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Mar 13

Doug Karr Addresses Storm Water Rates to Karen Gibson

Karen Gibson

Councilwoman, District 5

Lubbock, TX

Karen,

I just wanted to email you and express my gratitude for the town hall meetings and the forums you provided to address the issue of the storm water rate.  I attended the one on Monday evening and listened with interest to what you and the others in attendance had to say.  Since I am not a resident of your district, I thought it best just to listen and not take time away from others who are residents with my own personal thoughts and remarks.  I would, however, appreciate the opportunity to briefly share with you in this email my perspective on not only the storm water issue, but also the bigger related picture that I currently see within city government in Lubbock.

Unfortunately, the storm water issue is just one of several debacles that currently exist.  Those debacles include, but are not necessarily limited to, the following:

  1. The NELCDC.  Before the alleged embezzlement charge surfaced, I asked Jim Gerlt if he thought that organization passed the “smell test.”  Well, it certainly seems to be emanating a pungent aroma now.  Even though the NELCDC does not produce budgets, audits, and most importantly results, the council has continued to provide them with big sums of taxpayer money.  Along with this debacle are others that from a financing and results perspective are seemingly very similar such as LEDA and Market Lubbock, Inc.  I recall the recent debacle where they created winners and losers among the printing businesses and with Beck Steel and Desert Tanks (I believe that was the name of the organization that took the incentive money, came to town, and then went away).
  2. The Mahon Revitalization Project which is seemingly related to the NELCDC.
  3. The City Debt which according to the comptroller is second per capita in the state and growing.
  4. The controversy and lack of transparency surrounding the Imagine Lubbock Together initiative.
  5. LP&L and its recent issues regarding governance, rate increases, and the issues facing the city in 2019.

Perhaps the biggest debacle and contributing factor to all of the debacles heretofore mentioned is a mayor and city council that cannot or will not come together for the common good of the city and the people they were elected to represent for whatever reason.  There is seemingly no statesmanship among this group of individuals, only dysfunction.

For me, there is at least one common denominator to all of these debacles, and I think that was somewhat demonstrated last night in the public forum.  There seems to be too much reliance on city staff and not enough analytical and critical evaluation of the facts by the elected officials.  I know the mayor and council receive much information on various topics from citizens and citizen groups which seems to be somewhat, if not totally ignored, until a crisis occurs; hence, leading to the meeting like the one last night.  For example and if my understanding is correct, the staff advised the council that the storm water rate change would be revenue neutral; whereas, information was also provided to the council that not only was it not revenue neutral, it would result in a 32% increase in revenue.  As you pointed out last night, there are public hearings provided on most, if not all, issues, but people generally cannot attend at the times those are scheduled and unless enough information is provided for each person to calculate the financial impact on their own situation, those meetings are pretty much useless.

You asked for solutions to resolve this issue.  Toward that end, there were a couple of suggestions offered last night that I do not feel represent a viable solution(s).  Shifting the storm water fee to an equivalent number of pennies on the tax rate is not an answer.  This proposition still takes disposable income out of the pockets of those who were speaking last night proposing this possibility.  Exempting churches is also not an option.  As a member of the finance committee at my church, I would very much like to see this exemption enacted, but I am enough of a realist to know that if it is, it will just put a greater financial burden on the individual rate payer because you said yourself, there must be a minimum of $24M raised each month.  As you also said, drainage is a collective issue; therefore, all entities and individuals should share in the cost.  However, requiring the churches to pay the same fee as Walmart is certainly not equitable.

Viable solutions for resolving this issue include:

  1. A possible storm water rate category for churches similar to the electric rate category that exists for churches.
  2. A sales tax increase as was suggested last night to include more payees, especially those from out of town who benefit from the drainage system but who do not own property.
  3. As a couple of gentlemen indicated last night, fiscal efficiency in city government needs to be improved.  Stop incurring debt, stop spending, reign in big over bloated department budgets and use the savings toward paying down the debt, and stop blaming and using previous city councils to justify the lack of fiscal management.

I think the one thing that rang out loud and clear last night from those who spoke was that the personal affordability standard in Lubbock has been exceeded.  People cannot continue to be hit with tax and fee increases and have money for the other necessities of life, especially when those tax and fee increases are unfair, inequitable, and I would contend mostly unnecessary if some fiscal management practices were implemented.  As I listened to many of the business owners that attended last night’s meeting,  I was reminded of what one council member was quoted as having recently said in regard to this issue that businesses could just pass on the increased cost.  That attitude and comment was cavalier and out of touch to say the least.  The city needs to start living within its financial means because it has exceeded the financial means of the citizenry.  If that is the case in your district as was verbalized last night, it must also be the case in other districts.  It’s no wonder that the state legislature is considering the imposition of some tax relief measures on municipal governments (which I understand the mayor opposes) in response to outcries all over the state to stop the current tax and spend practices.

Again, thank you and the mayor for providing these public forums, and thank you for allowing me this opportunity to share my thoughts with you.

Respectfully submitted,

Doug Karr