Why Is The Water System Building Our City Hall?

Submitted By: rkinor@gmail.com – Click to email about this post
Recent Manzanita City Councils have a history of finding creative ways to use Water Fund revenue to pay for questionable activities or projects. The Warrenton overhead allocation model and its $191,000 transfer to the General Fund is the latest example that the current Council has discovered to continue this tradition.

In FY 2019 – 2020, the City Council made a direct transfer of $113,675 from the Water Operating Fund to the City Hall Expansion Fund. No explanation of why this was justified, but no one was asking these questions then so it just happened. The following Budget year, the same amount was included again in the Budget to be transferred to the City Hall Expansion Fund. Thankfully, John Kunkel an experienced City Manager who was serving as our interim at the time and had inherited that year’s Budget advised the Council that he would not be making that transfer as there was no justification for it.

In FY 2020 – 2021, the City cut timber from the Alder Creek watershed and received $500,000 in timber sales. This was the first timber cut since 1995 when all of that approximately $380,000 sale went to construct the blue water reservoir.

You would think that some portion of this recent $500,000 sale from watershed property would again find its way into the water construction fund to help pay for the millions of dollars of current needed water system improvements. Unfortunately, all $500,000 was put into the City Hall Expansion Fund once again and has been spent to pay for consultants and the loan to pay for the Underhill property.

In all of those Budget Committee conversations about the Warrenton model certainly someone should have posed the question that since we aren’t required to make these overhead allocation transfers, wouldn’t it be a better policy at this time to use this $191,000 for needed water construction projects? Other than the Mayor, the answer in essence was no, City Hall consultants, Underhill property purchase loan payments and possible future debt payments on construction of a new City Hall come first.

And please stop suggesting that since the Warrenton audit hasn’t said anything negative about their overhead transfer charges, that somehow justifies the adoption of their model. This misrepresentation of the purpose of a municipal audit to convey to citizens that an auditor has some role in recommending or otherwise approving a particular City’s adoption of any overhead allocation methodology is troubling.

Why does our Water Fund seem to be the source of so much interest by our Councils to fund a new City Hall? 1930’s bank robber Willie Sutton provides some insight into that question. When asked why he robbed banks, Willie replied “because that is where the money is”.

Once that $191,000 gets transferred from the Water Fund to the General Fund, there is no internal accounting by City staff to insure that those funds get spent to pay for all of the examples of City Hall staff support activities that were recently given to justify these transfers. Once transferred, it can then be used for any expense that the City chooses to pay for out of the General Fund including debt payments on any new loans to build a City Hall.

So when you hear this Council tell you that they simply had no choice but to adopt the Warrenton overhead allocation model and take $191,000 of Water Fund revenues out of next year’s Budget now under development in addition to the $213,000 that will be transferred from the current Budget for staff overhead costs, remind them that they indeed had a choice to keep more money available for construction of projects to improve the reliability and safety of our water system. They said no thanks, we may soon have a new construction loan to make payments on in addition to the Underhill loan payments and our City Hall consultants are expecting their checks.

The purpose of this letter is to remind our elected officials that sound policy decisions need to balance what can be done with what should be done to best serve the interests of the citizens that elected you. As citizens listen to more discussions on pending water rate increases and the costs of those needed water system projects, how many citizens think it would it would be better policy to keep the $400,000 of overhead allocation transfers between this year’s Budget and next year’s Budget now under development for needed projects rather than send it to the General Fund for City Hall staff expenses?

Randy Kugler