Diving into the shallow waters of Measure W (October 25, 2016)

Pat Orr presents himself as one of the driving forces behind the Town’s deceptive Measure W, but he seems not to know why this ballot initiative came into being, or even what it contains (Diving into Measure W, Apple Valley Review, October 25, 2016).

To start with, Measure W is not a water measure, period. Neither the Town’s Measure W nor the voter-initiated Measure V has anything to do with water or water rates; they have to do with the Town taking on debt for specific projects. Measure V would give voters a say on whether or not to take on these debts. Measure W is a blank check for Town Hall. This in a nutshell is why the Town is so gung-ho for Measure W and so opposed to Measure V.

This is reflected in the fact that it took signatures from thousands of residents to put Measure V on the ballot, while Measure W was placed on the ballot by the five members of the Town Council, acting in defiance of the vast numbers of residents who have long opposed the hostile takeover of our water company and other financial boondoggles by the Town.

Because he is unable to support his false assertions that Measure W somehow reins in the Town Council and will result in lower water rates, Orr has included a lot of confusing verbiage that is either incorrect, or has little (if anything) to do with these two ballot measures. Maybe this is because even though he claims that that personal attacks were off limits, he is in no way impartial, while sharing a private mail box (and more?) with Neighbors United, which refers to Liberty Utilities as rapists.

For example, Orr writes that several attempts to buy the system were rejected by the last two private owners of the water company. This is untrue. According to Town records, there has been only one offer to buy the water company, for $50,300,000 on June 26, 2015, and it was good for only 30 days. (Considering that the water company at that time owned more than $68 million in water rights alone, this was more like an insult than it was a good-faith offer.) Previously, the Town had multiple opportunities to purchase the water company, but each time failed to act.

Orr writes, the water company is expected to finally cost between $88 to $100 million. Yet, the Blue Ribbon Water Committee — of which Orr was a member — recommended in 2012 against the purchase because the price might have been as much as $200 million. Orr also doesn’t tell you the $88 million purchase price for the water system in Missoula implicitly includes $95 million in immediately needed repairs and upgrades, which brings the actual price to around $183 million. Our water system is in better shape so the purchase price should be higher, and you can add at least $8 million per year that this drags on in repairs and upgrades because that’s what Liberty Utilities is prohibited from spending since the Town stepped in. Even the Town on January 26, 2016, acknowledged it is anticipating spending up to $125 million, atop which there would be roughly $100 million in interest charges. Obviously, the higher the purchase price and the higher the interest rate, the more money ultimately will be needed to retire the bond.

Orr mentions in passing skyrocketing water rates and surcharges, without providing any context.

For many years, our water system was deteriorating because the previous owners could not afford to invest in proper maintenance and upgrades. Only in the last few years has our water system had owners with pockets deep enough to spend the millions needed to begin to restore our water system to a sustainable condition. Apple Valley is very fortunate that these new owners believed enough in our community to invest here. True, they get a return on their investment, but it is limited by the California Public Utilities Commission and the Office of Ratepayer Advocates.

On the rate front, our water rates are about the same as those in surrounding communities, once you take into account the hidden charges that accompany municipal water ownership. With private ownership, what you see is what you get; true transparency. Try getting that from Town Hall.

The drought surcharges were mandated by the state to encourage conservation. Water conservation is important in most of California, but especially so here in the high desert with our limited water resources. These surcharges were initiated by Governor Brown, and have since been lifted. The other minor surcharges are either temporary or mandated by the state, and benefit our community as a whole.

Orr writes that the current profits taken out of the water company by Liberty Utilities will pay the debt service on the required loan. What little support there is for this statement dates back to April 28, 2015. Back then, the Town didn’t know what it was buying, didn’t know what it was going to cost, didn’t know where the money was coming from, didn’t know what the money is going to cost, didn’t know how to run a water utility, didn’t know who would be running the system, and had a history of failure where water systems are concerned. Nothing has changed since then, except for rising interest rates that have already added tens of millions of dollars to the repayment costs, and rising expenditures by the Town. The Town has already passed a resolution to add millions to the bond, where unrelated past expenditures will come back to life as interest-bearing debt. This one act is a microcosm of the entire takeover proposal: Cash for Town Hall; debt for the ratepayers.

As for those profits, they not only validate the wisdom of making the investment in the first place, but encourage additional future investments, which in turn help improve and maintain our water system. Conversely, using that same money to service bond debt breaks this all-important loop, so that this money leaves our community forever. This is why the Town has already announced that it intends to seek additional bonds should money be needed for future water system needs. The repayment of each and every one of these bonds will fall on the backs of the ratepayers.

Orr writes, we have been assured water rates will be stabilized, if not immediately reduced. This is nothing more than an empty campaign promise. The Town’s October 2016 newsletter says nothing about reducing rates, and as mentioned before, Measure W does nothing on this front. So the question is, do you really trust the same persons who have blown through $30 million in reserves in five years, who borrow money to pay Town bills, who hide documents and transactions from the public, who break the law, who are so desperate for more money they have made it one of their eight key goals for the future, and who don’t want your input before encumbering you with hundreds of millions in debt, magically to transform into benevolent leaders once you remove their shackles?

No, of course not, and no such transformation is forthcoming short of regime change. That’s why the Town council and its small number of supporters are so frightened of voters actually being given the chance to control our own debt destiny. That is why they are trying to sink the potentially-effective voter-initiated Measure V with the toothless Measure W.

Orr also writes about future development in North Apple Valley, implying this can happen only if the Town is free to act alone. In fact, the Town speculated many years ago on kick-starting development in North Apple Valley. With virtually nothing to show for their gamble, the Town would have continued to lose money for decades, had our water company not come to their rescue back in 1998. Now the Town says it wants to try again, betting our money on ventures that may never come to fruition, such as the Big Lots warehouse that was supposed to have been completed by now, but which has yet even to be started. Assuming we have enough water for such growth — and there is some doubt on this matter — who better to have as a partner than a water utility with deep pockets, one that is ready, willing, and able to expand its system and then run it professionally? All that is required for this to happen is for the Town to work with our water company for the common good instead of against them.

Orr then falsely claims that the water company has bled us dry for several years and shows no signs of stopping. If you’ve read this far, you know that nothing in this statement is truthful. In fact, Orr contradicts himself in the next sentence, by implying that the water company is so greedy it doesn’t want any new customers — an incomprehensible position.

Orr also makes a damaging implicit declaration against interest that the Town is actually controlled by its lawyers, as no one — not him, not the Town council members, not the Town staff — could restrain them when they drafted Measure W. To state the obvious, the Town’s attorneys represent the Town, not the citizens. That’s why Measure W benefits the Town, and not the citizens. Yet the Town has spent in the neighborhood of $84,000 promoting this, which anywhere else would be considered improper if not illegal.

A yes vote on Measure V and a no vote on Measure W tell the lawyers, the Town council members, and the Town staff that they need to listen to the people of Apple Valley, plain and simple. It may be a revolutionary idea, but it’s one whose time has come.

Vote yes on Measure V.

Greg Raven is Co-Chair of Apple Valley Citizens for Government Accountability, and is concerned about quality of life issues.

Files related to Measure V