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City details utility costs

CHART OUTLINES breakdown of services paid for by The Dalles Water Department.

CHART OUTLINES breakdown of services paid for by The Dalles Water Department. City of The Dalles chart

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CITY OF THE DALLES budget worksheet outlines transfers of money from utility and street funds to other department for services rendered. The left-most tally is the individual departments’ total expenditures, next to that is the portion of those expenditures that comes from the general fund. To the right are transfers from street, water and wastewater funds.

Nolan Young, city manager, recently made an exception to his rule of “not debating issues” in public forums by documenting a response to allegations made by resident Jack Wallace in The Chronicle.

“We thought the city council should have information on some of these issues,” he said at the July 28 meeting of the elected body.

Although he did not name Wallace, Young referred to his July 24 letter on the editorial page. Wallace questioned why water and sewer rates continued to go up while the city “diverted” revenue from the water and sewer payments into the general and streets funds, among others.

“Three things have occurred to me,” he wrote. “First, we ratepayers have been overcharged in order to fund other city departments. Second, the city council (or at least the majority of its members) have not looked after our interests and have not held city officials accountable. Third, why has system maintenance been deferred if water and sewer revenues have been increasing year after year?”

Young told the council Monday: “The City of The Dalles operates the water and sewer funds as utilities with all the revenue going into the operation of those utilities. We also don’t subsidize those utilities through the general fund currently, which has been a decision the council in the past.”

Wallace enclosed copies of city budgets, past and present, with his letter that marked transfers of funds from utilities to the general fund. His calculations reflected that almost $8 million of water and sewer revenue had been put in the general fund since fiscal year 2005-06 and $2 million had gone into the street fund.

“The funds identified in the letter to the editor are actually paying for services, anything from watershed control to planning work, construction work — the billing department itself,” Young told the council. “All those things are payments for services.”

He provided a pie chart for the 2014-15 water fund, showing a transfer of $530,021 to the general fund for services. The breakdown of that number for specific departments gave 6 percent to planning, 20 percent to information technology, 18 percent to utility billing, 18 percent to finance, 9 percent to legal, 19 percent to administration and 10 percent to watershed patrol.

Although he did not provide a breakdown specifically for the sewer fund, Young included a copy of administrative transfers to the general fund from public works in the current fiscal year budget.

That document showed the total expenditures of 15 listed departments as $6.4 million, with percentages of where that money came from broken down among four funds – general, street, water and wastewater.

For example, the expenditure for the city manager’s department was $302,803, of which 58 percent or $84,696 was derived from the general fund, 8 percent or $24,224 from the street fund, 18 percent or $54,505 from water and 16 percent or $48,448 from waste water.

The police department, the most expensive city service, will have a total expenditure this fiscal year of $3,428,760, which is entirely paid by the general fund.

Utility billing, at $180,029, is funded by 54 percent, or $97,216, by the water fund and 46 percent, $82,813 from the waste water fund.

The city clerk’s department will spend $141,160 this year, of which 60 percent, or $84,696, will be provided from the general fund, 8 percent, $11,293, from streets, 13.5 percent, $19.057, from water and 18.5 percent, $26,115 from waste water.

Young also addressed the subject of utility revenue transfers to the street fund that had been raised by Wallace. He said the water and sewer funds each paid a 3 percent right-of-way fee for operation on city streets. He said other utilities paid a similar fee.

After reading Young’s documentation, Wallace urged the council to further investigate the numbers provided. He said the complicated accounting system was confusing and difficult to understand.

“The water and sewer rates we pay are extremely high. Why do we have to put anything into the general fund and then buy it back [wages for administrators]?” Wallace asked. “I think everything would work better if the city just lived within its means and sewer and water payments stayed in those funds. If we can’t do that, we ought to start cutting things at city hall.”

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