Palo Alto Officials: Stop Milking Us For More Money! | An alternative view | Diane Diamond

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Once again, another utility rate hike is planned for Palo Alto residents, courtesy of our City Manager and City Council. Will these almost annual hikes never stop? Or is the utilities department just a golden cow to provide a green revenue stream for city coffers?

The delightful irony of their latest ruling is the result of a lawsuit by resident Miriam Green, filed in 2016, which challenged the city’s long-term practice of shifting utility revenues to the ‘general fund / fund’. actions ”of the city, because this transfer was tagged.

Green claimed that the city’s gas price increases were actually taxes, not an increase in gas prices. And voters never approved these hikes, although taxes must get voter approval before any further rate hikes. The Santa Clara County Superior Court agreed and ordered the city to reimburse affected residents for the $ 12 million of their money the city collected. These transfers were therefore illegal, the court said last year.

The city hinted last week that it knew it had already spent the over $ 12 million illegally billed us and, presumably, did not want to reimburse us. He appealed the court ruling and also asked that the repayment be spread over 10 years. The court refused. Last week, the council, in turn, appealed to court again because it was faced with “these new legal issues” which, rather than repaying the $ 6 million owed in October, are stopping the refund clock for a while.

So, in its unique way, the council has been trying to figure out what to do. The city’s income has declined dramatically over the past two years, in part due to the pandemic. He got creative: let’s increase the utility rates we charge customers from 1% to 10%, and that way the city can raise millions!

This means the city is asking residents to pay higher tariffs for utilities so they can collect the money and return our $ 12 million for the higher gas tariffs they charged us for years. years !!

Five stars for the performance!

For more than a decade, the city has increased a half-dozen utility tariffs that consumers pay monthly. As the weekly reported in 2019: “The latest round of hikes marks the fifth year in a row the city has raised utility prices. Since 2014, the last year there was no rate increase, the average residential utility bill has gone down. over $ 70. ”It has grown a lot more since then.

Go to Google and check out the Palo Alto utility rate increases and you’ll see one long last increase in increases for water, gas, electricity, storm sewers, utility taxes, and more. during the last years.

And at its September 21 meeting, the city’s finance committee unsurprisingly considered a new additional tax of 1-10% on the use of utilities. Currently, the tax rate is 5% of the consumption of electricity, gas and water.

According to staff analysis, a 1% increase in the utility tax for electricity, gas and water customers would bring in about $ 2 million in annual revenue. Raising the current rate 10 percent more (from 5 to 15 percent) would bring in about $ 20 million in new annual revenue.

What happiness for the city coffers. But what about consumer wallets?

Yes, this city’s typical response to deficits is to charge those of the city: increase corporate taxes, charge more for utilities, increase permit fees, etc.

I am angry and tired of these constant increases in public services. These taxes are regressive. We, the residents, are their golden cow. You, council and staff, treat this cow.

And, by the way, we as the city pay for your appeals to the courts – especially those delaying our money back. Irony squared.

If the council accepts the proposed increase, it would be during the November 2022 ballot, with a business tax.

But wait, there is more, as the TV commercials proclaim.

As it turns out, city council recently learned that Palo Alto owed $ 500 million in employee pensions. Yes, it’s half a billion.

The staggering increase in pension obligations for Palo Alto employees represents a whopping 23% growth over the past three years. And the amount the city has put in a special fund to help pay off that debt is just $ 7 million so far.

Among those who continue to receive pension checks are former city manager June Fleming, who retired in 2000 (21 years ago) and then moved to Virginia, and Frank Benest, who held the same position, “retiring” (with a nudge from the board?) 2008. There are thousands of other former employees who are receiving very healthy pensions, in some cases equivalent to their old salaries – with COLA adjustments.

Let’s just turn off a few taps around town, one way or another. Pensions cannot be changed – or can they? Perhaps this is the time when we could hire a good consultant. And the huge expense doesn’t have to be that huge.

PS
Here are two “consent approval” items from next week’s city council meeting (October 4). Typically, items like this are approved without discussion. Or, if a board member objects to a point, their comments as to why the “no” is heard after the approval vote.

1. Approval of an exemption from competitive solicitation and Amendment Order # 1 to existing contract C20172366A with Hotline Construction, Inc. for additional underground construction and emergency construction services, increasing the contract amount $ 6,800,000 for a new Exceed the amount of $ 11,300,000; and approve a budget amendment in the electricity fund
2. Approval of the Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) contract with Sensus USA Inc. in the amount of $ 15,283,218; and Authorization for the City Manager to negotiate and execute change orders up to an amount not to exceed $ 1,484,000, for a total contract amount not to exceed $ 16,767,218; Approval of amendment 2 with E Source for an amount not exceeding $ 1,339,947 for phase 3 AMI Consulting; and 3) Adoption of a resolution to transfer up to $ 18,900,000 from the reserves of the Special Electric Project to the EL-11014 Smart Grid Technology Installation Project.

That’s a lot of money for a council consent program!



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