Claremont Insider: We Meant a CPI Increase All Along

Sunday, October 12, 2008

We Meant a CPI Increase All Along

The City agenda report for trash rate increases was published on Friday. You may link to it here.

In this, the City Staff exceeds its own enviable standards of soaring and smug self-justification. These people are just plain without shame, no question about it. We don't know who is most responsible for this remarkable prose, but until we hear to the contrary, we guess we'll go with the person named under "Prepared by", Garbage Staffer Anna Sanchez. This woman seems to come from the same "We Can Never Do Wrong" writing school as City Planner Lisa Prasse, and is coached in the same sing-song condescending style of oral delivery (see our prior post, and look at part 1 of the entire July 22 staff report if you don't believe us). For goodness' sake, we know that our councilmembers aren't the sharpest knives in the drawer, but do you have to talk to them like they were 7-year-olds?

Now, we don't propose to parse every sentence in the staff report. Let's take a look at paragraph 2 though:

"On July 22, 2008, staff presented council with two options to consider increasing multi-family and commercial refuse collection service fees and temporary rental container fees as well as include an annual Consumer Price Index (CPI) increase on all solid waste service fees..." [emphasis added]
Looky how the CPI increase has risen in importance in this summary. It takes about one third of the verbiage. Funny though, because in the entire 32 minute presentation that Anna Sanchez gave at the July 22, 2008 council meeting, she did not mention CPI even once. (Again, the entire video of the presentation is here.) The City Manager chimed into the colloquy, and he didn't mention it, either. Nor did our Mayor Ellen Taylor, who seems to have fallen into a bad habit of butting into any councilmember's or staffer's discussion, not to mention the time given to members of the public.

In the July 22, 2008 staff report on these increases
, the CPI increase was not even mentioned in the summary:
"Staff Recommendation: That the City Council choose Option A or B to increase multi-family, commercial, and temporary bin refuse collection services, approve amending a late fee penalty for delinquent payment or nonpayment of sanitation service charges, and set a public hearing on October 14, 2008 to review the proposed increases."
It wasn't until the middle of page four that the CPI was mentioned, and then it was clearly in the context of the options on multifamily and commercial rates:
"Staff reviewed the deficit in the sanitation operating fund during the budget workshop held on June 12, 2008, and during that presentation, [sic] presented two (2) options for council's consideration. Both options outlined below assume all fees will be increased by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) in July of each year."
We have already covered how each of the options that follow this contain a table with the footnote, "Assumes a 2.5% CPI increase on all fees except Residential".

But now, after some persistent members of the community have raised questions, the CPI assumes pride of place as probably the main thrust of staff's rate increase proposal. From page 2 of the October 14, 2008 agenda report:
On July 22, 2008, staff presented two options for council to consider to remedy the impending deficit in the Sanitation Fund. Both options presented included a CPI increase applied to all fees on July 1 of each subsequent year. Using the CPI as a method of increasing rates on an annual basis will help prevent any future large increases to recover costs for service. One of the primary reasons why the Sanitation Fund is in its current state is because a mechanism to increase rates was not placed in the the original ordinance. To help mitigate any future disparities in revenues versus expenditures, the CPI mechanism was chosen. Although residential service revenues appear balanced today, without incremental rate increases based on CPI, as costs increase over time, the residential service revenues will not be able to recover costs for service and the Sanitation Fund will face another deficit.
We are really sorry to subject you, our readers, to this bland bureaucratic drivel. Let's be clear. The Sanitation Fund has a $2,000,000 SURPLUS. That is because the City has been overcharging us for years.

We'll bring this too-long and too-boring post to a merciful close by simply posting how staff proposes to re-address this issue. We especially like the self-justifying prose in the first paragraph:
"After the July 22 City Council meeting, there has been public concern about the CPI increase on residential rates. In the staff report and public notice, the CPI for all solid waste services, or Option A or B, was noted. However, the presentation and subsequent dialog of the City Council focused on the immediate increases proposed to the multi-family, commercial and bin rates."
When you have writing as poor as this example, which fuzzy and obscure writing is a product of fuzzy and obscure thinking, you can make a post hoc argument, as staff tries to do, that it means whatever staff wants it to mean.

We give up. They're gonna increase your residential rates and make it sound as if it's OK with you that they do so.

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