City’s attitude: Let them eat cake | Guest Column | March 20
March 19, 2009 · Updated 4:49 PM
As troubling as the carnage on Wall Street has been to watch over the last year, it will be equally disturbing for utility ratepayers on Bainbridge to learn the facts as to the handling of our money by our leadership here on the island. I am writing as a member of the Bainbridge Ratepayers Alliance, a nonprofit organization founded to protect the interests of the utility ratepayers on the island.
The purpose of this letter is to clearly set forth our objectives and to correct any misinterpretations that may have come from Sean Roach’s article (“Dispute looms over city bonds,” March 13) about the bond financing. If you get water and/or sewer service from the city, you will want to read this. Additionally, we wish to work on behalf of the property owners who pay the stormwater management fee with their property tax.
On Feb. 27 two of us attended a special City Council meeting scheduled to discuss and pass the third reading of a $7 million bond issue for funding of the Waste Water Treatment Plant (WWTP). As the meeting began, Councilman Knobloch asked the other members what the bond was going to cost the ratepayers. Nobody could answer. Elray Konkel, the finance director, did promise to tell those in attendance that he would have an answer by the March 11 council meeting. We still don’t have an answer.
So this means that a majority of the council has been spending millions of our money on the WWTP since 2005 without knowing how it would impact the rates of the ratepayers who are footing the bill. Let them eat cake. Three days later we attended a Public Works Department meeting where the city engineer presented an analysis of the cost if the city were to shut down the WWTP. Obviously shutting down would have very negative cost consequences for the city, and we do not support that. We are interested in clarity regarding the financing of the plant.
The most revealing item from the meeting was that the plant, which is more than 50 percent complete, needs $4.5 million to pay all the bills and complete it. Then why has the majority (Snow, Stoknes, Peters and Franz), with the constant vigil of Mayor Kordonowy, been processing a bond issue of $7 million – $2.5 million more than needed?
We think we know. Nobody at the meeting would comment on my question of the discrepancy. The next day at a Finance Committee meeting we asked again. Nobody would address the issue when raised. Finally, when asked away from the meeting, Konkel said tersely that the excess money would be returned to the ratepayers. Not likely.
It gets sort of complicated here. In 2002 a design for the wastewater plant was produced that projected a perfectly adequate plant estimated to cost between $4.5 and $6 million. Someone decided we needed something grander. Tetra-Tech was engaged for a new design at a higher price tag of $13.5 million. Goodbye $6 million. The plant will likely cost nearly $16 million. If you are still curious, ask why, when the plant is nearly done, is the city going after $7 million in bond financing when it should have been obvious a year ago?
A letter from our attorney warned the city of several serious infractions. Without explanation the bond issue was reduced to $6 million, which passed by a 4-3 vote. The letter threatened legal action if the city does not take appropriate action.
Let me take a minute to remind the reader that the city is broke. It borrowed $600,000 from the water-fund reserves (our money) to float the city until tax revenue comes in May. The city is holding up payment to suppliers of goods and services. The council meets on March 18 to formulate a plan to cut the cost of government, which, if left untouched, would generate a cash shortage of between $3 million and $6 million this year.
We are not opposed to infrastructure improvements when they are carefully considered, adequately designed, in keeping with our needs and properly financed and paid for. The city, unable to pay for these after years of reckless and wasteful spending, had to resort to devious methods to take money from the one ignorant and compliant source, the utility ratepayers. Let them eat cake.
Dick Allen is a developer and long-time resident of Bainbridge Island.