Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Drip Drip Drip

I watched the presentation at Monday night's Council meeting regarding the 2nd reading of an ordinance to increase water rates by 14%. I appreciate the efforts of Stehly, Ehrishman and Staggers to inform the public but let's be realistic. It was said people aren't aware of what's going on. Maybe there is no backlash from the public on these rate increases because it's not an issue for them. People get fired up when they think something is unreasonable or doesn't make sense to them or it is seriously affecting them financially.

I am not convinced there is a groundswell of discontentment and dissatisfaction with the city's planning and forecasting the future needs of it's utilities. I didn't see testimony from a huge contingency of citizens testifying against the proposed rate increases. Yes, the actual per cent increase each year is certainly higher than their inflation target, but the city has explained why that is and what is necessitating the rate increases.

Believe them or not, call for an audit to see if there is waste, whatever. The fact remains that these are the professionals and they provide the necessary information to the city council to justify their proposed actions regarding these "businesses."  The city council's audit team can call for an audit if they deem it necessary.  City funding and it's financial structure is complicated and the premise that there is waste and to just take money from the 2nd penny sales tax is naive.

Let's be clear on some facts regarding funding. The Sales and Use Tax (2nd penny) is the city's primary capital account excluding public utilities. Enterprise funds are used to report the same functions for its public utilities - electric light, public parking, sanitary landfill, water and water reclamation operations.

These public utilities are classified as "enterprise" because they are run like a "business." They are not funded with the same source of money as the general fund departments. These enterprise fund departments charge fees to generate revenue to pay for their "business needs."

The Enterprise funds relating to water, water reclamation, sanitary landfill and electric light departments are used to cover the true costs for that specific enterprise (business) including operation, maintenance, periodic capital improvements, new capital acquisitions and improvements, and debt service requirements.

The premise that money from the Sales and Use Tax Fund (2nd penny) should be shifted to the Enterprise funds of these utilities to offset rate increases destroys the "business" operation and funding model of these utilities. In addition, it diverts 2nd penny sales tax from it's intended purpose of being the primary capital account for general fund operations, i.e., streets and highways, police and fire, parks and recreation, libraries, etc.

Utilities are run as businesses and their revenues must support their operational, maintenance, capital needs and debt service requirements. These rate increases are just not for water usage. The comprehensive rate and water needs analysis conducted in 2005 and updated by an independent engineering firm was and is being done to account for ongoing costs of operations, the financing of the City's LCRWS pre-payment, and additional capital replacements and expansions to meet the City's entire water resource needs.

It's unfortunate that we as consumers have been and are faced with double digit rate increases in our utility bills. In hindsight, no rate increases for ten years has certainly contributed to the rate increases we are being faced with today. I doubt it is the only contributing factor.  However, the fact remains that, as citizens, we expect a quality product flowing from our faucets. We expect our city officials to operate this business efficiently and we expect them to maintain the infrastructure of this business and to plan for new expanding infrastructure.

In this case, the city cannot win for losing. I may not like the increase but at least I understand why it must be done. Unfortunately, it's a necessary evil of running the city business called "water." We complain when they increase our rates to fund the "business" and we would scream bloody murder when the drip, drip drip dries up.

Source: 2010 Comprehensive Financial Report


  1. Stehly, Erishman and Staggers goal is not to inform people. It is to convince them that any money the community spends is wrong. Ask them to describe the community as they see it. Dirt roads and one police car and one fire truck, nothing else.

    They never describe their whole vision, only what they are opposed to.

    We need to challenge these folks to put up their vision. They can't.

  2. The Three Musketeers, Staggers, Stehly and Ehrishman, talk like they know everything about city business when in fact they don't. Appreciate their right to speak their minds but they are really a very tiresome group. The first comment is so right on.

  3. A financial audit of the water department is not the issue...

    An operations audit would show, the people running the department, the mayor, city council, and us, the rate payers, how effectively and efficiently they are doing the job and managing the assets in their care. Successful businesses do this all the time.

    Not very sexy, but might provide all of us with good information.

  4. I understand the "business" concept in running the various city utilities. And profit is good when generated in the right direction. But, is it properly directed by our water department? I think not. Wage package comprises 31% of the departments O&M. UNACCEPTABLE. The city water department has ten managers making $805,934,just in base salary. That's about one chief and four indians. UNACCEPTABLE. The city water department, not including reclamation, has 48 employees making $113,035.25 average per person for a total employee compensation package of close to five and a half million. UNACCEPTABLE. The Water sup. has gone from 80K in 2007 when these rates started jumping, to 94K a year in 2010, a 17% increase in 3 years. Again, UNACCEPTABLE.

    If you go to about 1:42 of the council meeting, someone spoke about one in seven in SF being eligible for food stamps. Over one in three school kids in SF eligible for free or reduced meals. Now I understand the majority of you who come here are prolly city, or former city employees, and you prolly are unable to draw any conclusions from those startling numbers. To you all, EVERYONE has a cushy city job, or drawing a spiked city pension. STOP, and think about those numbers, and realize for the majority of SF workers, who toil at an average salary of about $14.00 an hour, these rate increases in anything and everything are back breakers.

    Polly Amalo

  5. It would be nice to see an organization chart for the departments in public works to see what the positions are, titles and # of staff under each supervisor or manager. The thing that's rarely mentioned when complaining of high salaries is, those assertions should also include how long a particular person has been employed or held that position, what the base salary is and the top. Gives you a little better idea of what is being talked about or complained about.

  6. My name is spelled EHRISMAN. I am only a 1/8 Irish (My great grandmother Ehrisman was French/Irish)

    This isn't about the increases, this is about expenses. As Poly points out, what's wrong with questioning expenditures? You act like the water department is some sacred cow that cannot be touched.

    It's also about a tax shift, sorry Jen, but you are WRONG, we have paid for water upgrades out of the 2nd penny in the past, and often. Please show me documentation 100% that we have not used 2nd penny money. And not only is it legal, it makes sense. Huether is attempting to shift tax burdens into utility rates to FREE up the 2nd penny for the Events Center. This gets more and more obvious by the day. When I brought this up last night, you should have seen his face, BUSTED! As for ripping on me and Theresa, we don't really care, I don't blog for accolades or flattery. But Dr. Staggers deserves better treatment. But I guess it is easy to beat a man with a ski mask on, isn't it, ANONS!

  7. What I find interesting is how some always complain about the low wages in this State but out of the other side of their mouths they bitch and moan about those people making a good salary. Geez, which way do you want it anyway? Shame on these other employers who don't offer good salaries. Job envy it seems to me. So go find a job that pays better.

  8. Scott: What is your Vision of how are City Should Look? So what would you do? Anything?

    I remember when Kermit told Downtown Rotary that he was OK with the Pavilion as long as everyone paid their own way. Like him, he paid $50 a piece for his seats to the Ballet. Oops, we forgot about the building?

    You think just like him. Small, very small.


  9. How in the world do you know that the majority of the readers of this blog are city employees? You might be surprised. I, for one, am not a city employee and I know a lot of others who aren't either. And, by the way, I will sign my name when the rest of you do too.

  10. What I find interesting is how some always complain about the low wages in this State but out of the other side of their mouths they bitch and moan about those people MAKING A GOOD SALARY.

    I retired before age 60 because I had a job with a fair and honest salary. Very few in this town can say that. Afterall, the median income of ALL city jobs is $14.22 an hour. Not to mention the thousands of underemployed with no benefits, much like the city part timers at the water department. For 2011 they have $223,920 allocated for part-timers. I’m guessin’ these Joe’s make about $11.00 an hour with no bennies. That comes out to about 20,356 manhours. Part time city employees cannot work more than 1400 hours a year. A little math tells me there are 15 Joe SixPacks working there for $14,928 a year with ZERO benefits. And then we have 48 city water works employees who make on average over $113,000 a year in total compensation? Do you see the disparity there Anon, and do you really believe 48 city water works employees are worth that kind of GOOD SALARY? You know there is a difference between a GOOD salary and a FAIR one. There needs to be a middle ground between the median income in this town and the median income of city workers and council people who decide what Joe SixPack can and cannot afford to pay in rate increases.


  11. "We need to challenge these folks to put up their vision. They can't."

    Seems to be a recurring theme. When the Mayor was asked to lay out his vision for downtown Sioux Falls by the BID group all he could do was rattle off a bunch of projects started under Munson.

  12. I agree that it is unfair for employers to employ all these temporary/part time people because they don't have to pay benefits to them. I worked in Minnesota and many other employers do the same or they keep their hours below full-time because part-timers don't usually don't get benefits either. When you get all employers to treat their employees well, it will be a utopia and we all can be happy. Get a life and get real.

  13. June 21, 2011 3:24 PM - I agree with you, except they are the three stooges, not the three musketeers.

    Polly - You have no idea what any of those managers do, or what the education or experience requirements are. Neither do I. The difference is I don't spout off that people are overpaid when I don't know what I'm talking about. You don't seem to have that problem.

    At the first reading, Stehly compared the water dept. to the fairground problem from a couple of years ago and implied there is embezzlement going on. The city should conduct an audit and once the dept. is cleared, I wonder if she will have enough character to give a public apology for her slanderous comment. I doubt it.

    If the city offered me a job with better pay than I'm making now, I'd take it. I'm glad there aren't many "experts" out there who have nothing better to do than whine about somebody else getting something they're not. Why on earth would anyone support eliminating "good" paying jobs in Sioux Falls, or turning them into lower-paying jobs?

    My water bill will increase about $5 a month. I'm offended the three stooges think they're smarter than everyone else. As this blog pointed out, it's not unreasonable, so I'm not opposed to it. I'll save my "backlash" for the $100 million fights.

  14. I'm not sure it matters whether only three folks spoke out against the rate increases and you didn't see a "huge contingency of citizens" come out to testify. I say that because our current adminstration and council DONT CARE what the citizens want and don't listen to citizen testimony. One only needs to go back one week, when a large contingecy of Sioux Falls citizens made appropriate and professional arguments for a DT EC. Most of the counsel and our Mayor were disengaged the entire time (except to agrue about broken campaign promises). Point is, they take input from their inner circle and don't care what everyday citizens have to offer (especially younger citizens), then wonder why voter apathy is so prevalent and why young people are so indifferent to the political process.

  15. Why on earth would anyone support eliminating "good" paying jobs in Sioux Falls, or turning them into lower-paying jobs?

    Because it is OUR tax dollars that support our WAY over the top management positions. Like this, in just the public works department.

    Public Works Administration total salary compensation of $557,239. That amount could prolly be cut by a third if Cotter did his real job for over $148K, instead of being the mayors spokesperson for his Events Center.

    And the water department? Again, WAAAAAAY too top heavy in the management department. Do you really believe 48 water department employees should average over $113,000 a year in employee compensation? No anon, I'm not against the working man getting eight hours of respectable pay for eight hours of work. I do have a problem with the front line workers answering to too many managers though. And that's exactly what a nearly $114,000 average salary compensation in that department tells me.

    Same for the 53 employees of the Water Reclamation department. The MEDIAN salary there is prolly around 45K. I'll buy into that, but when the AVERAGE total employee compensation is at over $80,000 apiece, then once again...a department with way too much management.

    And how about our Community Developement Department? Eleven employees at over $80,000 apiece in avearge employee compensation? Our mayor, if you listen to the me,me,me pronouncements, can handle all eleven of those jobs all by himself.

    Same with Human Resources. Eleven employees making $669,533 a year in total compensation? Five of those eleven are "managers" and take prolly close to 75% of that amount. OVERKILL. Very few private "enterprises" even have an on- site human resources department anymore. Do we really need this kind of waste in government? It's not just city government. It's ANY government agency that relies on taxpayer dollars. If we, the taxpaying citizens are expected to tighten our belts, then so should our over managed city government.

    Polly Amalo

  16. Polly Amalo, I grow weary with your constant writings about city salaries. You sound like a disgruntled former employee who no one every listened to and now you can rant about everything you thought was wrong with city managers. Try commenting on something new. Better yet, quit monopolizing Jennifer's blog and get your own blog. You have to respond to everything written about you. Can't you just let your original thought stand on its own merits for once. Don't respond to this. I already know what you will say - nothing original or thought provoking to add to the debate.

  17. All I can say is AMEN!

    Not a City Employee, but agree wholeheartedly with last comment.

  18. Grow weary all you want. Do you want differing opinions here, or just more rubberstamping of a spend, spend, spend city government? Anyway, I thought you all here despised rubberstamping. I guess it's OK if it fits your agenda.

    Former disgruntled employee? Nah. Just a concerned citizen who thinks government spending is out of control...on all levels. And no, I do not wear a three cornered hat or attend tea parties.

    This place is supposed to inform. This particular topic is supposed to be about the constant drip, drip, drip of our water department. Along with our rate increase goes this from page of 52 of the Public Works 2012 rate adjustment pdf. While everyone in the private sector stagnates on fixed incomes and increased user fees, the water works department assumes a 4% labor cost increase for EACH of the next four years. Not bad in these economic times is it anon.

    Thought provoking I'd say.


  19. Polly,

    What's your background that makes you qualified to say what's too many management positions? Did you compare Sioux Falls' water department to other similarly sized Cities? Which ones did you use?

    Perhaps you are drawing on your experience as a senior manager or CEO of a similarly sized company. Which one was it?

    Differing opinions should be tolerated, but when you spread misinformation that has no basis in fact, you deserve to be called on it. Do your homework. Do you remember your rant on employee bonuses? You thought the "job performance" budget was for bonuses when it's really training and travel. You're doing it again. The water department won't be giving its employees a 4% raise next year - they'll get no raise - but the contractors who do the work will raise their prices 4%. Not bad economic times for the private contractors you mean.

    If it's okay to spout opinions without bothering with the facts, then my opinion is your name is Theresa Stehly, not "Polly Amalo".

  20. Let's try this again (my first response was never posted, hopefully this one will be) Just for clarification, Poly is not Stehly, I know both of them and trust me, they are not the same person. Stehly and Staggers have both read this post and have not responded. My guess is because they see it the way I do, a badge of honor, getting the city to pay attention. By posting this story all Jen has done is bring more awareness to the public, and I commend her for it. Also trust me that Poly has prior experience and is VERY qualified to speak about these matters.

    None of you sat in the meeting with me, Stehly and Staggers when the Water Super, Greg Anderson, berated past administrations for our problems. Mostly Gary Hanson's administration (even though they did not mention his name, it was clear who they were talking about). They also tried to mislead us about audits. There is a difference between internal and external audits. It is all we have asked for from the beginning, show us where you are spending the money, because we know the chickensh*t council won't ask. Their excuses changed by the minute. I'm hoping Hanson has something to say about all this, I know that Ellis from the Argus contacted Gary about it, not sure if he has responded. I think it easy for Jen and you 'other' city employees who post here to be critical of what happened in the past. Something else that came from the meeting was Cotter admitting to me that L & C is not only very expensive, but won't be used much. Who was in charge when that lame brain decision was made? Hmmmm.

  21. South DaPoly said...

    "trust me" (Twice! Almost sounded like a Huether speech).

    Nice misdirection. Ignore all of the facts raised and talk about your meeting instead. If Poly/Polly is so qualified, I'm sure he/she can defend his/her self. Then again, maybe he/she just did.

    I like how you call the readers here "you other city employees". It doesn't make me a city employee for reading this blog any more than it makes me a waiter for reading your blog, South DaPoly.

  22. Oh No! My secret is out! Stehly, Poly, Staggers and Ehrisman are all the same person. In fact the over 10,000 visitors on my site everyday are all me (I have 10,000 computers hooked up in my place all with different internet providers).


  23. Once again, misdirection and then take something a person says and twist it into something else to make your case or possibly to divert attention. Sounds like I touched a nerve. South DaPoly it is.

    On a side note, I didn't realize Sioux Falls had 10,000 waiters.

  24. Polly,

    What's your background that makes you qualified to say what's too many management positions? Did you compare Sioux Falls' water department to other similarly sized Cities?

    I am a concerned citizen that takes the time to read the city budget. Have for several years. Line by line, and department by department. Also look over the yearly city salary statement. And I read what I can about government waste paid for with our tax dollars. I've enlightened you all here on "spiked" city pension plans. A HUGE farce in my opinion. But VERY few even know it goes on. Very few here even cared to discuss it. I wonder why? I've brought up total salary expenditures as an average for a few departments. All way over the top, at least in a private enterprise it is. But not so with government run entities. Overrun with bureaucracy in nearly all phases of operation. Whether it's our federal government war machine budget or as simple as running a city, YOU all spend too much money. TAXPAYER money.

    Compare SF to another city? WHY? Both are government entities full of bureauacracy, red tape and a "manager" for anything and everything. There are many real business enterprises in SF with the same or more employees than the city of SF. How many have a Human Resources department that even remotely approaches the cost of our city's HR department? And how many city employees do we have that make more than 70K a year? Out of 1100 mind you. It's not job envy at all. I've seen this kind of wasteful spending, primarily brought on by top heavy management handlings, all too often. It needs to stop, and if that is what the mayor means by "business acumen", then I'm on board. And I don't personally like the guy, but I'll back him all the way on cutting city pork.

    Polly Amalo

  25. Polly,

    You make it sound like you're the only taxpayer who has ever taken the time to read the city budget or go to a city council meeting. Wrong again.

    So no city governments anywhere are good, needed or efficient? They're all bad? Now I understand where you're coming from, you're an anarchist.

    You are right several times throughout your post. What you are presenting is "in your opinion", which you are entitled to, but many times you try to spin it as fact and it clearly isn't.

    You use ad hominem arguments, make conclusions without knowing all the facts, and condescendingly assume you are "enlightening" taxpayers. Wrong again.

    There's always room for improvement, cost-cutting, and evaluation in both private and public sectors, but the facts are - most taxpayers are satisfied with the system and don't like blow-hard alarmists who continually try to make mountains out of mole hills. That's why Stehly lost her bid for the council and Staggers lost his for Mayor.

    Go away Chicken Little, the sky is not falling.

  26. I'll ask one more time since you seem to be dodging the question. How many Sioux Falls private enterprises have a Human Resources department budgeted for $1,074,081 like the City does for 2011? And with 5 "managers" out of 11 total employees why do they need $276,752 for professional services? You'd think with 5 paper shufflers on board, professional outside services would not be needed. Not in this town.


    And why all the condescending remarks about waiters? You think you're better somehow? GET A LIFE.

  27. Go read the blog, it's about water and rate increases.

  28. Polly,

    I'm dodging questions? When are you going to answer the same questions I asked of you? Oh that's right, you don't need facts to support your argument only others are required to provide facts.

    There was no condescension toward waiters but I'm not surprised you're twisting the facts to make a point. Your only defender "South DaCola" claimed that the other readers who post here are city employees. Following his logic, that would mean all readers of his blog are waiters like him. His response? A ridiculous claim that I was implying the visitors to his site were all faked.

    Once again you're twisting things to try to reach a conclusion that doesn't exist. This is exactly the same thing you do with a little bit of information about city government - make up the rest to suit your cause.

    I will try to keep sarcastic remarks to an 8th grade level to help ensure you're not confused in the future.

    I thought this was a debate about cost of city government, yet you refuse to provide facts, then turn around and demand them from others. You twist people's words to try to discredit them instead of providing real answers, and then when someone doesn't buy into your shallow rhetoric, the only thing you can come up with is "get a life"?

    You should stick to trying to scare the uniformed, no one else is buying your attempts to sensationalize or muckrake - whoever you are.

  29. Polly: follow your own advice and GET A LIFE!

  30. Anonymous said...

    It would be nice to see an organization chart for the departments in public works to see what the positions are, titles and # of staff under each supervisor or manager.

    Good luck on that one. You'll never see it. And why do you suppose that is? The Argus used to publish a yearly salary breakdown in the classifieds, but not in any way that can broken down into useful info about organizational charts and manager/staff ratios. SiouxFalls.org now gives us that info, but in a format made as hard as possible for anyone to formulate these kind of ratios. The practice of "no order whatsoever" salary listings started during your watch Jennifer. Why the way they choose to do it? Do you really believe a concerned citizen will not take the time to put your puzzle pieces together?

    Polly Amalo