Thursday, February 15, 2018

• City Council Meeting February 2018

Between items 3.1 and 3.3 this meeting was full of detailed information. 

So much so that I'm just going to highlight the portions that caught my attention, but first let's start off with the recognition of two Eagle Scouts that came at the front of the meeting.

Noah Thompson's project dealt with the snack bar at Marna O'Brien park. He installed removable screens, that are now part of the health code, for the service windows. 
Back row: Tim Walker, Dustin Nigg and Marsha Swanson. Front Row: Bridgette Moore, Mayor Ben Benoit, Eagle Scout Noah Thompson, Katelyn Wilkinson a representative for Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez  and Glenn Miller a representative for State Senator Jeff Stone.
Nate Coddington's project was also at Marna O'Brien park. He replaced the wooden backstops on the baseball diamonds.
Back row: Tim Walker, Dustin Nigg and Marsha Swanson. Front Row: Bridgette Moore, Mayor Ben Benoit, Amber Diaz (Nate's mom), Eagle Scout Nate Coddington, Katelyn Wilkinson a representative for Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez  and Glenn Miller a representative for State Senator Jeff Stone.
PUBLIC COMMENTS (on non agenda items)
• Dave Crook (sp?) discussed speeding issues in the Lemon/Almond/Waite area.
• Brad Darymple brought up illegal dumping and off roading in the part of the city that borders Menifee.
• Ken Mayes (with donated time) had a slide show (literally) of things in town that he doesn't like. His list included home school inspections, fire hydrants, CSA 103 (an "assessment on 1084 homes located in the oldest part of Windsong Valley") which has "disappeared from the tax bill", the city fence code, the City Manager's pay, staff reports (in the online agenda packets) needing to include all the visual displays that will be at the meeting.
Wildomar Rap opinion time:
I'll have to try the slide show routine sometime too —looked fun. But in all seriousness, it was very effective to get the point across, about several issues, to all five city council members, and key staff members, at once.

Still, I have a sneaking suspicion that Kenny Mayes will be giving 6 minute slide shows at all the meetings from this point on. Might as well just cut out the middle man and make room for it on the agenda as a recurring item.

His final issue (about expanding the agenda packet to include all video display items) was brought up by Mayor Ben Benoit at the end of the meeting under "Future Agenda Items" where he asked staff to start including such items in the (digital) packets.
• Monty Goddard thanked city staff for the maintenance done at Windsong Park.

Before this part came up there was a change in the agenda and City Manager Gary Nordquist discussed the reason(s) why the new city website didn't launch before the end of January. 

"We encountered some delays," was the gist of the explanation. Mark your calendars for March 1st, which is the new target date for the switch over.

Monty Goddard spoke to this. This added a 12th holiday/floating vacation day, in perpetuity, to city employees (made possibly by the city getting the VLF funds returned from the governor). 

He noted that agenda item 3.3 also aims to reward city staff with a one time bonus of one vacation day for every year they "endured those dark fiscal days" (a quote from the agenda packet).
Wildomar Rap opinion time:
The Wildomar city staff has done a great job, especially considering those "dark fiscal days" and all, and a reward is in order now that there is the money to do so. 

However, let's keep in mind that public employees (whose salaries are public knowledge) aren't underpaid, even in our quaint little city. 

The fact that they didn't find themselves in the unemployment line, like many non public employees during those times, could have been considered a bonus in its own right.

I can see them getting either A or B, but both A and B?

I'm thinking that the extra holiday/floating vacation day was a pretty good attaboy on its own... but there I go again, always having had to earn money in the private sector, so I probably don't get it.
Ken Mayes attacked the credibility of ALS1 (who will be putting on the 3rd annual ALS1 5k on May 19th at Marna O'Brien Park — see flyer below). 

Hey Erin and Ken (the key local figures behind the 5K fundraiser), if there is paperwork that needs to be finalized, I suggest that you put that on your "do it yesterday" list. Otherwise, some wiseguy is going to look to shut down your event. 
I hear that there could be a beer garden there too... 
few things are as satisfying as a couple of frosty 
Saturday morning pops to get the weekend rolling along! ☺
As much as we hate it, red tape is there to protect the public from conmen looking to take advantage of the good nature of the public. That means everyone has to jump through the same legal hoops, even the good guys, to put on a fundraising event; especially one that is backed by the city.

Tangent Time

No doubt that is why the Original Christmas Tree Lane event (that was an annual event at the Lake Elsinore Outlet Center) is gone now. It was hosted by two local retirees that had no idea about the complex web of requirements the state has for such charitable endeavors. 

Some "concerned citizen" suggested that the State AG look into the event... and that was the end of that, along with about $10K per year that got distributed to local youth orgs with the proceeds... but I digress.

3.1 Western Community Energy Community Choice Aggregation Program
This dealt with an energy scheme (in the British sense of the word) that would have the city join a JPA (Joint Powers Authority) to get their power from a newly formed CCA (Community Choice Aggregation), called Western Community Energy (WCE).

There was a slide show presentation that lasted about 10 minutes touting the benefits of joining WRCOG's brainchild.
A slide that tried to explain the CCA, and how the energy gets from them to you.
This only got more mind-boggling as the 25 minute presentation went on. Below is part of a slide that showed the proposed savings.
A lot of effort to save 2% to 4% if you ask me.
I won't sneeze at saving a couple of percentage points, but the large sums of savings (seen above) really won't be amounting to anything. 

My wife and I don't use a lot of power, but we'll still be celebrating our windfall of (up to) $40 a year in style.

Those numbers (~4% Savings in 10 years = $49+ million) come from adding up all the small savings of the rate payers, then acting as if there will be a large pool of money at the end of the rainbow.

Here are some of the takeaway facts.
•  Both cities and individual rate payers can opt in or out of the CCA at anytime. 
(I didn't hear anyone mention penalties for doing so, but makes me wonder if there are any. Usually if there are no penalties, that is specifically gone over).
•  The power would still be delivered to homes and businesses with the existing power grid, which is controlled by SCE in our area. 
•  The existing tiered rates would still be applied by Edison for delivering the energy, even though the rate payer would be buying from someone else. 
•  Start up costs range between $4M and $7M depending on number of cities joining, which will be covered by WRCOG.
•  If adopted, and things go as planned, they would start "serving load" by October of 2018.

Councilmember Nigg asked some basic questions to get the answers on the record. 
Customers can opt out whenever they want, is that correct?
• Cost savings [mentioned in the presentation] are typical?
• The start up costs are covered by WRCOG?

To which "correct" was given as a response each time. The short exchange is in the 1:45 minute video below.

Wildomar Rap opinion time:
The "tiered rate" issue really got Councilmember Tim Walker exercised. His home is all electric and his bills are far higher than the average (from what I gathered). 

His point was, which seemed reasonable, is that if he uses more energy, he's already paying the additional costs for the additional supply, including the additional taxes that would come with it. 

He wasn't too happy about, what amounts to a penalty, in the tiered rate system. Especially if he were to be buying his energy from a different company, but still getting stung by SCE on the delivery side.

The video below is a snippet of Councilmember Walker asking about tiered rates, and then talking about wind cars and oil being a "renewable" energy source.

Let's create a scenario here.... Ah, how's this one:
You've been buying your chocolate milk from a venerable local dairy, but they charge you extra if you want more than 10 gallons delivered to you - tiered pricing. (Yes, it's preposterous, but stick with me...)

A different dairy approaches you (WRCOG or WEC - whichever it is) and tells you they'll sell you chocolate milk for about 2% to 4% less than the first dairy... but the first dairy (SCE) is still going to deliver it to you.

In the end, you're still using the tiered-price delivery services of the first dairy (SCE), and you're paying them like before too.

So, in conclusion, if you have high personal demands for chocolate milk (power) then it looks like you might want to buy your own chocolate cow (solar power at your home) and be done with either of the above options.
Another fun part of this agenda item was when Ken Mayes did his public comment routine and equated this JPA with the Animal Shelter "fiasco" of the past and made it clear that he wanted no part of the 2%-4% savings that would come from it, "I for one, will opt out, TONIGHT, from purchasing electricity from this JPA."

Good on ya Kenny, SCE will be glad to take your extra dollar a month.

This was just a "discuss and provide direction" item, and no action was taken, though it sounded as if SCE would be putting together a presentation of their own on the matter.

Since there seems to be savings to the rate payers, and an easy way to opt out if things change, I can't image the point of not exploring this further.

The thing I want to know is, if this is better than peaches and cream like it's described, then why aren't all the local cities beating a path to their door? Why the deliberation? Why does it sound like WRCOG would be sanguine if they could "amass five to six cities" when their organization has eighteen?

If you'd like to take a look at the 20+ slides, use this LINK and look for item 3.1 and click on it.

3.3 FY 2017-18 Mid-Year Budget Report
This item took an hour, in addition to updating where the budget stands, there was also lengthy discussion about what to do with the newly returned VLF funds (about $2.4 Million annually).

It was asked of the various departments for a wish list of sorts. The price tag came back at $6.9M worth of items.
Don't feel bad, this was difficult to read (due to small font size) at the meeting too.
All things on the list are either obviously worthy, or an argument can be made for them. It's just a matter of money.

Things ranging from additional police (a no brainer) to wobblers like a new kitchen for the fire house ($60,000), and head-scratchers like a $60,000 video package to be able to start live streaming the city meetings (all approved).

There was a lot of discussion, so I'm going to include the video of the entire item. It begins with City Manager Gary Nordquist discussing the various spending options proposed and other aspects of the item (about 28 minutes worth). 

From there went the public comments, council discussion, input from Fire Chief Todd Philips and Police Chief Daniel Anne, more discussion and then the vote.

At one point Councilmember Nigg balked at the idea of spending $60k on remodeling the firehouse kitchen.
"I just can't see the justification there. I've read through the staff report. I would [want to] line it out and apply it (the $60K) to [other things]. I just can't justify taking $60 grand for a kitchen when we have roads that don't work that well." 
Chief Todd Philips came to the podium to elaborate on the needs of Station 61. For those interested in more details there, check out the video and jump to the 33 minute mark where the councilmember starts the topic.
The list of recommendations was unanimously approved by the council. With the addition of $4000 per year for TIP (Trauma Intervention Program). The entire agenda item is covered in the video below.
My favorite quote came from Councilmember Marsha Swanson. It was in reference to the additional $2.4M to the budget:
I think that Gary [Nordquist] has lead us well.  He's kept us in line all this time, and just because we feel like we've got some money —that's just a feeling we have, we don't have any money. We're not even back to where we were, so I think we need to start off slow. We're going to look at this throughout the year. If there're some ways we can add some other things, I'm all for adding a motor officer... I just think we need to stay within his recommendations, that we need this reserve cushion. None of us knows what's going to happen tomorrow, or what we might need [...] and if we don't have reserves, and we aren't fiscally conservative we're not going to get anywhere. We've got time, let's just take baby steps to start with and go with the recommendations.  

I wanted to ask about the $60,000 for video stuff. 

I know this guy that does video, and thinks that number is about 10 to 20 times too high. 
I obviously went into the wrong business. I should have aimed to be a government contractor.
Thing is I didn't fill out a speaker card, and there wasn't a solicitation of the audience if anyone else would like to speak before that part of the meeting was closed, so I'll just opine here instead.
Wildomar Rap opinion time:
We've NEVER had live video of the meetings, and I don't get the point of going from Zero to Cadillac (maybe I should say 'Tesla' so the younger generation will get the reference) all at once. 

I've heard that it's got a lot of bells and whistles. That'll be good news to the 11 people that will be utilizing it on a regular basis.

At $18,000 a year to operate, it had better whistle!

Seriously, do the math ($18,000 ÷ 12 months is $1500 per month). 

After the overpriced equipment is purchased, the city is planning on paying $1500 a month to operate it (though the graphic above says $3,000 a month). 

Even if the city meetings take up 15 hours a month, which they probably only take up about 5 total, that is $100 an hour. 

Am I still in Wildomar? Are they trying to live stream city meetings or are they building a Hollywood set?

Without being too much of a joker, if you went down to Costco you could buy an eight camera HD security set up for under $400. 
Sure, it would cost money to have it installed and set up (apparently $20K is the going rate cities pay for such things), but with that kind of thing there's no reason why one of the city interns couldn't be taught how to turn it on, then switch from camera one (on the dais) to camera two (the podium) to camera three (the video display) and back. 

Such a set up might be underwhelming for bigger cities, but spending $60K for such a thing in Wildomar just reminds us, that no matter how noble the players, tax money is spent differently than how we spend our own money. Either that, or I'm just a cheap bastard that can get a lot of mileage out of lesser items.
•                •                •

It was learned that two signature events in town will not be happening this year. First, the Rotary BBQ failed to get enough backing to make a go of it. It was scheduled to be at Marna O'Brien park on April 21st. In it's place will be a Astronomy Night event.

The other annual event that won't happen this year is the Bicycle Safety Event. Each year the attendance has gotten smaller and smaller. It's a shame. Those that did attend, really enjoyed it.

•                •                •

"These days, government employees are better off in almost every area: pay, benefits, time off, and security, on top of working fewer hours. They can thrive even in a down economy."
– Mort Zuckerman 

Wildomar Rap wasn't shrewd enough to consider a gubment paycheck when younger, and now the gravy train is full up.

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