Contra Costa County, CA November 2, 1999 Election
Smart Voter

Richmond Municipal Sewer District Rate Increase

By Dale H. Paulson

Candidate for Council Member; City of Richmond

This information is provided by the candidate
I have strongly opposed this rate increase because the City failed to explore less costly options.
The City of Richmond has recently been embarrassed by a Grand Jury investigation of the Park and Recreation Department, which exposed the city administration's shoddy lack of management and oversight. Now the audit of the 1997-98 budget has been completed, and the problems are similar to those uncovered in the Grand Jury investigation. What the audit has turned up, once again, are serious flaws in the management of city finances.

Quoting from an article in the West County Times on results of the audit, are some of the indicated flaws:

  • Inadequate management oversight of accounting operations and poorly maintained financial records that resulted in numerous errors, including a $1.5 million blunder by the city's former acting finance director.
  • The practice of allowing junior-level employees to override budget controls without seeking amendments from the City Council.
  • Insufficient control and stewardship of city-owned assets. (A good example is the sewer district, which I will address below).
  • Poor oversight of some of the city's federal and state grants.
  • A lack of proper accounting for unusually large and unexpected transactions, such as debt refinancing.

The City currently has a new City Manager and Finance Director who are implementing changes to improve accountability and efficiency citywide. However, a proficient and responsible City Council is key to ensuring that remedial action be taken regarding current financial practices. They must bring the residents of Richmond complete financial accountability, hire the expertise for long-range planning and efficiency, and secure a clear vision on how to make Richmond achieve municipal fiscal health. The days of Band-Aid, more of the same, solutions are past. We need `out of the box' thinking! I consider myself a visionary, and would be supportive of proactive creative planning and leadership. Richmond needs me on the City Council.

Still puzzling is the issue of the sewer system and the $4l,000,000 bond that the City Council recently proposed, voted for, and issued, to rebuild the sewer system. The questions that Nick Despota of the Richmond Neighborhood Coordinating Council brought up prior to the vote on the sewer bond, remain unanswered. In a May 27 letter he detailed reasons why the rate increase should be delayed, which include the following:

  • The plan doesn't identify how most of the money raised would be spent, even though the Public Services director, Rick Karvosky, notes that the city has budgeted $200,000 toward a `comprehensive master plan' for the next five to ten years.
  • Alternatives such as allowing another agency to run the system haven't been considered. I raised the question on more than one occasion at the city council meetings as to why the city hasn't evaluated asking the highly successful West Contra Costa Waste Water District to run our system. The City, instead, chose to hire the firm of Kennedy-Jenks to produce a report, which is questionable at best, since the study was done without lifting a single manhole to check the system, without using sewer cameras (even though the city already has a never-used truck equipped with such camera equipment), and without smoke testing the lines.
  • Questions about whether the system's problems are simply a lack of preventive maintenance have not been answered. The Public Services Director, Rick Karvosky, who is new to this post, admitted in open public forum before the City Council, that no maintenance or major repairs had been performed on the collection portion of the system for a couple of years.
  • An argument for using a flat rate instead of one based on usage is not persuasive. Residents of the Richmond Municipal Sewer System should have the ability to control their sewer bill? One has to question why the West Contra Costa Waste Water District (WCCWWD) is able to provide the same services as the Richmond Municipal Sewer System at a fee of only $109 per household. The new rate scale proposed by the Richmond Municipal Sewer System will increase residential sewer rates incrementally over the next ten years from the current annual rate of $166 to reach $397 per year. The WCCWWD has a first rate system, carry no debt, and has a cash surplus in the millions. This surplus will enable the WCCWWD to maintain their system for the next five years without a rate increase. With this sewer bond sale, the Richmond Municipal Sewer District is attempting to cover up years of gross mismanagement in order to finance the rebuilding of a system which was not maintained properly.

Remember, it took a minimum of five votes to approve this agenda item. Those voting for it were Tom Butt and Alex Evans who, in fact, initiated this item and are incumbents seeking reelection. Also voting in favor of the bond were Powers, Corbin, Marquez, and Anderson. I would like to ask the Mayor and the City Council how the funds to cover cost of maintenance, repair and replacement of the sewer system have been depleted, since no repairs and maintenance have been made in the last two years (which, incidentally, is why that ounce of prevention not taken, is presently costing us a pound of cure)? Sewer rates are set to cover the cost of maintenance and repair, and replacement when needed. But not when you raid the special revenue funds of $700,000 and use the money to pay for general government expenses. Donna Powers is said to have brought it to the attention of the City Council at which point the practice was abandoned as unacceptable. I would guess that Tom Butt and Alex Evans would have known that too, yet chose to ignore it. And, today the property owner has to bear the burden of an increased fee for the misappropriation and mismanagement of funds entrusted to the city.

If adequate oversight fails to be put in place, we will see history repeat itself. Self-policing has failed in Richmond, as is common in unchecked human endeavor. Good results are more apt to be achieved with the right people in office insisting on accountability. I strongly believe I am the right person for the office. I have integrity and the will, as your City Councilman, to see that this city is soundly represented.

Vote for control of your Tax Dollars.

Vote for Dale Paulson

Remember, Vote on Nov 2nd AND I'm 2nd from the top of your voter ballot.

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