They’re at it again — elected bureaucrats in a usually under-the-radar government agency are getting in your pocket. The Register editorialized on the Orange County Sanitation District‘s plans to raise its fees by 15 percent earlier this month: Another boost in sewer service fees?. This is the same agency that funded a yoga priest, revealed by a scathing audit in 2005, resulting in the resignation of its General Manager.
The OCSD needs to especially explain these two pertinent paragraphs from the editorial:
We noted in a 2008 editorial that the OCSD board “just voted to increase sewer rates by 61 percent over five years. … The district argues that these increases – well above the rate of inflation – are necessary to fund ongoing infrastructure improvements.” Also, a 31 percent hike went through in 2005. Why weren’t those higher fees enough?
The district statement on the proposed rate hike includes a graph showing how OCSD’s average annual rate of $294 was lower than San Francisco’s $668. But it’s also nearly double the $149 of the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles, which serves dozens of L.A. County cities. Why are costs so much lower in a district with a similar climate and demographics?
Especially unacceptable is the idea that San Districts in third-world LA County operate at better than HALF THE COST of the OCSD after the proposed increase ($149 vs. $339 annually per average single-family home, a 125% difference). This makes no sense — since we found no rebuttal or letter from the agency in the Register after the editorial as often happens, we’ll presume the numbers are accurate and the agency has no reasonable explanation.
Also unspecified and unreported is the agency’s exposure to long-term pension obligations.
Our friend, the OC Insider also reminded us who the OCSD’s Chairman is, and the greed for taxes he showed when he was running for Assembly last year: Taxin’ Troy Edgar Pushing for a Massive Increase in Sewer Fees. Edgar succeeded in laying a Telephone Utility Tax on Los Alamitos when he was its revolving Mayor, after the OC GOP named him 2011’s Taxfighter of the Year (there hasn’t been one since). In fact, the Insider says that Edgar (who promised during his AD72 campaign to never raise taxes, but for now obvious reasons wouldn’t commit to the ATR Tax Pledge) is leading the charge for this latest increase. We expect he’d argue they’re fees, you know.
The OCSD just replaced its General Manager. James Herberg, a Civil Engineer, succeeded Jim Ruth, a long-time County manager who had no engineering experience. To his credit, as was a major issue with the County’s recent inability to hire a new CEO, “Herberg became the first OCSD employee to pick up 100% of the employee share of his pension costs even though he was not required to do so” — perhaps this would set an example for his peers and staff, both internal and external to the agency. But since Herberg won’t be coming on until April, we can’t trust Taxin’ Troy to explain why the infrastructure is still in such disrepair after the significant 2005 and 2008 increases. Since Ruth is still on the payroll, maybe it’s up to him. The next Board meeting is March 27th in Fountain Valley.
OCSD needs to stop with the Bio-Solids and be challenged to explain WHY it requires more than double the money to operate than agencies in LA County, as the Register put it, cost “so much lower…with a similar climate and demographics?” We’d believe the union influences would be similar as well.
Their explanation on the rate increases from their website is only one sentence long, “The proposed rates are necessary to address the cost of inflation on items necessary to inspect, repair, operate, and maintain $6.2 billion of infrastructure.” And here is the portrayal from the same webpage that the Register referenced:
The agency’s budgets are on its website as well, but their work and infrastructure is too esoteric for an average taxpayer or newspaper to analyze — BUT, an organization that could understand it would be a private sector engineering firm that could as well be invited to competitively bid on operating this agency. Why can’t this operation be contracted out? Surely there are major engineering firms in California and elsewhere that would covet the opportunity at this business.
The private sector needs a chance at this — a fairly done, competitive bid will settle what it REALLY costs to run this operation and professionally maintain the infrastructure, upgrading it only as prudent, with public approval. Here’s a list of engineering firms that handle wastewater treatment — it includes large firms with Orange County offices like Parsons Brinckerhoff, CH2M Hill, Jacobs and URS — we’ve checked and they’re all in the wastewater business.
If the OCSD Board is so cocksure this rate increase is necessary, on top of two others since 2005, let them PROVE their competence by asking the private sector to show they can’t run it for less money.
UPDATE: Jon Matthews from http://www.thatradioshow.net/ posted this in Facebook today:
Tonight’s show will pit OC Councilwoman Deborah Pauly against OC Councilman Troy Edgar in a debate over yet another rate increases in sanitation rates in Orange County. Edgar’s position is they need another 15% in addition to the 61% increases over the last 5 years to keep up with costs. Deborah’s point is they should look for savings before increasing rates. The catch? The Board gets a raise. These issues are a great way to learn how politics work at all levels from the folks that play the game. Starts at 7 PM (PST) http://www.thatradioshow.net/