by Murray Lloyd
Yesterday the Shreveport City Council Infrastructure Committee met to discuss two items – a draft “Cost of Service and Rate Design Study” (“Study”) for water and sewer services and a proposed Beneficial Environmental Project (“BEP”). Both of these are related to the Consent Decree on the City’s Sanitary Sewer Overflow debacle.
The Study shows what the total expenses are for the water utility and the sewer utility and which customer class pays for what part of the “cost of services.”
It also contained an alternative to replace the single residential water rate with a tiered structure designed to encourage water conservation.
The BEP is a program run by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) that allows fines that would go to the state to instead be used in the local community to do projects that are related to the nature of the fine, in this case the City’s sewer utility. The EPA has a similar federal program, Supplemental Environmental Project (SEP).
Neither of these were part of the discussions and negotiations for either the $500,000,000 water and sewer rate increase ordinance passed last year or the Consent Decree.
When the Consent Decree was published for public comment, I sent in the following questions:
1) What were the stated reasons for Supplemental Environmental Projects and/or Beneficial Environmental Projects not being allowed to be included in the Consent Decree?;
2) What steps can be taken immediately to allow the civil penalties under this Consent Decree to be utilized by the community as Supplemental Environmental Projects and/or Beneficial Environmental
3) Why did neither EPA nor LDEQ require a full rate study and some showing of capacity by the City of Shreveport prior to the Consent Decree?; and
4) What steps can be taken immediately to require the City of Shreveport to have an independent analysis of the City’s capacity to perform the amount of work required during the limited time period allowed
under the Consent Decree during the first year’s assessment?
As an aside, we have been told that only two individuals submitted public comments on the Consent Decree.
While the committee members/Councilmen present discussed the Study for two hours, they ultimately decided not to make any changes for at least ten years. I guess they forgot they would be gone by then?
What is more problematic to me is that nobody mentioned that the Capital Expenses used in the Study appear to be off by about $24 million. According to the Study, the Capital Expenses for the Water Utility are about $11 million and the Sewer Utility is about $20 million. But the State of the Municipal Infrastructure Year-End 2013 Report the one John Settle recently wrote should be required reading shows the amounts to be $21.5 million and $33.5 million respectively. And this does not even take into account the more than $500 million in the PROJECTS OF SPECIAL CONCERN section, which includes the necessary water treatment plant on the Red River in southern Caddo Parish.
Now, even if there is a rationale for excluding almost half of the capital expenses from the Study, doesn’t it seem reasonable to expect some explanation for this in the Study? Maybe it will be in the final report.
At Monday’s City Council Administrative Conference, the Director of the Department of Water and Sewerage (DOWAS) reported to the Council that LDEQ had agreed to entertain a proposal for a BEP that would allow $200,000 to $225,000 of the fine under the Consent Decree to be used by the City to pay for half of a project to improve the City’s wastewater treatment system. The BEP would pay for half of the estimated $400,000 project. LDEQ wanted an answer yesterday.
( beginning at about minute 7 )
Some of the Councilmen did not think this was a good idea. The Chairman of the Infrastructure Committee asked for a Cost/Benefit Study for Tuesday committee meeting. They insisted that they were not questioning the expert advice or judgment of the Director or whether this was a frivolous project, but I am not sure how they thought this could be construed otherwise.
At the Infrastructure Committee meeting on Tuesday from 1:00 until 2:59 (with the Council Meeting starting at 3:00) three City Councilmen talked about a Study that by all indications they knew they had no intentions of addressing during an election year, and decided it was best to kick it down the road for at least ten years.
At 2:59, the Director of DOWAS tried to give the committee its requested update on the BEP, but two of the Councilmen got up and left. The Chairman of the Committee said he wasn’t sure the Council could reach a decision within a week’s timeframe on this. At that point I had to leave.
Here is my Cost/Benefit analysis of this BEP – $200,000 is less than $600,000. That is it.
The City is required to pay $325,000 to LDEQ as soon the Consent Decree is finalized, probably this week. That taxpayer money is gone unless the city accepts LDEQ’s offer to pay for half of the $400,000 project. If not, it will cost the City $200,000 plus the $400,000 for a total of $600,000 to do the project.
Folks, this cipherin’ isn’t even “times and gosintos” it is just simple addition and subtraction – Are the Administration and City Council going to spend $600,000 of taxpayers’ money on a $400,000 project or only $200,000?
My concern is that because of the dysfunction of our city officials, we may have already lost this opportunity and money.