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Sierra Madre residents get overview of how the system works; not all are convinced it is
By Terry Miller
It seems most appropriate now, to quote that brilliant author and humorist, Mark Twain: “Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over.” For this is precisely what is happening in Sierra Madre right now.
The curious thing about this water issues in Sierra Madre is the compelling opposition to not only water rate hikes but enormous number of questions regarding the financial aspect of Bonds and the alleged lack of transparency in local government as some see it.
What’s really happening? Well, if you’ll pardon the pun, it depends on who you talk to.
The first in a series of community meetings to address these issues was held Aug 14. During that meeting, one resident protested that not a single question he handed the city manager was addressed. Additionally, one resident has since filed a complaint with the District Attorney alleging fraud and comingling funds in the city of Sierra Madre. The details of which were mentioned in last week’s paper or you can see the story on line at: www.sierramadreweekly.com For the record, Elaine Aguilar, Sierra Madre city manager, categorically denies she evaded any questions and encourages the community to continue to ask the tough questions. ” We are here for the residents to do just that,” Aguilar said.
During the latest, albeit lightly attended meeting on Monday evening, it seems some editing of one resident’s questions allegedly took place according to our investigative colleague and witty-wordsmith John Crawford who runs the Sierra Madre Tattler blog. Here’s part of his articulate jousting on Monday’s meeting:
“The water bond avoidance scenario went something like this. About half of Bruce Inman’s presentation was given to reciting a laundry list of quite expensive capital expenditures that he believes need to be made. Bruce’s golden rainbow included $440,900 for a Mountain Trail water main, $463,000 for a Well 4 rehab, $830,750 for a Well 5 rehab, $422,215 for sewer lining and spot repairs, and $908,938 in local match cash for a Santa Anita water diversion structure. To give you just a small sampling from his wish list.
So the obvious question was how the City plans to pay for these kinds of things. And this is what I wrote on the little card that I’d been handed:
How are these capital repairs and improvements to be paid for? Additional bonds? Loans? Water rate hikes? Or bake sales?
I’d hoped the bake sales bit might sneak me past the screen. However, when it comes to getting more money out of the tax and ratepayers, our City Manager is as disciplined and humorless as a guillotine engineer. Here is how my question was edited for the camera:
Someone has asked how the City pays for capital improvements.
Despite what I had written on that card, no mention of incurring any possible new bond debt was made. And for the second meeting in a row any hint of a question about new water bonds being issued by the City was left lying on the cutting room floor. Something that leads me to believe that this is a special topic, and as in the case of most special topics there just might be some hard truth to it.”
Resident Earl Richie maintains that the city is comingling funds and yet the city categorically denies this. Richie asked his bank for copies of his cancelled checks for proof of deposit information. His bank complied. Richey believes that water and sewer payments should be deposited into the Water Enterprise. However, it appears there is only one account and this “must be the general fund,” says Richey “this is comingling of monies!” Richie contends.
On Aug 26, Richie sent an addendum to the DA asking some more questions about the city of Sierra Madre and its handling of monies. Thus far, the city has heard nothing from the District Attorney regarding the allegations.
City Manager Elaine Aguilar told Beacon Media News Tuesday that the city’s financial structure runs dissimilar to that of a private enterprise. Therefore a single checking account may be in force for all city payments but that there is most certainly “fund accounting” within that bank account. As for the allegations of comingling funds, Aguilar fervently defends her staff and accounting procedures. ” It simply isn’t true,” she asserted.
As to the question of the city violating the freedom of information act, again, the city manager strongly defends her record. ” The Public Information Act is Federal. What we respond to is the California Public Records Act,” Aguilar said. “We have complied with all records requests on this matter…” she told Beacon Media.
On June 25 the city of Sierra Madre approved a $48,000 contract awarded to Raftelis Financial consultants in Pasadena to conduct a rate study services of the water and sewer for Sierra Madre.
According to the firm: “The City last conducted a utility rate study in 2010. Since, that time, there have been significant changes to consumption patterns based on an increased emphasis on conservation and the general economy; this prompts a closer look at the assumptions and contingency plans associated with projecting revenue requirements. Additionally, revisiting a previously revised rate structure has potential for yielding benefits in terms of both improved revenue sufficiency and increased water conservation.
The scope of work outlined here proposes to re-evaluate rates and rates structures in a manner that maintains the City’s balance between equitable service delivery and lowest cost. In so doing, RFC will address the following objectives, as identified by the City:
o Revenue sufficiency
o Fairness and equitability
o Simple to understand and implement
o Defensible and consistent with regulatory requirements
o Consistent with Best Management Practices of the industry
o Encourage conservation and efficient use of resources
City Manager Elaine Aguilar said the preliminary findings from this study will be available Sept 10 and on Oct 10, a general overview of all the community meetings and Raftelis study findings will be discussed and dissected.
The next meeting is Sept. 14 at 9AM at the Maintenance Yard, 621 East Sierra Madre Blvd.