Scene in Passing: Carson City utility policy memory unit forms
January 5, 2014
Tucked into the Carson City governing board's first 2014 meeting was the routine, though not exactly, appointment of five citizens to a Utility Finance Oversight Committee.
It was routine only in that those appointed were being rubber-stamped by the full Board of Supervisors. Each member of the board found one committee member. The individuals already had been named.
For the record, they are Mike Bennett, named by Mayor Robert Crowell; Andrea (Ande) Engleman, by Supervisor Karen Abowd; Mark Rotter, by Supervisor Brad Bonkowski; Bruce Scott, by Supervisor John McKenna; and Mark Turner, by Supervisor Jim Shirk.
Engleman and Scott were on hand Thursday for the meeting. Each said a few words.
"I think these oversight committees are important for establishing trust," said Engleman, who previously served as chairwoman of the city Ethics Ordinance Review Committee. Engleman years ago was the director of the Nevada Press Association and is a staunch advocate of government oversight.
"I look forward to trying to provide something that you are able to utilize," said Scott, principal civil engineer at Resource Concepts Inc. Scott also displayed his wry humor. He said after the oversight panel advises the board, "we'll be able to sit in the audience and watch you take the heat."
The panel will meet in February and March each year to review proposed utility budgets. One aspect of their charge is to keep boards from spending what might eat up portions of financing designed for longer-term maintenance and capital upgrades. The panel was formed in the aftermath of sewer and water user fee increases that underpin bond financing to improve out-of-date water- or wastewater-treatment infrastructure.
"The purpose of the utility committee shall be to provide the board with recommendations regarding continuing compliance with board adopted policies in preparation of annual budgets," according to the resolution establishing the five-member unit.
Throughout the rate increase dialogue and debate this year, some current board members lamented and city staff noted that decisions by previous board members boxed the city in with too little in revenues while the wastewater-treatment plant began falling apart.
It became obvious during those deliberations that no board can bind a future board from reversing or revising any action — higher rates or lower, for example, as well as higher spending or lower — so the committee was formed in the hope it will serve to provide additional institutional memory. Call of a check-and-balance move, if you will.
Kudos to those serving, as well as to board members for forming the panel and recruiting them.
John Barrette covers Carson City government and business. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.