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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on January 19, 2012 9:43 AM. The previous post in this blog was Return of the jugglers. The next post in this blog is Yes, dear -- Go Giants!. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

More nickel-and-diming by the Sam Rand Twins

Hey, Portland water users, we've got some good news and some bad news for you. First the good news: Instead of billing you quarterly, the water bureau's going to bill you monthly. That's a good thing, because at the rate water and sewer bills are growing in this town, the typical household's quarterly bill is going to contain a number with a comma in it pretty soon.

Now the bad news: As part of the changeover, the city is going to jack up water rates by 2% to cover added administrative costs.

Isn't that special? Only 347 more days of this to go.

Comments (31)

With the water-ransom suddenly appearing to be cut in third, this will make it easier for the Portland Robber Bureau to keep raising rates to astronomical proportions. With quarterly billing, it would've soon become an international embarrassment for water bills to be higher than a rent or mortgage payment in an area famous for its rainy climate.

Jack,

Why are you assuming that after 347 days the nonsense will stop? My guess is that current candidates for mayor will all continue the command and control process. They all appear to be hungry to change your lifestyle and to grab your tax money for iconic uses.

That's the thing that pisses you off about this. Mult County gets stuck with bridges and health care - things that cost.

Meanwhile CoP gets to get income thru water/sewer, permits/fees and to add insult set up URDs to take even more money from schools and Mult county.

Yet they still say there is not enough money and it'll probably be the same with the Hales/Brady/Smith triad.

At one of the PWB December budget meetings, Kathy Koch, PWB customer service manager discussed her $200 cell phone and cable bills in the context that water bills could be made much higher and would still be less than these other(non essential) services. If the Portland Water Bureau eliminates quarterly (optional monthly) billing in order to hide the significant increases of recent years, SEWER COSTS will also INCREASE. PWB said they had not discussed this rate increase plan with BES.

Water rates have risen dramatically, 55% in the last 4 years. The Water Bureau also increased by double digits the separate base charge (the last two years) with plans to continuously increase the base charge alongside water rates by double digits in the foreseeable future.

Steve, that's because the people who keep getting themselves elected in this town could give a rat's a** about it or the people in it. They've all seen "the vision" and they want to be able to say "I was the one who made it come true".

Insanity. We live at the confluence of two major rivers, have the Bull Run Watershed to draw on and hydropower as well . . . all things other municipalities that charge their customers LESS for water DON'T have.

A year ago, the owner of our apartments instituted a monthly water charge that hadn't existed up to that point because he didn't like the amount he was obliged to pay. This was on top of the $200/per unit increase in monthly rent that took effect when he bought the property and several subsequent increases thereafter.

With this disgusting news from the Randy the Water Carrier I will steel myself for another increase in our water charges in the coming year . . .

Where's the gratitude? Here they are lowering your periodic payment to hardly more than a third of what it has been up to now. And this is the thanks they get?

Why not daily billing? Think of all the extra administrative costs... that means JOBS, people! The number of 200K/year "management" positions alone would be staggering. And we could really help throw some business to the post office at the same time.

Next up: a "pay-per-flush" app for your smart phone. Complete with associated software developers, tweeters, outreach coordinates, ministers-of-webiness, and even more managers!

Having recently moved back to Portland from Beaverton, I was surprised to see quarterly bills from the water department. I called to ask about them, and it turns out they already have a (moronic) process for monthly billing: each time you get a bill, just call or send an email and they'll split it into three bills.

I asked why they did this instead of actual monthly billing and the phone rep told me "we don't have enough employees to read the meters at every house every month."

Seriously?

I asked why they did this instead of actual monthly billing and the phone rep told me "we don't have enough employees to read the meters at every house every month."

I thought that the City of Portland had automated meters that were read by a private contractor who also reads the PGE electric meters at the same time?

I checked with neighbors about the water bill, the household and use here is small in comparison to the neighbors across the street in a huge split level with a swimming pool, a family....
around the corner, another family that operated a day care center...guess what?
The three household bills were essentially the same, with no significant difference.
Does PWB do "block averaging" if so, how does that help those who use less water, wonder how much may be unduly collected then by the PWB to bring in more cash for the city? A neighbor up the street said his water meter hasn't been checked for eons.
So what gives?
No meter reading?
City can decide the charge based on what?
I thought our payment was to be based on our meter and water usage.
This PWB with Leonard in charge seems to run like a wild west operation
with no sheriff.

"At one of the PWB December budget meetings, Kathy Koch, PWB customer service manager discussed her $200 cell phone and cable bills in the context that water bills could be made much higher and would still be less than these other(non essential) services."

Dear Kathy--cell phone and cable bills are bills that consumers choose to pay. We can choose whether or not to have those services, and we can choose what level of service we pay. When times are tough, we cut back. Our family of 7 has no cable bill, and our total cell phone bill (4 phones) is under $100/month. However, over the last 6 months, our water/sewer bills have averaged over $150/month. I guess it's time to tell the kids to start showering at school rather than at home.

Before I retired, a couple of months ago, there was a co-worker who often quipped: "Do it here, not at home!"

He may have been onto something.

"At one of the PWB December budget meetings, Kathy Koch, PWB customer service manager discussed her $200 cell phone and cable bills in the context that water bills could be made much higher and would still be less than these other(non essential) services."

I just can't get over the arrogance of that statement - the attitude of the bureaucracy in a nutshell. It doesn't matter how stupid and inefficient the bureaucracy is, as long as you have higher expenses for some other item.

I wonder if it ever occurred to Ms. Koch that a significant fraction of the population of Portland can't afford a $200 cell phone and cable bill? Heck, a significant fraction of the population of Portland doesn't make as much as the $128,885.17 salary that Koch gets, and perhaps views skyrocketing water bills as more of a problem than Koch.

Actually, I view Kathy Koch as more of a problem than my water bill.

For those disbelieving that Kathy Koch could actually say that, it is in fact an official Portland Water Bureau talking point.

Dave Hasson of the Water Bureau:

"Dave also presented information showing that the Water Bureau bills to the typical single family household represent the smallest utility bill that a household normally pays for, with the other bills being sewer, garbage, internet service, cable TV, electricity, natural gas, telephone, and cell phone. David Shaff noted that many customers perceive the water bill to be a much larger bill because the Water Bureau bill includes sewer/stormwater charges, which are much larger than water charges, and because the bill only comes quarterly for most residential customers."

Get that - since sewer/stormwater charges aren't really part of the "water charges", Portland residents just exaggerate how much water is costing them!

Hasson makes $128,885.22 a year.

http://www.portlandonline.com/water/index.cfm?a=326227&c=53699

Here is an idea.
For one year, have all the city officials/bureaucrats live on the income of middle/lower income folks and budget accordingly.

The experiment would be to put aside the difference in money in safe keeping for them to retrieve at the end of the year, but it might, just might make them think about the rest of the citizens and may change their attitude and policies.

....Or a second plan, if they do a good job of taking care of basics, they get all the money back and a bonus.

...and those that are wreckless about the city finances, lose a percentage accordingly.

Have a feeling that Leonard would end up in the hole, no worry though,
with his triple PERS.

I detected an attitude in the words of the PWB employees that belongs in a for-profit monopoly, not a publicly-owned agency. People sitting around figuring out how to sell higher prices to the customer rather than trying to cut expenses. Why the talking points? Where do they think their customers are going to go?

"I detected an attitude in the words of the PWB employees that belongs in a for-profit monopoly, not a publicly-owned agency."

Our local for-profit monopolies would not be so blatant in their PR - after all, Salem has to approve their rate increases. Can you imagine PGE raising its rates 55% in four years, and then arguing that no one should complain because people in Portland still spend more money on entertainment than electricity?

Here's what the CEO of PGE said last time PGE raised rates:

"No one likes seeing higher electric bills," Piro said. "We are doing everything we can to be efficient and cost effective in our business while also helping our customers take control of their energy bills with energy efficiency ideas and flexible payment options, including payment assistance resources."


I have been paying monthly for about two years or so. I forget exactly how but I found a link on their website and opted to pay monthly instead of quarterly. What a crock that they need to raise bills by 2% for a service that already exists!

Nolo,
Back from dinner now, I wanted to add that your perception is right on that the attitude of the PWB is not one of a publicly-owned agency.
Neither are their actions.
In my opinion, we have been betrayed.They have not been prudent at all, adding more and more debt to what end? Looks like the path to privatization, but since they are already conducting themselves as such, the public agency title seems merely a cloak with which to cover themselves.

4% for flinching!

Heard a similar attitude out of Merkley's office. (not Merkley)
The person essentially dished off the concern of our water rates, said that everything is going up, like so what and when the subject of the quality of water being degraded, not wanting treatment and other chemicals added, etc. was brought up, again dished that off like well they are doing this all over the country, like why should your water be different and lastly said that Merkley is a Senator, what can he do? This is up to the city kind of thing.
Wow, as I said, I don't think Merkley would have liked this coming out of his office, but the attitude of some of these people is disgusting.
Hope this is not the case all around, that staff is arrogant. How many of our elected officials depend on staff, staff reports, input, etc.?
Don't know about the rest of you, but I have experienced shabby treatment from staff. I find it doubly annoying because we pay their salaries.

Jack,

I will send you a copy of my first "full" water bill in Vancouver. You are welcome to post it for comparison to yours.

Ours is a family of four in a 2.5 bath home with low-flow water faucets/showers and toilets. We have a 7 year old Duet frontloading washer and 5 year old dishwasher.

The only water we consume is inside the home (no car washing or hosing down the porch). Our water/sewer bill in Portland was $125/month.

Where are the investigative reporters in this town? This is the story of the decade if anybody cared to look. Here we have mass extortion of a resource that almost runs itself. And on top of that, enough arrogance to clog the sewers and flood the Willamette.

Investigative reporters have been missing on this story of the decade.
Missing also on the scene here considering the seriousness of this critical issue, are many elected officials, quite remarkably silent.

So, what would be the motivation for public employees to neglect their duties to the public? I can think of two - money (which includes power), and peer pressure. The first is easiest - follow the money. Who is benefiting from higher water/sewer rates? The second is a lot more difficult and would need some inside intel. What is the culture within the water bureau, or COP in general? Some people do not respond to financial incentives as much as psychological pressure to conform, with or without their knowing it. Bureaucracies are not known for fostering independence, though morality shouldn't be a vice either.

Jans is correct. I have been on monthly billing for the past seven years. It's a simple process, they just stretch out the amount over three months and you get regular adjustments if your usage rate is less or more than the projections.

I see no reason why this system could not be put in place for everyone.

The 2% figure just doesn't add up.

25% of the cost is for the two month deferral. Is that a one time expense? After that, shouldn't they Bureau simply adjust its accounting systems?

Where are the projections of add'l customer service staff to handle the projected increase in calls? Do they anticipate three times the volume of calls?

My monthly bill is approximately $100, so 2% is $2. I cannot believe that it will cost them two additional dollars to print, mail (bulk municipal rate), and take calls / complaints. In my case,since I am already on monthly billing, the increased bureaucratic burden is ... zero.

Funny my insurance company gives me a nice rate break for having my payments for auto and home taken out of each paycheck. My understanding is that unlike the 6 months in advance for insurance, the paycheck approach helps them even out their cash flow. But hey the city would never want to admit this benefits them and we should get a break.

Clineman, why not just reduce their pay as you mention and use the difference on something useful, say maintaining streets.


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