This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on April 20, 2005 2:16 AM. The previous post in this blog was Sweet XVI in the Sistine. The next post in this blog is Promise moves on. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Smelling a sewer rat

A serious disadvantage of these modern times is being subjected to data overload. Once in a while, I get introduced to someone as a blogger. A person I was meeting on these terms the other day got this forlorn look on her face and said, "How are we supposed to deal with all the information that we're hit with nowadays?" Er, nice to meet you, too.

Anyway, tonight I'm cleaning out my overstuffed e-mail inbox before the server gods cut me off from the outside world. I'm finding lots of neat stuff in there that I wish I had the time to really get into, but it's a pipedream.

Several of the pieces of e-mail are newsletters from our local state legislators. I e-mailed these folks back when the Major League Baseball bill was floating around in the legislature a while ago, and once they have your e-mail address, they'll be sending you their takes on the latest doings in Salem until the day you die.

Representative Jeff Merkley (Dem.), from out east Portland way, had an interesting item in one of his latest newsletters about the hassle that his constituents are having with the City of Portland. Back when the city annexed these folks years ago, it promised them that they wouldn't get sucked into the black hole of paying for the city's woeful sewer problems -- the source of never-ending complaints from the beleaguered citizenry whose sewer bills have reached astronomical proportions.

Funny thing -- the city promised, but it didn't deliver. The east Portland folks still haven't gotten, and are worried that they're never going to get, the storm sewer discounts that they were assured they'd get. According to Merkley, the city keeps putting off implementing the discounts until it gets its billing system straightened out. The current schedule is for that to be achieved sometime shortly after hell freezes over.

Merkley wants the city to get on the ball and give his constituents what they were promised. His letter to City Hall is here (pdf). He adds, in his newsletter --

[A]ll citizens who are legally required to provide their own storm water systems should get the discount automatically. This is important because the [city] Bureau of Environmental Services has been plotting to use an application system as a barrier to citizens receiving their fair discounts.

Is it any wonder that PGE's customers are just a little worried about how they'd be treated if the city owned that utility?

Comments (7)

"...the city keeps putting off implementing the discounts until it gets its billing system straightened out. The current schedule is for that to be achieved sometime shortly after hell freezes over."

While, in the meantime, we have the new "Revenue Bureau" proposal...I mean, why just screw up water and sewer bills when you can screw up ALL the city's bills (including my Assessment & Liens Division's).

I say its time to raise the bar...let's grab for the gold ring and see just how many bad billing statements we can generate in one, centralized location in the name of efficiency!

The real problem with the storm water discount is that it’s a bad idea.

Anywhere from 60-75% of the cost of storm water management originates from the public right-of-way. Since we all benefit from streets that don’t flood when it rains, that cost should rightly be assessed as a tax of some kind. Attempts to get gas tax dollars have gotten nowhere, and a tax based on property would be subject to the limitations of measures 5 and 41 (or whatever that second one was called).

Billing for storm water management as if it were a measurable service, something like gas, water, or electricity that can flow through a meter, is how the City can get around the property tax limitation. You can make the case for billing based on impervious area for larger properties, but it doesn’t work so well for residential customers.

The Revenue Bureau, eh? Heh.

Didja all know that although this was originally Katz’s idea, Potter is going ahead with the creation and implementation of this uberbureau to create a single place for the citizens of Portland to pay their taxes, etc. In other words, a Costco Bureau.

Sure – sounds nice. However, this plan was put into motion without a single public forum meeting or, for that matter, any public input whatsoever!!! So they have to move all existing bureaus into a single space (taxpayer’s pocket), break existing leases in doing so (I heard that to move the License Bureau, for example, it would cost $400,000 to break the lease alone), and move everything back to the 1900 SW 4th Building.

Has anyone noticed that the short-term parking in front of that building was removed years back? So if you want to park and wait in line to pay your [insert tax] bill, you have to pay for parking either across the street or around the block. It seems even more inaccessible than before. Now, move ALL these bureaus there and imagine a TON of people looking for parking to pay their individual bills.

From what I hear, not only are certain commissioners against it (Leonard) but a large score of public employees who will be impacted by this change as well are against it. (one note, taxation information deals with strictly confidential (Social Security) information – I wonder how Potter, et al, are dealing with confidentiality issues).

Yet Potter still marches on…

So, soon, you can call the Water Bureau, talk to a representative about your Property Tax, get your Income Tax straightened out and order a side of fries all in one phone call! Or, more realistically, you can sit on the phone twiddling your thumbs for twenty minutes while poorly trained employees fumble to answer questions about programs they have never worked with before…

Did you want to supersize that?

A while back the city council received an update on the progress of the new water bureau billing system. The update was basically this: Everything is going just fine, but implementation was pushed back another ninety days, from December of '05 to March of '06. The contracts of three contractors involved were ammended to give them a total of $600,000.00 more to cover their charges for the additional ninety days. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again in hopes of different results. The RFP (request for proposal) process used to select the system they are now working on was virtually identical to the one used to select the failed Severn-Trent system. They also had to purchase all new hardware for the new (Cayenta) system, because the old hardware is maxed out keeping the Severn-Trent system cobbled together. It will sure be interesting to see a reckoning of all the costs of both systems when all is said and done. I'm betting it will be in the range of fifty to sixty million dollars.

Dave, couldn't they instead demand that the contractor obtain a performance bond? . . . just like any construction company that is demanded to provide sidewalks associated with development. At least the surety would be taking the software company to task for failure to meet deadlines etc.

If the contractor cannot obtain a performance bond, of the cost for it would be too high, then that should be first clue to trouble ahead. Of course, though, I am insane enough to want to demand that a pension actuary obtain a performance bond on their promise of expected investment returns. Things just would not happen in today's operating environment if everyone demanded accountability from anyone other than a gullible public taxpayer.

Maybe the city should find more land to annex, just like with the sewer stuff, so as to cover the cost for the public works project in software development. I cannot help but think that there is some high school geek who could singlehandedly use MySQL and Apache and a little ingenuity to solve the water bureau billing problem.

I think it was the city, not the contractors, that asked for the extension. The six hundred grand was to compensate the contractors for the extra time on the project. And I agree with you about the scope and cost of the water billing project. A balance forward billing system. We've done hundreds of them over the last twenty years and I have no clue as to why this one should be so complicated.

FYI: if you want detailed information on the new Revenue Bureau, including costs, visit Portlandonline.com.

Info if you want it.

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