Wednesday, January 2, 2002/lk
I find statements like "the sewer funds are all broke" and "we spent all our money on debt service and (sewage plant) construction and that's why were in the hole" to be less then genuine. I haven't had an opportunity to review operational costs, the source of funds for expansion and maintenance, or the level of systems development charges assessed to new residential and commercial developments, so I also can't say who is really paying the bill. And it is clear from the recent article in the Hood River News, that the City of Hood River is also mum on the subject. Specifically, the subject of a new water main ($19 million) does not indicate whether the upgrade is a maintenance issue or an expansion issue or a combination of both.
When a utility fee increase of 45 percent is proposed by city government, it seems reasonable that more information be provided than anecdotal statements that fall well short of an explanation. Why are enterprise fund levels so low? When did the city start charging system development fees? Is the city in the habit of giving away system capacity in the name of job creation or as a way of encouraging new residential development?
Could it be that the city failed to establish and or increase system development charges soon enough? And now the only way needed upgrades can be accomplished is to ding existing development twice? When new development fails to pay its fair share of future maintenance and expansion costs, existing development is generally left to pick up the tab.
In addition to comparing fees imposed by like-sized communities, the other side of the equation includes system development fees and the resulting enterprise funds that are to be made available for maintenance, upgrades and expansion. Rather than applauding past decision to maintain low and or nonexistent development fees, understand that the proposed 45 percent increase represents the actual un-funded costs everyone will now pay.
Why is the city now coming forward with the proposed increase? Is it because the issue was neglected for far to long?
Perhaps the city council should pass yet another resolution, this time to pay a competent engineering firm to analyze current systems development fees. Excess system capacity isn't a commodity that is given away because a local realtor thinks development fees are too high.