the opponents are concerned about the city squandering those savings on green power endeavors, but that misunderstands where the money is coming from.  The city hopes to use about $4.3 million in funding generated by the community for the Public Purpose program that PG&E currently uses elsewhere as a way to better develop its green power infrastructure.

None of that comes from the current costs or savings generated by the POU.

It is unfortunate that the city stepped on its own messaging and allowed PG&E to frame the issues.

As we can see in an article that many may have missed because the Vanguard was down, a PG&E and IBEW Poll found that Davis residents were opposed to the POU.

The results of this poll, which was questioned and scrutinized at the time, purportedly show strong support for PG&E and opposition to the city taking over the utility.

A press release from IBEW found: “A plurality of voters – 47% – said they would probably or definitely vote no on a ballot measure to create a new utility, with only 34% saying they would probably or definitely vote yes. Just over half of voters said they are not confident in the city of Davis’s ability to manage an electric utility.”

“Davis voters see through the false promises,” said Hunter Stern, Business Representative for IBEW 1245, which commissioned the poll. “Politicians promise green power at no greater cost. But voters understand that’s just empty rhetoric.”

The poll was taken in late February by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates, a nationally respected firm, and was comprised of 400 telephone interviews with voters in the city of Davis.

“Davis deserves safe, reliable power that is truly green,” Mr. Stern said. “This plan is not it, and voters know it.”

If we believe the polling results, the residents of Davis are opposing huge savings on electricity as well as funding road maintenance.  If both results hold, the cost of electricity may be the least of our problems.  The crisis of roads is very real and if Davis resident do not generate a funding stream, the charts above show exactly where we are headed.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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41 Comments

  1. DT Businessman

    Unless staff somehow does an end round, it’s unlikely the POU will move forward for the time being. Lee took a very strong stand saying he will not support spending money on the POU or hiring a project manager unless city staff can show instances in the last 10 or 20 years of a municipality successfully acquiring the assets of an investor-owned utility in California. Lee insisted he wanted details on timeline and legal costs for what is essentially a hostile takeover. When Lee bluntly asked his colleagues whether any of them had even a ballpark guess on a timeline and legal costs, there was nothing but silence in the council chambers. Swanson at the PAC forum stated, “She stood strong with Brett.” We have 2 council members adamant that staff produce successful takeover examples in the last 10-20 years. Presumably this isn’t some empty exercise, i.e. the timelines and costs have to make some kind of sense. Meanwhile we have 3 council members that don’t know of any such examples, don’t seem to care about the timeline and costs, but perhaps they will care once this info is publicly known. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.

    -Michael Bisch

  2. Frankly

    These two public policy issues are not really comparable. Roads exist and must be maintained. There is nothing discretionary with roads… no decision needs to be made except how to pay for it.

    Conversely, a POU is COMPLETELY discretionary. We don’t need it. And it is a hugely complex project and a potentially messy ongoing concern for a city our size… especially with our city staff that gives every indication for already being overwhelmed with budget matters.

    When considering a POU in the context of probable risks and returns, and the workload impacts for adding yet another complex business to our city service lineup… and then overlaying that onto our understanding of the scope and extent of our city budget problems… well let’s just say that pursuing a POU at this point and time is clearly not a good idea.

    1. DT Businessman

      Frankly, would you object to a team of expert community volunteers continuing to do due diligence without city staff support or expenditures? Why or why not?

      -Michael Bisch

      1. South of Davis

        DT Businessman wrote:

        > Frankly, would you object to a team of expert community volunteers
        > continuing to do due diligence without city staff support or expenditures?

        I love saving money and I’m no fan of PG&E so I have no problem if we really have a team of “volunteers” (who make sure the city does not use ~$1 million they are planning to blow/give to their friends and contributors to study this) “continue to do due diligence”.

        If a small city like Davis could really (as David says) save “about $600,000 per year” why haven’t any other cities kicked out PG&E to save $5 MILLION + every decade? Why not wait to see if it is possible (since no one else has done it, it seems like every other city that has run the number is saying NO).

        My guess is that kicking out PG&E will cost us (as taxpayers) more, even if we don’t add a single “green” item (and cost us all WAY more if we “go green”.

        1. David Greenwald

          Because PG&E fights with tens of millions of dollars: “In the past, PG&E has had to fight intermittent battles with cities such as San Francisco when they tried to go the municipal utility route. PG&E usually won, but the elections were costly and sometimes sullied the utility’s image.” This is from a Mercury News article on Prop 16 from 2010.

        2. Matt Williams

          SoD, there are a number of reasons why it is less attractive to other cities. First, the bulk of the electrical usage by the City itself is for the treatment and pumping of water. Most cities throughout the state get their water from separate water district entities, so all the electricity consumption charges we incur (and will incur under the JPA) are not incurred in any city that doesn’t extract, process, treat and pump its own water. Second, most cities are not seeing their annual PPP payyments ($4.3 million per year in Davis flow to other cities rather than stay in their own city. Because of the presence of PVUSA and other resources in the community, PG&E is able to take our $4.3 million and use it elsewhere at their own discretion. Third, the State of California in its infinite wisdom has granted PG&E the right to charge any city that leaves their system a multi-million dollar “Exit Fee” that is due and payable to PG&E each and every year after the exit takes place. Again in part because of the presence of PVUSA in Davis, Davis is excluded from having to make that annual “Exit Fee.”

          1. Ryan Kelly

            It sounds like we are perfectly positioned to sustantially benefit from exiting from PG&E management of our electrical utility. Just like our City employees are subsidizing the costs of employee healthcare in other communities, Davis is subsidizing the electrical utility costs in other communities for PG&E. PG&E needs us more than we need them, there is no downside to exiting! but PG&E is willing to spend millions to convince people otherwise.

          2. Don Shor

            there is no downside to exiting!

            Like many others, I am a long way from believing this statement.

          3. Matt Williams

            Ryan, no downside to exiting? I think that is a bit of hyperbole on your part. I can think of lots of downside. The biggest one being an absence of operational expertise withing the current City staffing complement. However, that is addressable if we are wise. My personal view of the ideal POU structure is that it will have a total employee count of one … the billing clerk. All the operational expertise could/should come from contracts with experienced/well-staffed organizations like SMUD or Roseville Electric. Actuarial expertise can also be obtained on a contracted basis, as can the legal expertise needed only occassionally, but when it is needed it is needed in a highly specified manner. That kind of oursourced structure will allow the POU to reap the maximum fiscal and risk mitigation benefit without taking on unnecessary operational risk.

          4. South of Davis

            Matt wrote:

            > All the operational expertise could/should come
            > from contracts with experienced/well-staffed
            > organizations like SMUD or Roseville Electric.

            Sounds like a good idea, until you remember that 1. Efficient utilities like SMUD & RE don’t have the extra staff to contract out and 2. Probably won’t want to staff up to run a utility in Davis.

            P.S. Anyone that has been in politics long enough knows how hard it will be Davis politicians to resist giving jobs to donors (and their kids) who know nothing about running a utility…

          5. Matt Williams

            SoD, SMUD was more than happy to annex Davis in 2006. They were just as efficient then as they are now. What has changed that would cause them to want to do the same thing then that you say they won’t want to do now?

  3. DT Businessman

    Meanwhile, none of the roads cost numbers in the article above are accurate anymore. Another year has gone by without meaningful action on the backlog, so the roads and bike-paths have deteriorated another 8% or more. Furthermore, staff have dug deeper into the unmet needs and have concluded that when they fix the roads, they’ll also have to upgrade curbs, curb cuts, ramps, etc. so that they are currently projecting a $54-$58 million backlog. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to wave a magic wand to address the backlog immediately, i.e. you can’t rip up all the roads and paths all at the same time because nobody would be able to get to work, school, etc. On an expedited schedule, it’ll take 5-10 years to fully address the backlog with cost compounding 8% annually. At that rate you end up with an $80-$100 million expenditure. I could be off $10 million here or there. So what’s the parcel tax on that? Break out the calculator.

    PS: Every month we dither, the cost goes up.

    -Michael Bisch

    1. Frankly

      Michael – Maybe. Although it would certainly take city staff time too. And it would be a distraction for other things.

      If there is really 20% savings, then it certainly be attractive from an economic development perspective. But if we are not moving forward urgently with an economic development effort, I would prefer we don’t add another distraction.

  4. Tia Will

    Frankly

    “There is nothing discretionary with roads… no decision needs to be made except how to pay for it.”

    This is not quite true. When I was growing up, one of the two streets leading to my house was paved. The other was not. Depending on whether or not it had rained or snowed recently we might choose either the paved or unpaved route. What we have currently is what we have all become accustomed to. It is not vital for survival by a long shot and therefore should be viewed as discretionary. One of the major problems that I see, is that we, as a community feel entitled to the luxuries that we now have and consider them as essentials. This in itself would not be a problem if we were willing to pay for them. Unfortunately, many of us are not.

    1. Frankly

      Tia – I fear you are sometimes stuck in the past. Either that or our vision for Davis is completely impractical.

      I too grew up in areas where there were a number of unpaved roads. But that was in the 1960s and today there are plenty of reasons why this would not work. First of all we have a hyper-dense community that puts a lot of miles on these roads. Can you imagine what an unpaved road would look like having to endure all the traffic we generate? Talk about maintenance costs! And how do you reconcile this idea that we can decide to NOT maintain some of our roads with your other interest that we all ride bikes?

      I think you need to give up on this line of thinking and just agree that roads and their maintenance are a necessity.

      1. South of Davis

        Tia wrote:

        > When I was growing up, one of the two streets leading to my house was paved.

        I have many friends that live in rural California in areas with a lot of unpaved roads and unpaved driveways. I hope Tia knows that if we stop paving the roads in Davis we are going to have a lot less Prius’ in town and a lot more 4x4s runiing BFG MTs (In rural California a Prius is worthless since it can’t make it down a muddy road in the rain, since even my 4×4 SUV with “all season” tires has a tough time)…

    2. DT Businessman

      Tia, it is much cheaper to construct a gravel road than a paved road. Why in the heck would you construct a paved road and then allow it to deteriorate to the point where it’s a gravel road. That makes no sense. If you’re going to incur the extra cost to begin with, just maintain the damn thing instead of continuing to build things at a greater cost that you can’t afford to maintain. This is not rocket science.

      -Michael Bisch

  5. Tia Will

    Frankly

    I was totally not promoting a move back to unpaved streets. I believe that we should fully maintain them.
    My point was that things that used to be considered discretionary are now considered necessities and yet we, as a society, have not increased our willingness to pay for them. If we are unwilling to pay for them, the only other option that we have is to make do with less. While it is not an option I advocate, one alternative would be to allow our lesser used streets, such as my own on J from 2 nd to 3rd deteriorate while maintaining our major corridors.

    1. Mark West

      I don’t agree that we are unwilling to pay for the roads Tia. What we have experienced is that our Civic leaders took the money that should have gone to pay for the roads and used it to pay for increased salaries and benefits and to buy new ‘toys’ to make the voters feel good. Unfortunately, it has taken us far too long to understand the extent of this misappropriation of funds and now we need to find a way to re-balance the fiscal situation.

      1. Tia Will

        Yes, I know Mark. I see this as basically analogous to a dysfunctional family in which one of the two partners, both of whom are working, decides to take a large sum of money that is needed for house repairs and children’s clothing and decides to blow it on a luxury item for his or herself. The other partner has a decision to make, they can continue to work to provide the needed items or they can say, the hell with it. Because my partner took the money and spent it unwisely, I am just not going to work anymore. Or, they can decide to continue working to provide for the kids and either stay with the same partner, or seek divorce and still continue to work for the kids. I personally do not see stopping work as the responsible option. The money is needed, you can’t just fold your cards and quit.

        Now we actually do have coming up is the ability to “divorce” ourselves from the decision making of the past and choose to act responsibly with our upcoming votes, the passage of the sales tax, the passage of the parcel tax, and economic development that is in keeping with the strengths and unique nature of this city.

        Frankly thinks I am against all growth. This is not true. I am against redundant, big box growth such as the Target. That is absolutely true. I am against using prime agricultural land for other uses. Also true. But I am certainly not against an innovation park that is designed to accentuate the strengths of projects and companies generated by university professional and graduates that compliment the core strengths of the university. To duplicate stores that already exist within a few miles to me is extremely short sighted and wasteful of our two most precious resources, our agricultural land and the presence of the university.

        1. Mark West

          “Now we actually do have coming up is the ability to “divorce” ourselves from the decision making of the past and choose to act responsibly with our upcoming votes”

          I am curious Tia, just how is it that passing more taxes in any way will allow us to ‘divorce’ ourselves from the poor decision making process. The citizens of Davis historically have come up with more money whenever the City cried poor, but those tax increases didn’t change the poor decisions about how that money was spent.

          Today, total compensation continues to rise, and we have the City Staff proposing that some of the new parcel tax monies should go towards buying Nugget Fields and building a new 50 Meter Swimming Pool complex. Sounds to me like a repeat of past performance of increasing spending on Staff and buying more toys to make the voters feel good. How exactly do you see that there has been any sort of change in the City’s approach to spending?

          While we are at it, exactly what has the City done with regards to economic development? Anything that you can point to? Not hypothetical or proposed, but real action? We certainly are talking about it at greater volume and with some better knowledge thanks to the hiring of Rob White, but what have we actually accomplished? Has Rob for instance, brought in more new money than was spent to hire him? I doubt it very much.

          Near as I can tell the City continues charging along with the same poor decision making processes, so why is it you feel that we should trust them now with more money?

          Until I see real progress, I don’t have any reason to believe that anything will change, and if the decision making processes don’t change, five years from now we will be voting on more (necessary) taxes with the same argument that we should have faith that ‘this time things have really changed (trust us).’ Bah!

          1. Barack Palin

            I can’t believe people aren’t up in arms about a new parcel tax that a huge chunk of will be used to buy Nugget Fields from the school district. The school district was just given this land which was most likely never going to be used for a school as the plot was always considered too small as I understand it.

          2. Matt Williams

            BP, why would the City ever buy Nugget Fields from the School District? That makes no sense at all.

          3. Mark West

            That is exactly what the Staff proposed as one of the justifications for the new parcel tax Matt. Actually, it makes plenty of sense, because all the “Soccer Moms and Dads” want that field to remain available for their kids to run around on. How better to convince the voters to increase their own taxes then to give them pretty new baubles to put ’round their necks (how about a 50 meter pool for your sir)?

          4. Tia Will

            Mark,

            The “divorce” that I was alluding to was not directly related to taxes but rather to our choice of council members.
            We get what we elect. I will agree with you that the “economic development” that we have achieved recently has been very weak. How about that loverly Target that squeaked by and is only now being joined by a TJ Max. Not exactly what I would consider an economic breakthrough in innovation. I think you may be selling Robb a little short. He has been here a very short time and at a time when there have been multiple hot button issues. I think giving this approach longer would be a prudent move. I also think that we have real choices in terms of the candidates for the two city council seats.

          5. Barack Palin

            I would think Tia Will would be happy to have big box stores in Davis and keep our locals from having to travel to other cities and spewing toxins into the air while their cars ruin the streets traveling all that extra distance. How are our local bicyclists and walkers going to get to big box stores located so far away? You talk about disproportionately ruining the streets and atmospere driving their evil cars all that extra distance. If we’re going to have a utopian society where people walk and bike then we’re going to need big box local stores.

          6. Tia Will

            BP

            This makes the assumption that “big box stores” are going to remain a major economic model forever. I think that the executives of the former Borders and/or
            the former BlockBuster might see this somewhat differently. I believe that the trend to more and more on line sales may decrease the sales at the “big box” stores thus decreasing their contribution to local economies as well as to the over all economy.
            I certainly do not see them as innovative and I see them as based on an isolationist view of each community as in competition with each other rather than each making unique contributions to the region.

          7. Mark West

            Don’t get me wrong Tia, I think Rob is fine, he just isn’t an example of economic development.

            So far the City has not changed anything. We are still headed on the pathway to insolvency with nothing more than promises that things will get better. Nope. Not as long as we throw money around like we are printing it, and excuse the excesses by saying “these MOUs were the best we could get” or “it is a loan that only costs us $66,000 a year.”

            As long as we spend more than we take in, we are on the route to insolvency. We first need to stop the bleeding, then we can talk about how we are going to back fill the deficit. Giving the City more money first, especially with the record of decisions made by the current City Council over the past 12 months, is foolish in the extreme.

            Robb might bring some hope of real change, especially if Rochelle is re-elected and she consistently matches her votes to her rhetoric. Sheila and John? Yeah, not so much.

          8. Tia Will

            Mark

            “As long as we spend more than we take in, we are on the route to insolvency”

            Agreed. However, money has to be spent to keep the city running. This is not a case of not raising your teens allowance because they are not using it wisely.
            This is a matter of fulfilling real obligations to real people, both citizens and employees of the city.

            If we do not raise more money in the short term, the city will be bankrupt.
            If we do not develop economically to sustain the city in the long term, the city will be bankrupt.
            I simply do not see how either the long or short term solution should be held hostage to the other unless of course you are of the belief often put forward by Frankly with regard to the public schools that we should let the whole thing self destruct and start all over again. A policy that I certainly don’t recommend.

          9. Mark West

            I agree we need both Tia, along with more aggressive cost cutting. That sort of comprehensive approach is what I have been advocating all along. One choice alone won’t do the job, so we need to be doing all three right now. So far we are acting on one (raising taxes), ignoring a second (cost cutting) and only talking about the third. Action on all three accounts is what I require for my support, because nothing else will work.

            If we won’t commit to the comprehensive approach, we will be better off going bankrupt now and getting back to work, rather than throwing a lot more money down the drain.

    2. Frankly

      Got it. That makes some sense.

      But your point “not willing to pay for them”… you know that it includes those that block or delay economic development, right?

      I had a thought this morning…

      It has become increasingly clear to me that one of our biggest issues related to our representative democratic political system is the lack of budget transparency.

      Today the total federal, state and local government spending accounts for about 41% of GDP. That’s right… our government is spending $4.10 and the private economy gets $5.90. The trend-line is the government taking more and more and more.

      But the problem is that we have hit a saturation point where too much money flows into and out of government and is not in our power to spend as we see fit.

      Those on the political left never are satisfied with the amount of money flowing into and out of government. They want more.

      Those on the political right are never satisfied with the amount of money flowing into and out of government. They want less.

      It seems that there is an opportunity to bridge some of this gap through much more government transparency. People from both sides would make better cost-benefit decision for taxation policy if only they had a clear understanding about where all the existing money is coming from, and where it is being spent…. and related to that, where new tax-generated revenue would be spent.

      It is a trust issue to some degree. But it is also simple business.

      But politicians… especially Democrats… like the lack of budget transparency. They like pork. They like spending other people’s money without having to be accountable for it.

      At a local level, if we want to make a case for tax increases, and we want voter support for it, then we should be creating a clear financial picture for our current situation, and include clear and binding commitments for fiscal prudence going forward.

      If these two upcoming tax measures fail, it will be because a number of voters did not trust city government to be fiscally responsible. And gaining that trust should start with complete budget transparency.

      If the excuse is that our budget process is too complicated, well then this supports a call for smaller government.

    3. South of Davis

      Tia wrote:

      > My point was that things that used to be considered discretionary
      > are now considered necessities

      Very true just think how much money we would have for roads if we didn’t pay for health care for city workers (something almost no city worker had 100 years ago)…

  6. Tia Will

    Frankly

    “But your point “not willing to pay for them”… you know that it includes those that block or delay economic development, right?”

    No, I don’t know that. See my post of 5:37. Add to that the fact that I have stated over and over that I support increased taxes on those who are able to pay ( of which I am a prime example) while maintaining the same tax rates for those who cannot afford more. Add to that the fact that I have also posted that i would favor a complete restructuring of our economic system and I arrive at a belief system that does not include the knowledge that you seem to think should be universal.

    I also do not share your belief that more is always better. I believe for any given system, there is a point of equilibrium beyond which more will not be better but may actually diminish the well being of the whole. I believe that this principle can be applied to all systems just as it can be applied within medicine. The difficulty is in finding the “sweet spot” where anticipated natural decline is balanced by healthy balanced growth.

  7. Dave Hart

    I just feel compelled to remind everyone that there appeared to be no problem with city finances prior to the financial industry collapse and subsequent government reaction (inaction?) in 2008. When everyone thought the future was going to continue to be bright, the sky seemed to be the limit. There is still no one in local government who has a compelling story to tell about how we got into this and therefore, how to get out of it. I know that not fixing the infrastructure, failing to invest in our future (at a time when interest rates are near to zero), blaming past city council policies and employee union demands are NOT the right actions. I will vote yes on the tax increases.

    I also do not think the long term solutions are going to be found at the local level. City, county and state government has limited options. The pressures bearing down on our little town are the same as what are threatening every city, including Detroit. The solutions will be national. But I sure would love to hear from just one person running for a local office a compelling narrative that lays out the ugly truth and what really does lay ahead for us all over the foreseeable future so we can mitigate the damage. I think investing in the publicly owned utility is a good thing to do and I do not favor starving the goose that can lay a golden egg, let alone eating the damn thing.

    1. David Greenwald

      Dave: You know full well that in the 2008 Council Elections, both Cecilia and Sue were warning of the impending collapse, as it turned out a mere matter of months before the economy collapse and I seem to recall you getting in hot water for calling the pensions received by safety, unsustainable.

  8. Dave Hart

    I forgot to add that I fully support the numerous comments made here about the inability of our current elected local councils and boards to explain in plain language why it seems that “all of the sudden” there is such a crisis. It is not passing the buck to look at the national and even international scene to put things in context. That doesn’t mean we absolve ourselves of action because of forces beyond our control; but, it is critical to see our situation in context and clearly so that we can all have some confidence that the solutions make sense even if they aren’t pretty.

    1. Mark West

      Dave:

      How long ago did we stop paying enough for needed road repairs? Building repairs? Water system maintenance? Upgrades? When did we fail to establish reserve funds for replacing or repairing all of our infrastructure? All of that started in 2008, is that what you want to believe? Our problems are not due to forces outside the City limits, they were decisions that we made, or failed to make, years before, when we decided to spend money to make people feel good rather than to pay to maintain the infrastructure of the City. The economic collapse of 2008 did not create our problems, it only exacerbated them.

      The only reason there didn’t ‘appear’ to be any problems with our fiscal situation before 2008 is because the City Council and Senior Staff chose to actively hide that information from the public, an approach to fiscal opaqueness that has been endemic within our local political culture for decades. “Don’t worry, everything is fine, let’s give everyone a raise and have a party! Woo Hoo!”

      One question that really needs to be asked is why do we have a Finance and Budget Commission if we are not going to give those fine people the time and resources to actually examine the budget in detail before it is voted on by the City Council. The truth is that the City Council and Senior Staff do not want anyone to know how we actually spend our money (they may not even know themselves). Has that approached changed with this current Council? Nope. Will it change in the future? Not if we keep throwing money at them every time their ‘party’ starts to slow down.

  9. Frankly

    “I just feel compelled to remind everyone that there appeared to be no problem with city finances prior to the financial industry collapse.”

    Not at all. We were talking about unfunded public sector pensions long before the mistakes of CRA, the repeal of Glass Steagall, Freddie, Fannie and Volcker and Greenspan’s “I’M SO SCARED OF INFLATION RUINING MY REPUTATION” hyper low interest rates caused the mortgage lending and home equity feeding frenzy that eventually popped and set us back to economic reality.

    We have been over spending since forever.

    For our federal government, of the last 80 years, only 14 of them were surplus years.

    The problem is simply the chickens coming home to roost.

  10. Tia Will

    “hyper low interest rates caused the mortgage lending and home equity feeding frenzy that eventually popped and set us back to economic reality.”

    Interesting view on cause and effect. Somehow you have conveniently gone from Greenspan’s reputation insecurity
    ( which may or may not exist) as the causal agent instead of placing blame where it belongs, on the individual choices made by those actually conducting the business on a day to day business. Greenspan did not force anyone to write a loan that they had to have known was unsustainable for the applicants. These were individual decisions made by individual lenders.

    An analogy from medicine. In the still predominant model of “fee for service medicine” I will make more money if I perform more surgeries ( in my case, hysterectomies). This does not mean that I should ever recommend a hysterectomy for a woman who does not medically need one. If I do unneeded hysterectomies to boost my income, the blame is on me for acting unethically, not on the fee for service model. This is another example of the point I made on a previous thread. If every individual acted ethically and responsibly, there would be no need for the government regulations that you abhor. Unfortunately, they don’t.

  11. South of Davis

    Tia wrote:

    > An analogy from medicine. In the still predominant model of
    > “fee for service medicine” I will make more money if I perform
    > more surgeries ( in my case, hysterectomies).

    We all know that many (but not all) MDs do what they can to get more money from patients

    http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/2011/11/30/patients-get-more-unnecessary-scans-from-doctors-who-own-equipment/

    > This is another example of the point I made on a previous thread.
    > If every individual acted ethically and responsibly, there would be
    > no need for the government regulations that you abhor.
    > Unfortunately, they don’t.

    So are you saying that a MD should get government approval for everything they do (or should the government say out of medicine and just regulate “others” like Frankly)?

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