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As the Village Turns

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Sometimes, finding material for this column is a tough job. Oh sure, it's not as tough as, let's say, maneuvering a huge forklift truck into the office of highly esteemed El Paso County Commissioner Jim "Oops. I Thought I Had A Lot of Puppies At Home" Bensberg every Thursday and hauling away his unbelievably heavy newspaper recycling bin.

Nevertheless, there are days when this is tough work. Take last Wednesday, for example, when I sat through a long, complex PowerPoint presentation by the Utilities Policy Advisory Committee (UPAC) to the Colorado Springs City Council (BEWILDERED).

The issue was whether new utilities ratepayers or established ratepayers should carry most of the load of the estimated $1.4 billion our city-owned Utilities plans to borrow over the next 10 years. The $1.4 billion will be used to pay for Utilities services considered vital to our community. This would include the following costs:

1) $1 million: New water pipeline from Pueblo.

2) $8,000: Special 120-foot AARP-approved safety ladder that elderly residents can use to change the burned out streetlight bulbs in front of their dark, waterless, unheated homes.

3) $4,800: Thick, hand-woven Persian rug for Utilities czar Phil Tollefson's office. (The old one was worn out by our City Council members' knees during Phil's bonus pay negotiations.)

Anyway, in February our City Council members -- who serve as our Utilities Board and also as technical advisers for the "Teletubbies" TV show -- asked for help from its policy advisory committee. The question they wanted answered: As Colorado Springs seeks to fulfill its proud mission statement ("Sucking the Colorado River, Arkansas River and All Known North American Aquifers Dry By 2020"), should new homeowners and developers pay more of the costs of development and growth?

The official answer, culled from the advisory committee's 26-page PowerPoint presentation that accompanied an 80-page report, was this: "Uh, what was the question again?"

Take this sentence, from the actual presentation:

"UPAC is recommending changes to the following: Implementation of a revised methodology for new electric and gas system connections that implements a line extension and development charge methodology similar to the current practice for new water and wastewater connections."

Translation: If this "revised methodology" is implemented combining electric, gas and wastewater systems, don't be surprised if raw sewage shoots out of your toaster. (And definitely don't sit down if the toilet seat is emitting sparks.)

Supersize me

Here's another actual line, from "Policy Statement C":

"The entity funding oversizing of line extension components shall be entitled to prorated refunds as others connect and utilize the oversized capacity."

When City Council members heard that line they took quick and decisive action. That's right, all nine of them ran down the hall, caught the aide who had taken their lunch orders and asked the startled woman to "supersize" their McDonald's combo meals -- then loped back into council chambers to resume sleeping through the PowerPoint presentation.

More from "Policy Statement C":

"A system investment fee will be assessed for new connections to the water, wastewater and gas systems to buy-in to the overall value of the system using the established minimum five year forward look modified equity buy-in methodology."

When he heard that sentence, Councilman Larry Small leaned into his microphone and yelled, "Alex, I'll take 'Things Someone With a Metal Plate In Their Head Would Say' for $800." Sensing the meeting was getting out of control, Mayor Lionel Rivera briefly stopped drawing glasses, a goatee and stitches onto a photo of an atheist and leapt into action -- popping new batteries into Councilman Small's Game Boy, giving him back his "Grand Theft Auto" game cartridge and slowly easing him back into his seat as the presentation went on. And on.

Simple yet sound

"Benchmarking," according the actual wording of something called "Key Decision Drivers of Policy Statement C," on page 12, "demonstrated normally water and wastewater utilities have an up-front system investment fee to recover some portion of the capital investments made via an equity buy-in methodology or an incremental cost methodology."

This is the same simple yet sound financial strategy Vice Mayor Richard Skorman uses to run his popular downtown Poor Richard's restaurant. And also why, every Wednesday at his restaurant, you can get two medium pepperoni pizzas, two small soft drinks and an order of garlic bread for $650,000.

The presentation moved on -- at one point it pulled into the right lane to let a glacier roar by on the left -- to "Policy Statement D: Key Decision Drivers," where we learned that particular point "represents the utility-funded backbone system beyond direct line extension that is installed to serve new customers, such as generation plants."

This caused all nine council members to take the toothpicks out of their eyes and simultaneously ask, in a great show of unity among our elected officials, the following question: "What's a backbone?"

Long, long time

Eventually, and I can't stress that word enough, the PowerPoint presentation moved into its summary phase. (Footnote: If you consider that our planet has only existed for a fraction of a second in the life of the universe, the summary phase of the PowerPoint presentation still took a long, long, $%^&*$# time.)

Here's the actual highlight of that summary phase of the presentation: "Nomenclature of 'development charge' should be changed in future rate proceedings and tariffs to 'system investment fee' or something similar, to minimize future confusion about its purpose and which entity is responsible for its payment."

Because if there's one thing that really ticks off our Utilities Advisory Policy Committee, it's people who don't make things easy to understand.

-- richt@csindy.com

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