Amazingly, the water utility’s response to the flooding in El Paso is a request for more of your money. My friends in other cities sometimes ask me if I make this stuff up. The fact is that as rich as my imagination is I couldn’t dream up the incompetence that is El Paso. Just last month the city imposed a water franchise fee on business water users to shore up the city’s deficits and proclaim they did not raise taxes. Although, as you all know a fee is another tax pretending it is not. Now, when the PSB should be answering why it cannot curtail flooding in the city they, instead demand more money from the taxpayers.
On Tuesday, city council asked the PSB to explain why El Paso continues to flood. The PSB, through former city employee now Vice President of the PSB, Alan Shubert gave the city council a presentation about why it was not at fault for the most recent flooding at the city.
As many of you remember when the city was imposing the storm water fee on the community, many of the proponents kept pointing to the unprecedented flooding in 2006 as a “100-year storm”. The argument being that the city needed to be prepared for the next 100-year storm. Additionally, the argument was that the drainage infrastructure in the city had been neglected for too many years. The storm water fee would resolve both of those issues was the argument.
On Tuesday the PSB started out by arguing that the 2006 “water event” was the result of 6.85 inches of rainfall. Shubert argued that through September 2014 the annual rainfall was 7.36 inches, thus excusing the most recent flooding as beyond their control. As with anyone attempting to obscure the reality with overly detailed technical misdirection, Shubert added, the “events from April 2014 through September 2014” were beyond the “100-year event”. Misdirecting was the name of the game for Shubert.
After a self-serving presentation about the “good” work the PSB is doing Shubert got into the details about how taxpayer funds are being used. Keep in mind that the whole presentation was designed to mitigate criticism about the PSB’s handling of the flooding, hide the problems with the storm water fees and set up the community discussion about the upcoming fee increases.
According to Shubert, the PSB has collected “approximately $16 million annually” from the fees that are taxes in disguise. Shubert pointed out that the original plan was to have a budget of $22 million a year from the fees. However, Shubert stated that the fees were reduced, after much community outcry and that the city mandated that 10% of the fees be allocated to open spaces. Imagine that! There was much community outcry to the fees. The rates were reduced for the school districts and nonprofits as well.
Shubert then told city council that he would be presenting the PSB board a proposal to raise the storm water fees in the next four years. Before council could react to the announcement Shubert, in true political deflection mode moved to his gimmick. Last Wednesday, true to his word, Shubert presented to the PSB a plan to increase storm water fees by $2 a month, or 8%. This is on top of the franchise fees the city has recently imposed on businesses.
What Shubert needed was a gimmick to refocus the message away from the failures of the PSB and the upcoming rising fees towards we need this for our safety. He brought up the woman that lost her life in the latest floods and asked city council for help in getting the “safety” message out. City council fell for it. Instead of questioning the request for increased fees it instead focused on the death and the need to take care of the taxpayers of the community.
Make no mistake, some at city council may have wanted to hold the PSB accountable but what the community got in return was a plea for more fees.
As El Paso continues to recover from the latest flooding, the city, through its proxy the PSB, is looking to see how to tax you more with additional “fees”. Unfortunately, expect your water fees to go up by another $2.00 a month. The next time the city floods, it won’t be the 100-year storm, or the 150-year storm but the 1,000-year storm. I’m sure that’ll be worth an additional $5.00 a month to the PSB.