05/04/2010 Gilbert Town Council Summary

The first important item covered at this meeting is a potentially very serious issue that is facing all of us: The possible tripling of our cost of electricity, and significant increase in our water rates.
* Janie Thom, board member of the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, gave a presentation related to the Navajo Generating Station (NGS) near Lake Powell, AZ, east of the Grand Canyon. This station provides Gilbert and much of Arizona with water and power. It is under assault by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups, as well as the EPA, and those who favor Cap and Trade, because it operates using coal. It has been blamed for the haze over the Grand Canyon, More likely, the haze is created by southwestern winds sweeping in from CA (and Los Angeles), but since the Navajo Station uses coal, that’s enough grounds for the EPA to convict it for polluting. If the EPA has its way, it will require the NGS to install a special Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) system for NOx (Nitrogen Oxide) control. This system could cost up to $1 billion, 15-20 times more than the burners being installed now ($47 million), which destroy smog-forming Nitrogen Oxide. The $1 billion price tag outweighs the benefit, because the difference between the two won’t even be visible to the naked eye.
If the EPA requires this extremely expensive system, the cost of electricity will TRIPLE, and our water rates will go up significantly. This is not good news to economically depressed Arizona citizens. Also, it could make the Navajo station too expensive to operate and force it to close. This would be an economic disaster for the Navajo and Hopi people, who depend on the station for jobs.
ACTION: Go to cap-az.com. Once you are on this site, look to the right, click on Navajo Generating Station. Then, look to the left, and click on Take Action. There is a prewritten statement that you can email to Arizona’s senators and representatives, and you can find their email addresses, etc. listed.
Tell them to please urge the EPA to let the Navajo Generating station use the high-intensity burners they are installing now, at a cost of $47 million, and give them the next 10-15 years to see how well they work. This will give the Navajo Generating Station time to link up to other sources of energy.
Tricia Parkey and Connie Schmauss spoke of their concerns about reading in the Arizona Republic that the Fire Dept had recently removed a fire truck from service. They asked the Council to not sacrifice the Public Safety of Gilbert’s residents.
(Note: They are correct to direct this plea to the Council. It is the Council’s decision to cut or to not cut Public Safety. They can vote FOR or AGAINST Public Safety anytime.)
Elizabeth Cress-Sweet agreed with the recent swimming lesson cost increase, but recommended that the pools should not be closed on both Saturday and Sunday. She also thought the Town could get by with two pools.
(Note: Swimming lessons went from $2.88 to $3.50 each, a 62-cent increase. EVO charges $16 per lesson.)
Because the Council had decided some time ago to allow citizens a total of 15 minutes to speak for/against the upcoming 5/18 election on Prop 406, not everyone was allowed to speak. There were to be 7 speaking in favor of the tax increase and 2 against. Due to the 7.5 minute time allowance for each side, 3 were able to speak on the pro side. This included Joe Bedgood, Brian Jeffries, and Mark Sequeira.
Joe Bedgood advised that he is normally anti-tax, a Republican Precinct Committeeman and economist, but that he supports Prop 406, in order to protect Public Safety. His greatest fear is that without Prop 406, the Town is in grave danger.
Brian Jeffries, president of the Mesa Fire Fighters Association spoke about the erosion of services and how fire fighters frequently look back on scenes thinking “if only they could have gotten there faster.” He acknowledged the Town employees for their voluntary 3% pay cut to help the budget deficit.
Mark Sequeira, Gilbert resident, stated that he recently purchased new tires for his vehicle, to protect his family, and the tax would have only been $1.65 more with the tax increase.
The two who spoke against Prop 406 were Erin Scroggins and Victor Petersen.
Erin showed charts (from Fire Chief Jobusch) noting that from 1/2009 through 3/2010, emergency response times had not diminished at all, but in fact had improved. He also brought attention to the fact that both Mayor John Lewis and Vice Mayor Linda Abbott had stated at the May 1 Council meeting that there are no plans for lay-offs.
Erin presented an overhead from the website of Citizens for Public Safety in Support of Prop 406 (Joe Bedgood, Chair) which threatens that “29 Fire Personnel and 65 Police are at risk of losing their jobs unless Prop 406 passes.” Erin thanked Mayor Lewis and Vice Mayor Abbott for their reassurance that these lay-offs will not occur, and he suggested to Joe Bedgood that this should be welcome news, and he could take down the threat of lay-offs from his group’s website.
Victor Petersen brought to the Council’s attention that the Town’s historical mis-projections from 1999 to current relating to large deficits that turned out to be surpluses, was not in fact due to growth, as some people had asserted. Victor showed a graph which indicated there was no correlation. The truth is, the Town has always made serious miscalculations regarding huge deficits that have never materialized.
CONSENT CALENDAR. This is a group of contracts and agreements that the Council usually votes on as a group unless a councilmember pulls it for discussion. There were 2 items that are of note. John Sentz questioned a 5-year contract renewal with Severn Trent Environmental Services for operation and maintenance of the Neely Wastewater Reclamation Facility. He wanted to know if there were other bidders. Staff advised no, they did not go out to bid because Severn Trent had provided an extremely good deal. A presentation of the additional cost for the next term was given by a representative of Severn Trent, including a cost of living increase. John Sentz spoke of the need for a Contracts person to oversee all contracts. Council directed Town Manager Collin DeWitt to look into possible renegotiation/bids.
The other item was brought up by Jenn Daniels, who was concerned that operating insurance policies with Travelers Insurance Company was not submitted for bid. Staff advised that annual bidding was not welcomed by competing carriers due to the labor involved. Also, Travelers was able to provide an increased value this year and lower rates.
PUBLIC HEARING. Citizens may speak on any item identified as Public Hearing. No one wished to speak. Of special note was Zoning Z10-05. This is a revision to the Land Development Zoning Code.
Why is this so special? Because it was this Code that was used by Gilbert’s Senior Planner/Zoning Administrator to forbid Pastor Sutherland to hold church services involving 7 people in the privacy of his home. The newly written code has been approved by the Alliance Defense Fund, the attorneys representing Pastor Sutherland’s Oasis of Truth Church. Hopefully, the Code will prevent such abuses in the future. Pastor Sutherland had to pay $305 for the Zoning Interpretation Letter that trampled on his First Amendment Rights. I wonder if a better written code will improve the “best professional judgment” that the Senior Planner stated that he used to interpret the Town’s previous Code.
ADMINISTRATIVE ITEMS. These items are for Council discussion and possible action. The Council may, or may not, allow citizens to speak. There was one item of interest: The Budget. The Council allowed Eddie Cook to speak for 2 minutes.
Eddie Cook, a resident of Gilbert, presented his findings after thoroughly studying the Town’s budget and after discussions with Assistant Town Manager, Marc Skocypec. He discovered that there is much more money available in the General Fund than has been identified in the past. His information showed a total of $34,768,802 available to mitigate any deficits.
Marc Skocypec presented the final vetting of budget cutting ideas from the Steering Committee of the Citizens Budget Committee and Employee Suggestions. Of the $24,777,961 in suggested cuts, the Council approved $3,535,941 ongoing reductions and $5,387,361 in one-time reductions. This is a total of $8,923,302 or 36% of the total recommended.
(Note: It’s true that some of those recommendations were not feasible, but in other cases, money was left on the table by the Council.)
Marc presented the Town’s anticipated budget deficits for future years, through FY2015 which is stated to be $26,700,000.
Before I go on to the next part of this Summary, please remember that this is a Conservative website. Gilbert Watch encourages its readers to think and to question. Think about the premise upon which an argument is based. Is that premise valid? If not, the entire argument and conclusion are not valid.
Linda Abbott questioned Mayor Lewis repeatedly about a robo call that “numerous people” have received asserting that Mayor Lewis advised that the Town had $40 million in its budget to cover the shortfall. Mayor Lewis stated that he had no idea what she was talking about, but he had not authorized or granted permission to use his name for the call. Linda Abbott turned to Jenn Daniels to find out what she knew about it. Jenn advised that she had not heard the call. Sarah Crawford, a Gilbert resident sitting in the audience did know about it and she sent a note up to Jenn, and Jenn gave it to Linda Abbott. This note advised that Sarah could explain the situation.
Disregarding the note, Linda Abbott continued asking Mayor Lewis about the call, and the $40 million. Sarah was standing near the podium, wanting to speak, but Linda Abbott would not allow her to clarify the issue in public. Rather she addressed Sarah and told her she would speak with Sarah after the meeting. Sarah called out to her, asking if Linda would then set the record straight. No response.
This badgering of the Mayor by Linda Abbott, and subsequent treatment of a private citizen was an unprofessional and embarrassing episode.
The fact is, no matter how much evidence Erin Scroggins, Victor Petersen, Eddie Cook, or anyone else who is against Prop 406 have presented, through painstaking, honest research, Linda Abbott will go to lengths to discredit it. The anti-Prop 406 side takes the position that the Town has the money to spend on Public Safety. We have presented much evidence to support this. Our position is that Public Safety should be funded first. Our position is that the Council’s first responsibility is to the safety of Gilbert’s citizens.
Linda Abbott questioned Police Chief Dorn and Fire Chief Jobusch about the current low service levels of their departments. Due to cuts in their budgets, they cited reduced levels of training, a fire truck now out of service, frozen personnel positions, and personnel shortages during summer months due to vacationing personnel.
Linda pointed out that the Gilbert population has increased, but public safety personnel numbers remain flat. This, she asserts, should tell us that response times are going to be impacted. (Note: We had received a report from the Fire Dept. indicating that actually, from 1/2009 through 3/31/2010 response times had improved since cuts were made. Also interesting is that the number of incidents from 1/2009 through 3/31/2010 did not increase over time. In fact, the LOWEST number of incidents was 2/2010!)
After hearing of the potentially serious effects these cuts have had on both Police and Fire, Jenn Daniels suggested that Council consider at a future meeting transferring $1.7 million from the vehicle replacement fund to support Public Safety. No comment was made by any other Council member.
Mayor Lewis concluded that even without the sales tax increase, he did not foresee lay-offs. He felt that there were options available and opportunities to sustain us.
Linda Abbott gave a very lengthy speech stating that we are getting behind, we have reduced service levels, and that according to survey results, most people state that Public Safety is their Number One Priority. She stated that this is her top priority as well, and she cannot participate in anything that would be otherwise.
Linda Abbott stated many more things, but I want to stop right there. We should all be asking Linda Abbott this question:
Why then, Linda, did you consent to remove $1 million from the Fire Department? You are one of three Council members still on the Council who created the reduced service levels.
PLEASE NOTE: On June 2, 2009, (Gilbert Town Council Minutes, page 16). ”The consensus of the Council was that the removal of $1 million in overtime proposed by the Fire Department which would remove one adaptive response unit WAS ACCEPTABLE to the Council.” The Council at that time included Mayor Berman, Vice Mayor Krueger, Council Members Abbott, Crozier, Presmyk, Skousen, and Urie.”
Why would the Fire Department budget be on the chopping block in the first place? Why would the Council accept that? By the way, at the same meeting, they decided to NOT cut back on library hours.
Would a person who truly puts Public Safety First vote to remove $1 million from their budget KNOWING it will negatively impact the Public Safety of every Gilbert resident?
The truth is, and will always be, as Linda Abbott herself has stated: Public Safety is the Number One Priority in Gilbert. It is the COUNCIL’s job to ensure that. They have the funds to ensure that. It doesn’t take a special, dedicated tax to ensure it.
I propose a Council Watch after 5/18. Which Council Member is going to vote FOR or AGAINST Public Safety First?