Guest Commentary - “Just the facts, Ma’am”
“An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it.” (Mahatma Gandhi)
The English Language is full of catchphrases and quotes from television, published word, and history that were often never spoken, rephrased, or incorrectly attributed.
“Dragnet” began in 1949 as a radio show, transitioning to television in 1951. Who can forget the opening line: “The story you are about to hear is true; the names have been changed to protect the innocent”?
The popular and influential television series also spawned the now iconic line, “Just the facts, ma’am,” or did it? Sergeant Joe Friday, in trademark staccato, his voice hoarse from cigarettes, actually said, “All we want are the facts, ma’am,” and depending on the situation, “All we know are the facts, ma’am.”
Why is this important? First, I happen to like “Dragnet.” Second, it illustrates the intersection of opinion (what we think) and fact (actual events). While the two may share similarities, when examined separately and in context, they provide entirely different meanings
During my many conversations with people in the community, I have been encouraged to provide an update from the City to discuss items that may be overlooked but are important nonetheless. This will by no means be all-inclusive. However, I hope this small sampling illustrates a few of the positive steps we have taken for the benefit of the community.
The Challis Municipal Water System Upgrade (Water Project) began at a cost of $3.2 million. Previous city councils proposed borrowing the total amount from the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (IDEQ) to be paid back over 30 years at an annual interest rate of 1.25 percent.
In order to satisfy the repayment schedule, previous city councils proposed increasing monthly residential water user rates from $25.53 (average) to $57.61 (average), a 126 percent increase; and increasing monthly commercial water user rates from $79.33 (average) to $276.35 (average), a 248 percent increase. Fortunately, no money was ever borrowed.
Currently, we have a $700,000 Water Project. The Capital Improvement Plan we implemented calls for three priority improvements (projects) over a 6-year period (2017–2022) representing a cost savings to the community of over $2.5 million, a 78 percent reduction in costs. At full buildout, it represents a cost savings to the community of $1.1 million, a 34 percent reduction in cost.
To accomplish this, we chose a different path for the Water Project and the Water Fund itself. We reduced expenditures and aggressively managed accounts receivable, resulting in a 400 percent positive increase in overall cash to the fund balance. As a result, the Water Project will be paid for with cash, without borrowing, and no increase to user rates.
The Challis Well House Project was a joint venture between the City of Challis and the Custer Soil & Water Conservation District (Custer Soil). Initial estimates to complete the Well House (construction, engineering, construction management etc.) exceeded $230,000. Keep in mind that initial engineering estimates exceeded $85,000, nearly 37 percent of the total cost.
We understood where we were and where we needed to be with this project. In order to achieve our goal for the community, we utilized local contractors, sourced building materials locally and recruited our City Maintenance Department (Corey Rice, Cameron Davis and Alex Sarinana) to construct the building. In addition, the City acted as General Contractor for the project.
Working together, in conjunction with Custer Soil, Keller & Associates (our engineer), and IDEQ we reduced the actual cost to complete the Challis Well House to approximately $65,000, a 72 percent reduction in cost, less than the initial engineering estimate.
Again, we chose a different path for the Challis Well House. As a result, it was paid for with cash, without borrowing, and no increase to user rates.
I encourage the public to reach out to the city council. Ask about the Airport Capital Improvement Plan, a 10-year plan with the sponsor share (City portion from airport revenues) fully funded, again with cash, without borrowing, and no increase to airport user fees. Ask about meetings we have scheduled in December with two engineering firms to hear proposals for updating our Street Inventory Plan that, once updated, will allow us to develop a Street Capital Improvement Plan.
We understand our role as stewards and that making spending decisions is sensitive to the reality that every public dollar is the community’s dollar. Indebtedness is not a solution, nor is it fiscally responsible. Rather, it is an untenable position.
Mike Barrett is the City of Challis mayor.