City Council Fails to Fix Cost Allocations (Mostly)

In July, the City Council had the City’s proposed cost allocation budget pitched to them by the City’s cost allocation financial staff manager.

As can be now be expected from this municipal administration, the City Council was NOT provided a copy of the actual cost allocation program that City taxpayers paid a consultant to draft. That maybe makes sense because it is long and so complicated that nobody on this City Council would understand it … just like the Council that initially received the consultant’s work. Except that original Council actually admitted they didn’t understand what the consultant had presented.

The City Council also was NOT provided a copy of the personnel listing or time allocations that are being charged into the cost allocation program. That’s readable and understandable with even a minor amount of brain capacity.

Instead, the City financial staffer provided a 30’ish page condensed version of what cost allocation is (pretty much a repeat from past years), and a couple of cherry picked and carefully worded examples that makes the uninformed think the City’s cost allocation program is well thought out and in the public interest.

The newbies on the Council were apparently impressed, especially Councilman Kol Medina. He praised the presentation.

Kol Medina has the potential to learn some of the cost allocation flaws as his Council years pass.

To those who understand cost allocation, it was yet another staff budget presentation and Council action that will continue to financially fleece both the sewer and SSWM utility ratepayers.

Additionally, the City Council never asked why the Streets fund is cost allocated … the result of that is the City never seems to have enough money for road work because too much of the street fund money that should be spent on capital street improvements is instead being used to pay for City staff … as of this year, a portion of 46 City employees get some of their salary and benefits  payed from the Streets fund.

In the big picture, the City Manager has made it perfectly clear that both protecting and diversifying the City’s General Fund revenue streams trumps virtually all funding decisions at City Hall. This City Council is fully supportive of that management philosophy. And that’s not all bad … but in financially really good times, which we are currently experiencing, this City doesn’t have to have two utilities and the street fund contributing an undue amount of money to the general fund in rather arbitrary salary, benefits and rents.

Sewer utility ratepayers will continue to pay some 50+ city employees a portion of their salary and benefits and charge them rent for using City Hall real estate.

SSWM utility ratepayers will continue to also pay 50+ city employees some portion of their salary and benefits and charge them rent for using City Hall real estate.

This is simply excessive. 

Only the COBI water utility has reasonable cost allocation, and that came about by ratepayer litigation and the City reduced that utility’s cost allocation by more than half. It appears the only way this is ever going to be fixed is by ratepayer litigation, and that is very expensive.

The one half decent decision the City Council made related to cost allocations was to change the City’s cost allocation relatively expensive (and not required by Ecology) Water Quality and Flow Monitoring program from the SSWM Fund to a 50%-50% share between SSWM and the General Fund.

The City’s continuous (24/7/365) water flow monitoring program is still this City’s most useless program since the years of data hasn’t been used for any useful purpose (it is filed with consultant help in the City’s water library), but this City Manager and City staff have no program reviews to evaluate existing programs and evaluate their effectiveness or  lack there-of.

They did shifted the Groundwater Monitoring program from COBI Water Utility ratepayers to the general fund. That has been a no brainer for years because the groundwater monitoring program is of benefit to all island residents not just the 25% or so who pay for City water. It’s not a lot of money, but Sarah Blossom gets a shout out for FINALLY getting that small cost but obvious cost allocation problem brought to a Council vote. About six years late … thank you COBI water ratepayers for funding this for many years.

In summary, the Council was yet again bamboozled by City staff on the big cost allocation issues, but they at least chipped away at a couple of small issues. That’s slightly better than nothing.

lf I were grading the City Council on cost allocation fixes (and I am), I would give them a 1.5  of 10.