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Spin Control

Posts tagged: water rates

Condon’s water rate plan to be released today

Spokane Mayor David Condon will present his plan to revamp the city's water rates today.

Condon highlighted the city's restructured water rates in his campaign last year. The change, approved in 2010, lowered rates on those who use less and increased rates on those who use more.

City Council President Ben Stuckart said earlier this week that he had seen Condon's plan and likely would support it.

City union agrees to contract extension

(This post was updated at 4 p.m. Saturday.)

City Adminstrator Ted Danek said Friday that the membership of Local 270, the city's largest union, voted overwhelmingly this week to approve a three-year contract extension.

The contract currently expires at the end of 2012. The proposal will take the contract through 2015. The deal doesn't change employee benefits. It also doesn't change raises that already were in the contract for next year. But it does freeze wage levels in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Mayor-elect David Condon has criticized the proposal because it means he won't be part of shaping a contract. (A letter he signed along with four members of next year's City Council is printed in full at the end of the post.) Others argue that three years of no raises is a great deal that might be hard to achieve if Condon was at the table because unions might not be as willing to come to an agreement with a mayor who campaigned, in part, on how city workers were overcompensated.

City administrators also note that Condon will have plenty of other deals to work on. Outgoing Mayor Mary Verner hasn't come to agreements with other unions that have contracts that expire at the end of the year, including with the city's administrators union. So those agreements will be up to Condon to make.

The 270 contract, along with a nearly identical contract extension for the city's prosecutors union, will be considered by the City Council on Monday.

Monday's meeting is pretty full, but one big issue may fade without a decision. Council President Joe Shogan said it appears that the City Council doesn't have enough votes to make a change to the water rate structure. So that issue likely will wait until next year. Condon said this week that waiting until he and the new council is sworn in is what the council should do.

(Keep reading if you want to read the letter from Condon.)

Verner tells KXLY radio that Zehm, water rate campaign issues ‘don’t have a lot of substance’

Mayor Mary Verner's interview last night with Mike Fitzsimmons on KXLY 920 AM has been making the rounds on Twitter today. And it's worth a listen.

Here's some of what was said. The entire interview is in the link above.

Verner: …I do know that on your radio show you’ve helped perpetuate a lot of misinformation so I’ve been up against a series of unfolding events and a very negative misinformation campaign and I still have a lot of support in this community. So I’m really looking forward to the rest of the ballots coming in.

Fitzsimmons: You sound quite bitter.

Verner: Mike I’ve been on your show quite a few times, and I’ve also listened to some of the things that you have perpetuated on your show. I’m sorry if it comes across as bitter. I’m very disappointed in you.

Fitzsimmons: Well, we’re disappointed in you as well, which is maybe why you’re losing tonight.

Verner: Well, that’s certainly your opinion and you’ve certainly had lots of airtime to express it. ….

(The two argue about how often the mayor has accepted invitations to appear on the show.)

Fitzsimmons: I don’t want to get into it. You’re the one who brought the issue up to begin with. Perhaps you might want to look at water rates, you might want to look at the whole Otto Zehm thing if you’re really looking for the reason why you’re trailing right now.

Verner: Well, I have looked into that and those are exactly a couple of the issues that you’ve kind of put on the block that don’t have a lot of substance to them. But I’m still very pleased with the support that I have ….

Spokane water bill shocker: most paid less this summer

The results are in and they're somewhat shocking.

Spokane's utility billing department has compiled the data from water bills that were received in August and September, and 53 percent of them were less than they would have been under the 2010 rate structure.

Other stats (the ones that may indicate why some are upset):

- 37 percent paid up to $50 more during the two-month cycle.

- 7 percent paid between $50 and $100 more during the two-month cycle.

- 3 percent paid more than $100 more during the two-month cycle.

The City Council voted in May 2010 to redo the water rate structure to lower rates on those who use less and increase rates on those who use more.

The city estimated that 60 percent of customers would pay less over the course of the year under the new system, but that wasn't expected necessarily for the summer months — especially because of the huge outcry heard from the public since summer bills were mailed. Mayor Mary Verner has said she will introduce a new rate structure before the end of the year.

For more data, click on the document link attached to this entry.


Documents:

Verner’s message on water rates sounding more like Condon’s

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The second video on the mayoral race features one of the hottest topics: water rates.

Since this was filmed, Verner announced that she would float a new water rate proposal to City Council before the end of the year.

City Council President Joe Shogan already has started debate by introducing legislation to go back to rates based on the old water rate structure that was in place until last year. The result would be that rates would increase on those who use less and fall for those who use more.

Shogan said at a meeting Monday that he expects to hold a hearing on the topic sometime next month. Shogan, like Verner, supported the structure change last year, but now believes it should be changed.

City spokeswoman Marlene Feist said Verner will introduce her water rate proposal in time to be considered by the council during debate on Shogan's plan. It will be developed in consultation with HDR Engineering, which advised her and the council when setting rates last year.

Shogan said he introduced his rate proposal to spark debate and is open to Verner's idea or others that may emerge.

Billboard sponsor on water rates remains unknown

The person who has paid for five billboards criticizing the Spokane City Council and Spokane Mayor Mary Verner for their decisions related to water rates plans to remain anonymous.

Five billboards about the water rates were erected about a week ago and will stay up for the month of October, said Tom Townsend, general manager of Emerald Outdoor Advertising.

Townsend said the ads were not sponsored by Emerald, which had a widely publicized fight with the mayor in 2009 when she planned to end bus bench advertising.

“We're just the messenger,” Townsend said.

He also said the man who bought the ads is not related to the campaign of David Condon, who is challenging Verner in the November election, or anyone else running for office.

“It's not against anybody,” Townsend said. “It's just somebody giving his opinion on a matter.”

City Councilman Richard Rush, however, questioned how the billboard could be unrelated to the election since it specifically calls out “The Mayor and City Council” the month before an election.

Rush laughed when told that the purchaser did not plan to reveal himself.

“There's some courage for you,” Rush said.

Lori Anderson, spokeswoman for the state Public Disclosure Commission, said as long as the ads are not sponsored by a campaign, they would not have to be reported to the commission unless the total cost was at least $5,000 for each politician mentioned. Because it mentioned the mayor and City Council, the total cost of the campaign would have to reach $40,000.

Townsend said the total cost of the campaign was less than $5,000.

The politics of water rates

What might be the most curious thing about the current City Council debate on water rates is the timing.

Here the council is debating what may be the biggest political hot potato of the year even though ballots are sitting on kitchen tables ready to be marked in time for Tuesday's primary election.

If anyone questions the political ramifications of the rate boost proposals, consider this: Two mayoral candidates were in the audience Monday night: Mike Noder and David Condon. (Condon, by the way, said he has concerns about the proposed increase and would have voted against it.)

Council observers are used to politicians proposing a rate freeze in election years and more quietly asking for increases out of the election cycle. The chart showing percentage increases over the last decade clearly points to election-year hesitation on rates among mayors and councils.

But Mayor Mary Verner has gone ahead with steep proposed increases in water and sewer this year despite this being an election year. Not only that, the debates on the water and sewer rates were scheduled for this summer — in time to be considered by voters. Until last year, the council voted on utility rates along with the city budget in December.

So why the change?

Verner was angered by the council's decision last year to increase sewer rates by more than she had proposed to balance its decision to reject her administration's proposed water rate increase. She accused the council of playing with the rates out of concern for the utility taxes they generate for services like parks, police, fire and libraries. As a result, she and some council members opted to set utility rates for 2012 well before the council approves the budget to avoid setting utility rates to generate utility taxes.

And don't forget that as a candidate for mayor in 2007, Verner accused Mayor Dennis Hession of playing politics when he proposed rate freezes for 2008. Verner has said if former leaders hadn't balked at increases, she wouldn't be in the predicament of asking for boosts like the proposed 8 percent request for water.

Council rejects water rate boost

The Spokane City Council tonight unanimously rejected a nearly 8 percent increase in water rates, but that doesn’t mean bills won’t rise next year.

A majority of the council appeared to favor raising revenue by increasing fees to boost water revenue by an amount equal to what was requested by city administrators, but those members apparently disagree on how best to do that. A rejection of Council President Joe Shogan’s request to delay a decision for a week to examine competing proposals doomed the water rate plan for the night.

“It means we go back to the drawing board and try to bring back something that will give us four votes,” said Utilities Director Dave Mandyke, referring to the minimum number of council members who must agree in order for proposals to pass.

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About this blog

Jim Camden is a veteran political reporter for The Spokesman-Review.


Jonathan Brunt is an enterprise reporter for The Spokesman-Review.


Kip Hill is a general assignments reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Nick Deshais covers Spokane City Hall for The Spokesman-Review.

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