It’s the Infrastructure, STUPID!

It was reported in the Orange County Register this Wednesday morning that the Garden Grove City Council approved a revised increase in water rates.  The reason for this increase is to fund badly needed improvements and repairs to the City water services system.  It should be noted that the failure to address these issues was due to the failure of Republicans like Van Tran, Janet Nguyen, Ken Maddox, and Mark Leyes to address the needs of the system infrastructure, years ago.

In typical form, it didn’t take the OCBlog long to assail Democrats Mark Rosen and Bruce Broadwater, along with Republicans Steve Jones and Bill Dalton for taking the painful, but necessary action to meet the needs of the city.  The anonymous blogger (LittleSaigonWatch) who posted the story praised Dina Nguyen for being the only member to vote no. From OCBlog:Whet Elephant

Garden Grove Raised Water Rate

Last night the Garden Grove City Council on a 4-1 decision voted to raise the water rate by 91% over the next 6 years: 40% in the first year; 20% in the second year; 10% in the third year; 9% in the fourth year; 7% in the fifth year; and 5% in the sixth year. The new increase will take effect immediately. Dina Nguyen was the only person who voted ‘No’ against the proposed increase.

It comes as no surprise to me that Mark Rosen and Bruce Broadwater would be in favor of such a huge water rate increase, but I didn’t expect our two Republican members – Bill Dalton and Steve Jones – to be in supportive of this as well.

If anything, Nguyen should be criticized, for failing to see the need to finally address a system on the verge of collapse.

Missing the Elephant in the RoomOnly in a Republican world can there be praise for incompetent ignorance of the need to maintain the public infrastructure.  Such stupidity is called “being penny wise and pound foolish.” You cannot put off scheduled repairs indefinitely.  The longer you put it off the worse the problem and the more it costs to fix it.  If you listen to this nut-job on OCBlog though, you would get the impression that being “conservative” somehow means putting off expenses till later so that your children have to pay for it.

Mayor Dalton, who has know that this problem has existed for years, should be commended for joining the other two senior members of the Council, Broadwater and Rosen, along with new member Steve Jones in approving the revised rate increase.  The initial cost will be painful, but in the long run the taxpayers will be better off for it.  Now if only these guys and Ms. Nguyen address the need to further fund the infrastructure of the Garden Grove Sanitation District system will we make significant progress towards stabilizing future costs of critical city services.

  14 comments for “It’s the Infrastructure, STUPID!

  1. Aunt Millie
    June 14, 2007 at 4:37 am

    The Garden Grove water rate increase story is fascinating to me because it’s so predictable. I’ll call it a legacy in part to the poisonous Bob Taxfighter Dinsen, who legally changed his name so he could posture as a taxfighter on the ballot. It’s equally a legacy of that long list of ambitious partisan politicians who had more interest in running for higher office than they did in doing long-term planning of their city’s infrastructure. Add in the ruthless Vietnamese political machine that Van Tran has assembled, and you have a toxic mix of elected officials who let their city’s sewer system, water system, and roads slide into disrepair. ( Let’s also give this body a special award for Mark Leyes, who is perpetually tardy to every event.)

    As a point of reference I did some research yesterday into the water rates in neighboring Fountain Valley, a city with a history of good long-term fiscal planning, infrastructure, and relatively nonpartisan elected officials. It’s the same age as Garden Grove, has the same cost factors for water, the same geography, geology, et cetera.

    What’s happening to water rates in Fountain Valley this year? No increase is forecast as part of their regular budget process, but a new long term infrastructure plan and rate structure may bring an increase late in the year in the single digits.

    Are their rates higher now? No, for a frugal retired homeowner using 2000 cubic feet per billing period, the water bill in Fountain Valley was slightly lower than a comparable user in Garden Grove prior to the massive hit taken by people living in Garden Grove.
    For higher volume users, it’s harder to calculate, but there’s no question that after the staggering rate increases, every user will be paying substantially more in Garden Grove than in Fountain Valley.

    There was a reason why progressives in the early part of the twentieth century insisted on non-partisan elections for local offices, and local cities are much better served by local elected officials who are more interested in serving their communities than in the next rung on the party ladder.

  2. gg resident
    June 14, 2007 at 7:35 am

    You forgot the raise several years ago when they added new fee’s for the sewer system to GG water bills. That doubled some bills. Here’s how my Water Bill bill breaks out for a single family home.

    1 unit = 748 gallons of water
    9 Units @ 1.06 ea. $17.97
    Flat fee service charge -$6.00
    Commodities charge at 0.27 $2.43

    Water sub total – $17.97
    Capital Improvement fee $1.38
    Sewer Maintenance Fee $ 17.02
    Total Bill – $36.37

  3. Aunt Millie
    June 14, 2007 at 8:07 am

    According to my information, your sewer and water charges for the same level of consumption would be less than $23.00 in Fountain Valley, where you haven’t had the elected taxfighters and political wannabe’s of Garden Grove protecting you from the evils of preventive maintenance for the last twenty years. And you still have one champion, Dina Nguyen who would probably pay for your current needs with a tax cut.

  4. Ray
    June 14, 2007 at 8:36 am

    What “problem” is Prevatt referring to? Water mains aren’t bursting. Reservoirs aren’t collapsing (as they have in Fountain Valley). Water is flowing freely in all the new hotels that the council will take credit for at the drop of the hat. Aside from the new federal regulations excuse, there is no “problem” other than……drum roll……..the city is in a budgetary crisis.

    That “Aunt Millie” is a class act, by the way. Blaming a guy who’s been dead several years now. Shame on you.

  5. Aunt Millie
    June 14, 2007 at 8:58 am

    The reservoir collapse was in Westminster. Nice mastery of the facts, Ray.

    And boy, you sure have a good sense of how to maintain infrastructure. Wait ’til the water stops flowing, and then do something?

  6. Ray
    June 14, 2007 at 9:15 am

    Was it Westminster? Oh well. I still blame Bob Dinsen.

    “Wait ’til the water stops flowing”…..what doomsday rhetoric. We heard the same song and dance with the sewer rate increase.

  7. Aunt Millie
    June 14, 2007 at 3:21 pm

    “doomsday rhetoric?”

    Moi?

    No, Ray, you are the one who implied there was no problem unless water mains were busting or reservoirs collapsing.

    There’s a fairly simple methodology for maintaining infrastructure like sewer and water systems. Ir combines aggressive maintenance with reserve funds and regularly updated replacement schedules. If you have a public works department and a City Council that are doing their jobs, there aren’t any big surprises. Long term planning also results in the lowest long term costs for users of the system.

    The magnitude of the increase in Garden Grove is almost impossible unless the system has been under-maintained and under-funded for a fairly long period of time. The only other scenario which would make sense would be if Garden Grove were subsidizing its water rates with general fund revenue, but most governments maintain a separate water fund so that the costs are fairly apportioned among the users based on their volume, rather than subsidized by the taxpayers.

    From my conversations with people in the know in Garden Grove, there’s plenty of blame to go around, but much of the problem is attributed to a succession of crappy Council Members and a shortage of solid ones.

  8. Ray
    June 14, 2007 at 5:37 pm

    “The magnitude of the increase in Garden Grove is almost impossible unless the system has been under-maintained and under-funded for a fairly long period of time.”

    Aunt Millie is on the pipe!

  9. June 14, 2007 at 6:27 pm

    I heard that Millie doesn’t smoke. Though I have no clarification as to what that includes.

    Sorry Ray, Millie is right on. If the Council were to have invested in the infrastructure, we wouldn’t be here. Paying a little extra to build a reserve so that rates can remain stable is a sound fiscal policy that has not historically embraced by the Rpublicans on the Council.

    I do have to wonder if the City has borrowed from the water system reserves to meet other budget obligations? That would be a good question to ask. I seem to recall discussions, I think on the Sanitary District Advisory Commission, that several years ago the Sanitary District borrowed funds from the water district (City) to cover the costs of a major sewer line break in West Garden Grove. I recall the funds were paid back over time. It is possible that this has happened in other (more recent) budget shortfalls.

  10. Ray
    June 14, 2007 at 7:12 pm

    “I do have to wonder if the City has borrowed from the water system reserves to meet other budget obligations?”

    Borrowed?

  11. June 14, 2007 at 11:35 pm

    You’re right Ray, the term borrowed in this context, was liberally applied.

    With the right evidence, one might call it appropriated or stolen.

    If someone can find the proof one way or another, we’ll post it here.

  12. Ray
    June 15, 2007 at 9:55 am

    Is there any GG ordinance which prohibits the city from using water fees for any other purpose? (Had to ask that for Aunt Millie’s sake.)

    It’s going to be an interesting summer. GG lawns will turn brown by the block, and the city will get right to work improving our water-related infrastructure by continuing their important mission of painting fire hydrants white and blue.

    I blame Bob Dinsen.

  13. Aunt Millie
    June 15, 2007 at 10:53 am

    From Last Year’s GG Budget Document comes an admission that Garden Grove had been failing to fund capital improvement or replacement projects, and drawing down fund balances before the 2006 election.

    Water: The Water Services budget provides for the production and delivery of water throughout the City, replacement of water related infrastructure and equipment as needed, and the construction of new or enhanced water services necessitated by new development and existing infrastructural deficiencies. Because of continuing increased costs and declining water sales, the Water Services budget, for the second year, does not include any capital improvement projects, and the capital replacement program remains significantly scaled down. This year, the Water Services budget is being balanced by drawing down on all available reserves and all unallocated capital in other water funds.
    Staff will be developing and presenting a financial plan to the City Council to address the deteriorating financial condition of the Water Enterprise and lack of funding for infrastructure replacement and improvement.

    As to using revenues from the water fund to cover anything other than legitimate well-documented overhead, that’s a big no-no. We’ve passed a bunch of initiatives over the years that cover taxes and fees. Moving money from a legitimate user charge to other government expenditures is a big no-no.

    As to borrowing between funds, it’s not uncommon and not something that bothers people as long as the costs are fairly apportioned. I’d sure rather have my city borrow internally between funds than pay higher interest and loan origination fees at a bank or through bonds.

  14. Ray
    June 15, 2007 at 2:57 pm

    Didn’t the “redevelopment agency” pay like $5 million for a chunk of property on Harbor?

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