Letter to the Editor: The certainty of a fool

Saturday, November 28, 2015

To the Editor:

In November 2012 after months of public relations, the city succeeded in convincing the citizens of Shoreline to create their own utility destiny.

The ballot measure to acquire SPU was roundly approved by a 70 percent margin. At that time, Art Maronek, Tom Jamieson, and myself headed the campaign in opposition. What was obvious then is what has come to pass.

The Seattle City Council never agreed to the acquisition, and as Art demonstrated from a review of facts he had spent a lifetime learning as head of the Seattle water department, the price was nowhere near accurate.

With the certainty of fools, our city officials believed the myths they had created and convinced our citizens a bright future awaited. This failed acquisition was central to the city plan to take over Ronald Wastewater. Our sewer rate has risen 8 percent since the city gained control of the wastewater commission.

Consolidation of utilities under city control requires combining sewer, water, and storm water to be financially feasible. The storm water systems in our city are a disaster. No one in the city administration knows what needs to be replaced and what the costs will be. Rate payers beware. Fools are defined by their refusal to listen or learn.

The city continues to spread spin by public relations. Rezones are the latest attempt to create a brave new Shoreline.

Like the Wizard of Oz, don't look behind the curtain. Everything has a cost and reality awaits.

My friends Art and Tom are no longer with us. Thank you both for telling the truth.

John Behrens


Janet Way November 29, 2015 at 5:40 PM  

Thanks to John Behrens for this great letter. And R.I.P. Art Maranek and Tom Jameison. Thanks to all of you for warning us against this ridiculous power grab by the City.

Anonymous,  November 30, 2015 at 8:42 AM  

I thought the City would assume Ronald Waste Water in 2017? So if that's the case, is it not Ronald Waste Water that raised the rates?

Anonymous,  November 30, 2015 at 9:24 AM  

Yes, so glad this didn't happen so we in Shoreline can continue to subsidize the bills of the citizens of Seattle through the ridiculous surcharge that they charge us. We can continue to have zero control over this utility since we can't vote on Seattle elections. And they don't or won't upgrade any of the lines. Hooray.

Karen Easterly-Behrens,  November 30, 2015 at 1:27 PM  

(They always post as Anonymous, not an admirable quality) Anonymous 0924 AM, you repeat the information that was the central theme of the PR campaign subsidized by the City of Shoreline. As with EVERYTHING.....it is not that simple.

The REAL deal is.....if the city owns a utility, they can tax it at no limit (unlike your property taxes).

Then the funds are available to subsidize the continued expansive vision of the NEW Shoreline. This vision requires a lot of money.

Developers are DEMANDING a return from our politicians. SPU REQUIRES that developers pay fully for all upgrade needs for their projects. The City of Shoreline has a vastly different philosophy. The city wants to attract development by subsidizing many costs (so technically, they WILL spend it on the utility system). Inflating a developers profit and deflating your pocketbook.

If you follow the logic as outlined by the poster above......there is a merry little story that somehow our services are inadequete (they are not) and the surcharge is "ridiculous".

Our representatives at the City of Shoreline negotiated that "ridiculous" contract.

If the City of Shoreline had spent the last 4 years negotiating a better contract......well, they did not so mute point.

What the city sees as "ridiculous" is there is no way to create a gigantic revenue stream out of the current business structure.

Anonymous,  November 30, 2015 at 2:18 PM  

Read the fine print. Better to have the neighbors in charge than write a blank check to the council.

John Behrens,  November 30, 2015 at 2:54 PM  

In response to anonymous above: facts because Seattle residents pay property taxes to the city of Seattle which operates SPU and sales taxes spent by Seattle residents also fill the city treasury it makes sense that we would pay a surcharge to offset these lost revenues to the city of Seattle. Because developers pay to expand services when needed in Seattle, development pays for development rather than the Shoreline plan that calls for creating huge new utility systems with tax payer money and then luring businesses to the area to pay back the costs. Finally, the vast majority of the Shoreline system was built in the period shortly after World War II or later, making it one of the newer sections of the SPU system. If you speak to a pipe specialist, they will tell you that pipes need to be replaced at the point they wear out. Sometimes they last 300 years! The entire SPU system is monitored by computer systems that monitor leaks and defects. When pipes wear out they are replaced. SPU has invested more money in the Shoreline system than they have received from ratepayers. These facts are troublesome to people who argue for acquisition but they are true. Building the type of water system necessary to service our city is immensely expensive and the costs were vastly understated.

As for Ronald Wastewater, the city now effectively runs the utility. The city supported commissioners who now are a majority of the board, fired the director. The city technically does not own it but they run it. The city has told Ronald to do no project construction and to raise the rate to assure a surplus of funds is available to the city when they take control.

Utilities are complex and complicated. People spend lifetimes educating themselves to run and operate them effectively. The professionals that evaluated this proposal did NOT approve of the plan.

John Behrens,  November 30, 2015 at 3:14 PM  

The residents of Seattle pay property taxes to their city which owns and operates SPU. We pay a surcharge because the rates SPU charges it customers in Seattle reflect their property tax payments and their utility rates.
The city of Shoreline water system is one of the newest parts of SPU, having been constructed mainly after World War II. Pipe specialists will tell you systems can last 300 years without replacement. SPU uses a computer system to monitor the conditions of its systems and repairs things when necessary. The ratepayers in Shoreline have received more investment in the system than they paid in rates! In Seattle, development pays for itself, as SPU requires developers to pay for infrastructure when it occurs. Shoreline wants to use tax payer funds to create new utility and then lure developers to the city and recover the costs. The control everyone has is to pay for what you want! SPU put a system down Aurora for which Shoreline asked and agreed to pay.
As for Ronald, the city supported commissioners fired the director of the utility, and the city runs it in everything but name. The city has instructed Ronald to do no infrastructure improvement and to raise rates to assure a 6 million dollar surplus at the time the city takes control.
Facts are facts. Utilities are complex,complicated and costly. The people with knowledge and experience told Shoreline the acquisition was vastly more expensive than they were telling everyone.

Anonymous,  November 30, 2015 at 6:21 PM  

I heard that when the previous Mayor of Seattle and Council negociated with Shoreline for the purchase of SPU it was going to be 20 something million.
But when Ed Murray came into office he pretty much doubled the price for Shoreline. which pretty much put a halt on that deal. thats my understanding on that part.
So my question now is, what becomes of the money we pay SPU. Does it go towards Seattle and benefit Seattle only?
Or if Shoreline were to get it, which it doesn't sound like it now. But if Shoreline did, then money made from it would go to help Shoreline with things like infrastructure or what not? I don't know.. I'm just asking..
Either way, I will stick to the rule "If its brown, flush it down, if its yellow let it mellow", And keep in mind how much water I use. Anything to keep my own personal cost down and from wasting water.

Anonymous,  December 1, 2015 at 8:35 AM  

The City is not calling the shots at Ronald Waste Water, not until 2017.

Anonymous,  December 1, 2015 at 9:17 AM  

From a news article on KUOW: http://kuow.org/post/dreams-water-utility-dry-shoreline --

“The price became a bit too high,” said Judi Gladstone, corporate policy director for Seattle Public Utilities. She said losing Shoreline would cost Seattle and its ratepayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

Let me emphasize that this is SEATTLE saying they can't afford to lose that lucrative surcharge. That surcharge goes into SEATTLE coffers to benefit SEATTLE citizens - not Shoreline. I'd rather any tax I pay on water go to help me and my neighbors.

Facts are facts.

Anonymous,  December 1, 2015 at 10:55 AM  

In the City of Seattle, mayors are not legally able to negotiate and commit to such a contract. This is a fallacy that has been spun by the City of Shoreline. I am sure Mayor Murray is acutely aware of this. The City of Shoreline needs to reimburse SPU for the time they spent during these negotiations. I think the responses already submitted answer the remainder of your questions Anonymous 6:21

John Behrens,  December 1, 2015 at 4:35 PM  

You heard what the City of Shoreline wants you to believe! As I stated, masters of propaganda.If you are interested in listening to the truth go to the following link and listen to the City of Seattle Council discuss the sale of SPU to Shoreline: http://www.seattlechannel.org/videos/video.asp?ID=2011260.Start at the 5 minute mark and listen for yourself.What should be of concern is the amount of time and money that went into putting this on the ballot. The research costs that SPU spent to investigate this issue are the liability of the City of Shoreline as agreed to by the parties when our city government put forward this foolish plan.
The city wants you to believe it is all Mayor Murray's fault. The Mayor of Seattle cannot approve a sale of city property. If you listen to the link you will hear the city council members talking about an ordinance that would eventually come to a vote of the council and you will hear for yourself their concerns about ever approving the sale and certainly not for the absurd price Shoreline was suggesting. This conversation was recorded BEFORE the vote in Shoreline and our city government knew this but went forward anyway. Don't blame Mayor Murray. Blame our city council and staff members for failing to tell the truth yet once again.

Anonymous,  December 1, 2015 at 10:09 PM  

"I'd rather any tax I pay on water go to help me and my neighbors."

You're kidding yourself if you believe the City of Shoreline would actually follow through on this. Even if it were true, any additional revenue raised would be passed on to even bigger tax breaks and giveaways for developers of high-density, certainly not you and your neighbors. Never ever.

Anonymous,  December 3, 2015 at 8:13 PM  

@9:17 AM - what do you mean Seattle can't afford to lose money? The City of Shoreline in their campaign for the Yes on SPU Prop. One vote promised that our (i.e., Shoreline) rates would not increase at a sale price of $26.6 million. Guess what? There is a staff report that states that Seattle would have to raise EVERYONE's rates if the sale went through at $26.6 million - that means Seattle, Shoreline, Burien, Lake Forest Park, and Tukwila -- just so Shoreline can have its own water system. If you carefully parse the statements from Gladstone, Ed Murray, and the City of Shoreline (and obviously you have not), Ed Murray said that the sale price would have to be rate neutral, but at $26.6 million it is NOT rate neutral. Your water utility rates would have jumped considerably in 2018 if the sale of SPU assets in Shoreline had proceeded.

Furthermore, what Debbie Tarry and the City of Shoreline have cleverly left out is that Seattle proposed putting together a fund for Shoreline improvements with input from Shoreline. The City of Shoreline has known since August 2014 (that's right, over a year ago) that SPU would not sell to them but finally the cat is out of the bag.

Don't like the City of Seattle getting paid for providing water? Don't go to Seattle, drive on their roads, use their parks, etc.

Here is a better question: how much money and staff time did the City of Shoreline spend on this giant failure? They spent money on 3 feasibility studies (financial, operational, and unification), staffing and transition, bought Brugger's Bog storage yard (right there that is $3 million), alternate water source study, pressure studies, etc. Think of it this way, at least $4 million was spent out of pocket, sidewalks are $100,000 per block, so we didn't get 4 miles of sidewalks built while the City of Shoreline wasted money on a literal pipe dream. That $4 million doesn't even include the staff spent on it.

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