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ON THE AGENDA: CITY COUNCIL NOVEMBER 8 MEETING
Sewer and the audited financial report anchor this week's City Council agenda
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The extended City Council break is over. After a few months of light agendas and canceled meetings, Council and interested City residents were slammed with an 885 page agenda released just after 5pm on Thursday, November 3rd. Almost half of the agenda is a 407 page packet on sewer and wastewater (yes, again). Makes it tough to get to the Weed Show! Time is short, so let’s get to it.
There are multiple opportunities for public comment at every Council meeting. Since our Council rarely makes themselves available to residents outside of Council meetings, please use the opportunity of Council meetings to question your Council members on the issues affecting our City.
Public comment for all items is limited to 3 minutes per agenda item but the public is entitled to speak on multiple items. The public can also email Council and the City Manager and cc the City Clerk requesting that comments be read at the meeting.
Items 6 - 13 on this week’s agenda are on the consent calendar, which means they are voted on in one motion. The public is given an opportunity to speak on these items before the consent calendar is accepted.
There is public comment on items 14-17 prior to the opening of Council discussion on each item. The public may comment on any issue during general public comment at the end of the meeting. Keep in mind that the Brown Act prevents Council from discussing items that didn’t receive public notice via the agenda.
As usual, we’ll be pointing to agenda highlights but we encourage 29 Palms residents to read the full agenda.
AWARDS, PRESENTATIONS, APPOINTMENTS AND PROCLAMATIONS
We usually don’t comment on these, but we noticed that none of items recognize that November is Native American Heritage Month…
The consent calendar consists of several items that can be approved with one vote. The Council has the option to pull any of the items from the Consent Calendar for discussion. This meeting’s Consent Calendar items include the minutes from the prior City Council meeting, the monthly Fire Department incident report, the monthly Legislative report which reports on the status of bills at the state level, an authorization to reduce costs on Safe Routes to Schools to stay in budget, a contract for constructing a median in the region of Encelia on 62, a pro forma item for the paperwork needed to receive the State money promised for the Luckie Park Pool reconstruction, and a Treasurer’s report on funds held in City accounts.
#14. Triennial California Building Code Publication
This appears to be a relatively uncontroversial item that brings Twentynine Palms building codes into alignment with the regular update of State building codes.
#15. Elimination of Issuance Fees for Water Heaters and Swamp Coolers
Another pro forma action, codifying into City code the already existing practice of waiving fees for the installation of water heaters and swamp coolers in order to encourage the obtaining of permits for these items.
#16. Annual Comprehensive Financial Report (ACFR) for FY 2021/22
You may wonder, what is a “ACFR” and how is it different from a budget or annual report? We recommend watching this helpful YouTube video produced by “Transparent Texas” for the State of Texas where you will learn that an ACFR is an audited set of financial statements that have been prepared in accordance with requirements set by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB).
It is a backwards looking document which examines City finances in much more depth than an annual report and places them in a broader context.
Per the staff report, “The City has received an unmodified opinion from RAMS. This means the ACFR represents fairly the financial position of the City; it is the highest opinion given by an auditor.”
We encourage residents interested in City finances to make a deep dive into these documents — there is much more detail than is found in the usual Finance Director’s reports to Council. We’ve highlighted a few charts from the Statistical Section that we thought our readers would find interesting.
We found this chart particularly illuminating. Since it covers 10 years, it tracks the impact short term rentals (STR) have had on City finances. “Room taxes” reflects TOT collected from STRs and hotel rooms, STRs are also required to have “Business Licenses” and “Permits”. Of course, expenses associated with STRs are harder to track in these statements.
The impact of STRs is also reflected in staff increases in Community Development.
But despite the increase in City revenues, the acreage devoted to services such as Parks has remained stagnant over 10 years (displayed across two charts).
Residents income is also stagnant (as reported on the census), despite the increases from STRs seen by the City. However unemployment has dropped, as it has across the Country.
#17. City Wastewater and Sewer Project
The November 8th City Council agenda includes 400 pages of sewer docs. If you didn't know better, you might be temped to think the City Manager was intentionally trying to bury the City Council and any other unfortunate interested parties in voluminous detail!
But to figure out what City Manager Frank Luckino is actually requesting Tuesday from the City Council, we're forced to read tea leaves.
Per the Staff Report, here's what he says he wants: "1) Affirm the commitment to pursue the funding source; 2) Discuss and approve the location of the treatment plant that has changed with further professional investigation and planning; 3) Discuss and approve the collection system phasing, which is a by product of the change of location from above; 4) Discuss the difference between tertiary and advanced treatment of wastewater."
Then further, we learn that "The high-level estimate with the low level of design is $126-200M," and " if we can NOT get 100% granted, we need to adjust scope or augment funding." And "There are three components of the project: 1) Building the System (Collection System and Treatment Plant); 2) Private Property Connections; and 3) Sewer Rates for operations."
Overall, perusing these 400 pages, there appear to be the following tidbits of news here:
The treatment plant location has now changed, versus either of the Amboy Road sites floated this summer. But where's the new proposed location? The new location isn't disclosed in these 400 pages.
The change in treatment plant location has prompted a rejiggering of the sewer system phasing. Now, downtown would be the first to get sewer.
The project consultants are likely advising that additional treatment is required prior to re-injecting treated wastewater into groundwater. This represents an additional -- perhaps unforeseen or not budgeted -- cost.
The big sewer analysis report that Carollo Engineers has been working on since spring, which they were supposed to complete around Nov 1, either isn't yet complete or isn't yet being made public.
The sewer project still has a huge range of possible costs ($126-200M) and little certainty around the amount of state funding. At various points in 2022 the City’s sewer project cost estimates have oscillated between $80M and $200M.
In contrast to Yucca Valley, where unhappy residents have directly borne the cost of hookup to sewer, in Twentynine Palms the cost of private property connections are being folded into the sewer project's overall construction budget.
Watch out for questionable population estimates. At times the City uses population estimates including Marine Base population seemingly to help justify need for sewer, but the Base has its own wastewater treatment.
Previous Desert Trumpet coverage and opinion on the saga of wastewater treatment in Twentynine Palms
THE WHO, WHAT, HOW AND WHY OF SEWER IN TWENTYNINE PALMS - PART I (September 10, 2022)
NEWS IN BRIEF, July 21, 2022
(July 21, 2022, includes draft map of sewer and street boundaries of project)
"SPECIAL" JULY 20TH CITY COUNCIL MEETING TACKLES THE USUAL WASTEWATER AND MORE
(July 18, 2022)
WATER QUALITY JUSTIFICATION LACKING FOR HUGE NEW CITY OF 29 SEWER
(May 6, 2022)
OPINION: CONFINE SEWER PLAN TO DOWNTOWN AREA
(Originally published in the Hi-Desert Star / Desert Trail, March 8, 2022)
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