My blog post on “Trash Bin Economics” resulted in many emails letting me know that I have no clue about city economics. Much of the language used to describe how wrong I was, is unprintable on my blog. However, suffice it to write that many of you were angry. The gist of the arguments made in the emails that actually had coherent sentences was that I wasn’t comparing apples to apples and thus it was patently unfair. Unfortunately, there are no two cities with exactly the same demographics and infrastructure that would allow me to show you how over taxation is fueling El Paso’s attempt to stay afloat. This is because there are no two cities exactly alike.
Coincidently as I finished reading Cortney Niland’s latest ploy to steal from the taxpayers through additional water fees I received my latest water bill. As I was digesting Niland’s idiotic attempt to add a franchise fee to the water bill you pay I couldn’t help but smile at the water bill I had just opened.
It was $21.93 for 11,000 gallons of water my family and I used from June 24 through July 25.
It was then that I realized that I could do an apples to apples comparison between the two cities.
Taking the Orlando billing of actual water usage and applying the rates charged in El Paso I’m able to compare both services was my thought.
Of course I had to do some mathematical gymnastics in order to do a comparison because the El Paso Water Utilities lists it water rates in cubic feet, but not just cubic feet but CCF’s which is 100’s of cubic feet. I guess stating 4CCF’s is easier than writing 400 cubic feet. However, I further needed to convert the cubic feet to US gallons in order to do a fair comparison. Having grown up with the metric system by the time I was done I had a raging headache. Why the United States hasn’t adopted the metric system is beyond me!
Lucky for me, my Orlando water bill quoted rates in US gallons so that made life a little simpler for me, but not by much because I still had to take the water usage and account for the different tiers (blocks) billed by each utility.
Even that wasn’t a simple exercise because El Paso divides its blocks based on average water consumption from “the most recent December, January and February billing periods”. In order to be as fair as possible I took the actual water usage from my Orlando water bill and plugged in the El Paso rates.
First, let’s look at my Orlando water bill. I was charged $6.52 for the meter, plus $3.12 for the first 3,000 gallons of water. Under the second tier, I was charged $10.01 for the next 7,000 gallons of water. The last 1,000 gallons of water cost me $2.64. That was a total of $15.97 for actual water consumption. My total bill is $24.74. Now let’s plug in the El Paso rates using my water consumption.
El Paso charges a minimum of 4CCF’s. This is about 3,000 (2.892) gallons of water. That rate is $5.18. El Paso then charges $1.56 per CCF over the initial 4CCF’s to 150% of the average winter consumption. Taking the usage from my own bill, I applied the $1.56 per CCF to the next 7,000 gallons of water consumption. (1 CCF is 748.05 gallons). Yes, I realize that it is not exactly 7,000 gallons however, I’m estimating because I do not have an actual winter average to use. That gave me a total of $10.92. I then took the last 1,000 gallons and applied the Block 2 rate of $3.68 per CCF. That gave me a total of $19.78.
Wait a minute; some of you are gleefully proclaiming, El Paso water is cheaper!
Not so fast! El Paso loves its fees, as evidenced by Cortney Niland’s latest attempt to fee you to bankruptcy.
Now you have to take the $19.78 and add the mandatory fees to it.
The first one is the Water Supply Replacement Charge. That is $6.39. I then added the minimum wastewater fee of $10.93. It is likely more because it is based on the winter average; however, I left it at the minimum.
Sadly, we are not done yet. We now need to add the storm water fee of $2.97 for a 1,200 to 3,000 square foot house. There has been rain the last couple of days and more is expected later this week. However don’t think the storm water fee has resolved the flooding issues because there is still substantial flooding in central El Paso, as late as last year. As is typical in El Paso, a fee is allocated but it is never enough because the fee’s stated purpose is just a panacea for taking more money from the taxpayers.
The total in fees is $20.29. Funny how that’s more than the water you would have actually consumed. Think about that as you consider Cortney Niland’s self-proclaimed non-tax fee of $1 to $2 she is proposing that is actually a hidden tax. That gives us a total of $40.07. Nevertheless, we are not done yet!
Now you have to add the $16 trash pickup/bin fee and the associated sales tax to it. You now have a total of $57.32 for the water bill.
I can feel some of you screaming, “wait a minute” that’s not a fair comparison because the Orlando bill doesn’t include the trash pickup fee. Aha, got you, you are thinking!
Ok, so let’s add my annual $235 trash fee. Let’s divide that by 12 and add that to my actual water bill. That gives us a total of $44.32. Now compare that to the bill I would be paying based on El Paso’s rates. It is a nice round number of $13, or $156 over the year less. Keep in mind that I get curbside trash pickup three time a week regardless of whether it just normal family trash or a sofa I want to get rid off.
All of that cost is before the new fee Cortney Niland wants to add to your water bill.
I realize that the PSB board voted against Niland’s idiotic fee, however it is city council that ultimately dictates what the PSB charges you. Don’t forget that your water bill was raised by city council a few years ago with the storm water impact fee. Ask your city representatives how that money is being spent. Don’t just ask, ask for a detailed accounting.
El Pasoans are suffering for one simple reason, government entities that spend money like water because the payment is only one tax increase or new fee away. That’s why it’s cheaper for me to live in Orlando.
Here are some additional comparisons for those that will still argue that it is not a fair comparison because pobrecito El Paso is all alone in the desert.
Population 2013 (estimate): 827,718
Foreign born persons 2008-2012: 26.1% of the population
High school graduate 2008-2012: 73.3%
Homeownership rate 2008-2012: 62.7%
Median household income 2008-2012: $39,699
Persons below poverty level 2008-2012: 24.0%
Retail sales per capita, 2007: $11,625
Population 2013 (estimate): 255,483
Foreign born persons 2008-2012: 18.6% of the population
High school graduate 2008-2012: 87.6%
Homeownership rate 2008-2012: 39.6%
Median household income 2008-2012: $42,418
Persons below poverty level 2008-2012: 18.4%
Retail sales per capita, 2007: $32,493
I based my estimates on the 3/4” meter size that I understand is the average residential meter.
*US Census Bureau
It feels a bit like you are trying to obscure some fairly significant differences between Orlando and El Paso by throwing in a lot of meaningless numbers. The demographic numbers (high school graduation rate?) don’t really factor in to the discussion beyond establishing that El Paso has a bigger population.
I couldn’t find the information online, but how much as Orlando been spending to improve its water infrastructure and resources in the past 40-50 years? The PSB has been making a fairly concerted effort to secure water resources for quite a long time now and we end up having to pay for it. It’s interesting to note that while Orlando is having to scramble to figure out how to deal with its water shortages, El Paso is in fairly decent shape. Yes both cities have watering restrictions, but the PSB has been trying to manage water use for many years now and they’ve successfully reduced the per capita consumption pretty significantly over that time period. From what I read online, it sounds like Orlando is trying to figure out what to do whereas El Paso has a plan that seems to be working for now. Starting to do things like treating wastewater and recycling it back into the water system costs money, but it’s better to do that now than to run out of water later. Same thing for projects like the reverse osmosis plant that was built in cooperation with Ft. Bliss. I’ve had some experience looking at water systems throughout the country and the PSB is investing a lot of money into making sure El Paso continues to have access to drinking water despite being in the desert.
You mentioned the storm water fee and you implied that since there is still flooding in the city it’s just being collected and not used for it’s stated purpose. It’s a fairly simple task to research that issue and see that there are multiple storm water projects under construction as we speak. I regularly drive by several of them. I also see that the PSB is spending quite a bit of the money from storm water fees to add storm-water systems to street reconstruction projects. I can’t speak as to whether they are doing this in the most cost effective way possible, but your comments about the storm-water fee do come across as disingenuous. It is being collected and it is being used to fund storm-water projects throughout the city. We got away without having to worry about storm-water issues for a long long long time and now we have to play catch-up so that we don’t have a repeat of the major flooding we saw. Unfortunately that isn’t an overnight process and if you had done some research into what the PSB has publicly released, you’d see that there is a multi-year plan to not only bring out storm-water system up to speed, but to improve it and provide as much protection as possible.
I agree that Niland’s proposed franchise fee seemed fairly idiotic, but this obsession with trash collection and water bills seems odd when you’re not doing the math correctly. El Paso has it’s own particular issues related to how it does trash collection and where it disposes of that trash. A city that has less than 1/3 the population in less than half the area is likely to be able to realize some significant cost savings and provide better services than El Paso. It’s not just about looking at your bills and comparing them like you have, I can think of a dozen or so factors that you’d need to look at to even begin to make a fair assessment of the difference in cost for water and trash services and it just doesn’t look like you’re doing that.
Drakovic, thank you for your well thought out comment. You are correct in that I did not research the issues faced by the two water utilities. However my comments are directed at actual cost of living, trust that the right thing is being done on behalf of the taxpayers and the idiocy of Cortney Niland’s proposed fee. In support of my argument I point you to the fact that taxes and government imposed fees are less in Orlando than in El Paso. To me, that makes geographical issues irrelevant because costs are higher in El Paso across the board. That makes it a governance problem by El Paso politicians.
Thanks for reading my blog,
A resource is more expensive where it is more scarce? Why, doesn’t that go against every rule of economics? Oh, wait.
Do you even bother to read what you write? This makes no sense. Of course water is higher in El Paso it’s the desert! Only the simple minded folks that read your blog don’t understand such a simple concept.
Do you even grasp what you write? You stated that ‘only the simple minded folks that read your blog don’t understand such a simple concept’. Since you read this blog are you admitting that you are a simple minded person? Such candor!
Niland has become the poster girl for opacity in government. Let’s find every chance we can to hide taxes in franchise fees so the voters don’t think we raised their taxes. I assume this is coming from higher up in her food chain as she is not smart enough to make this up. But Hunt and Foster and the Shaplites are smart enough to seek to enhance city revenues from less transparent sources like user fees and franchise fees so there is enough money in the kitty to pay for their vanity projects, like the stadium debt when the HOT doesn’t cover the bond payments next year, if not already this year.
You just proved why you’re like a KISS tribute band and not the real thing…YOU DON’T HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH EL PASO. You are nothing more than an El Paso groupie. You didn’t have a water bill from El Paso…move along.
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