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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Paying More: Trash Collection, Water, and Sewage In Portsmouth

Oh, the wheel of fortune: Around and around and around she goes; where she stops NOBODY knows. Now, it's a lose/lose situation again for the taxpayers of Portsmouth as two more money-grabbing issues -- higher trash collection fees and increased water charges -- are thrust upon us. And, let's not forget, these added payments are on the heals of recent passages of income tax increases said to be needed to "keep the City government afloat" -- Portsmouth passed a 0.6 percent income tax increase in 2011 and a 0.5 percent in 2015.

No one at city hall seems to know where the proverbial "buck" stops or how to account for it after it hits the city coffers.

Trash Talk

Sanitation rates are going up. How much? At this time, it's all speculation -- 50 cents, 75 cents, or $1.00 a month? Why? Citations. The city discovered they will now be on the hook to the Environmental Protection Agency for an annual fee estimated to be between $75,000 and $85,000.

To add to the confusion, at a recent city council meeting, reference was continually made to someone who, when they learned of the city’s citations from the EPA, failed to inform City Manager Allen about it.

Frank Lewis of the Daily Times reports ...

"Third Ward Councilman Kevin E. Johnson said: 'Our employees answer to you (City Manager Allen). There is no reason why you shouldn’t have known about this. We’ve asked a lot of the citizens of Portsmouth and they have stepped up and I think we need to step up and I think that these kinds of things just don’t need to happen. If they (EPA) were there that many times. If they advised us that many times and they put it in writing because we have copies of it, you of all people, should have known.'”

To which, Allen replied: "'In order to not diminish the amount remaining in the Sanitation Fund, which currently has a $414,000 balance, the only option is to raise rates for consumers. The last thing I want to do is send another $75,000 out the door... While the EPA believes it is a simple step to just add the $4.75 fee per ton to that agency, it is not that simple.'"

(Frank Lewis. "City sanitation rates to increase." Portsmouth Daily Times. August 25, 2015.)

It may be true that nothing about explanations for increases seems "that simple." But, Allen said the only solution is to raise the monthly bills of city residents. Passing ever-increasing fees and taxes onto the public seems exceedingly straightforward for city government.

Water Wonderment

Portsmouth residents thought they were getting a much-needed break as their new monthly utility bills were less than what would have been equal to one-third of their regular quarterly bills. Of course, this was just too good to be true. It was all just another goof-up at city hall. Math is hard, and nobody understands fractions, right?

After investigating the billing practices, City Manager Allen now says residents of the city of Portsmouth have been getting under-billed for their water and sewer bill service. He says the problem was "a math error," so "for the past five months everybody’s bills were about a third of what they should have been.”

In a rather convoluted explanation Allen explained the numbers snafu. Again, Frank Lewis of the Daily Times reports on the city hall confusion ...

“'There was a minimum charge they said was charged every quarter and that was to be split by thirds, so it doesn’t go up,' Allen said. 'You’re just paying a third of your minimum charge every month. The staff cut the rates by a third, so the minimum bill didn’t change, but all the rates were lowered by two-thirds.'"

But, hallelujah, citizens did get a break because of this "two-thirds error." Allen said despite the rates being lowered by two-thirds, Portsmouth is not going to go back to residents to collect what is owed the city.

“'We are going to send a letter out notifying everybody that we made a mistake and we hope (with) the summer of celebration, we’re just going to chalk it up to the celebration of our bicentennial,' Allen said. 'Everybody got reduced water bills all summer. But that will be in a letter that explained what happened in the next utility bill.'"

(Frank Lewis. "Allen says residents have been under-billed."
Portsmouth Daily Times. August 26, 2015) 

Allen claimed "some of the staff didn’t understand how the city was billing or what they were billing for.” This makes one wonder if what we have here is a failure to communicate as well as some basic grade school math deficiencies. At any rate, soon taxpayers will be paying much larger water and sewer payments.

It's Only Money?

I guess I shouldn't be concerned about mistakes and gaffes at city hall. After all, even city fathers are human and prone to make errors. Still, the confidence rating for city government continues to fall as one little cost after another is passed directly to taxpayers amid clouds of confusion. These "surprises" strike deep when a crisis of deep mistrust for political allies already exists in Portsmouth.

So many have questioned the equality of justice dealt by enforcement and court officials in the city. Money, power, and affiliation are factors people believe drives this inequality -- those things and an air of indifference for common people. When the public questions management decisions or procedures, so often those who inquire are ridiculed and/or told half-truths (lies) to discourage their honest search for justice.

Like the old, dirty, ill-kept city building itself, city government begs for proper maintenance that is crucial to developing trust and pride. Instead, some of those in charge prefer to ignore the obvious cleanup and maintain the conditions that cause steady decay inside and outside the walls of the edifice. I worry about increases in payments, but I worry about increases in political alliances much more.

We pay precious dollars for needed services. We pay increased fees for mistakes. We also "pay" for ineptness in all positions. When can we expect better service by our public servants to be exchanged for the skyrocketing costs we incur?

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