2014 Community Events

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8.30.14 Did you take a look at your utility bill this month? The new sewer rate structure has gone into effect in addition to the annual increase in water rates. The new structure allows for a base rate of $47.01 and $4.11 for every unit used during the prior winter months. The utility bill you just received shows the sewer rate that you'll be paying every month through next July no matter how much you reduce your water usage. The fee is based on the prior winter months where we had no water restrictions in place so essentially you're paying for an amount of water usage that is no longer available to you. The rate study declared that the average household in Rio Dell used 5 units of water although we haven't heard of anyone who uses that little water unless there are only one or two people in the home. The rates were structured so that anyone using over 5 units of water a month would get a rate increase. It should be noted that residents already paid the highest utility rates in the entire region before the structure change.

We have just gone through a period of mandatory water rationing with the Stage 3 water emergency as an effect of the drought and historic low flows in the Eel River so most of us reduced the water we used drastically and you should be seeing that reflected in this months water bill. The mandatory water rationing is no longer in effect and we have been reduced to a Stage 2 water emergency despite their being even less water in the Eel River than before. However, it should be expected that we'll see water rationing coming back simply due to the fact that the sole source of water is drying up rapidly. Rationing meant that residents had to reduce their water usage to no more than 50 gallons of water per person per day and absolutely no outdoor water so lawns and gardens have gone dry. The mandatory water rationing meant that each person could use up to 2 units of water a month. We have five people in our home these days which meant we had up to 10 units of water that could be used under the mandatory water rationing and we actually reduced our usage to well below that. The new sewer rate structure resulted in a significant increase in our monthly bill despite using far less water. The city is also working on a very significant increase to water rates currently; the rate study by Bartle Wells should be concluded soon.

There are three council positions that will be on the November election and three candidates have been certified. Long time council members Julie Woodall and Melissa Marks have decided to not run for re-election; the only incumbent on the ballot is Gordon Johnson. Melissa's husband Tim Marks is running to fill her seat and Debra Garnes will be on the ballot. Additionally, the city will have a sales tax measure on the ballot; Measure "U" would result in a 1% sales tax. The new Dollar General store has been popular since opening and the council expects to generate a significant amount of revenue with the proposed sales tax.

-Sharon

8.5.14 City report shows thousands of dollars saved by terminating contract with Kemp Inspection for building inspection services - salary plus permit fees total $19,1753.75 in savings in the first 5 months alone. Think about how much the residents could have saved if they did this long ago!

6.20.14 City provides utiliity billing information in response to record request - additional records are expected - no attempt at reimbursement for all of the tax payer money documented in the Public Works investigation, city employees received subsidized water through 2011 (the rest of us got a rate increase in 2006), and more...

6.18.14 There is a great deal of mis-information floating around regarding the rate payer subsidized water that the city has been enjoying ever since the passage of Prop 218 back in 1996 made it illegal. The city sent an email to the Rio Dell Fire Department (RDFD) saying they were going to charge them $7,000 for the water used at the Fire Hall and Fireman's Park which resulted in a whole lot of understandably upset people showing up at last night's council meeting where the budget was going to be approved. The city manager Jim Stretch kept referring to an ongoing lawsuit involving the City of Davis that involves the "free" water to the city issue, implying that was why the city was taking action against the RDFD. Not true! The truth is that on June 10th, at a budget study session I attended, Stretch first brought up the fact that the city has never paid anything for the water it uses at any facility and that Bartle Wells Associates had advised them about the conflict with Prop 218 (Bartle Wells is involved in the Davis suit). Stretch also said that the RDFD also gets free water at the Fire Hall even though there are meters for all of the properties that aren't being billed. I came home from the meeting and looked up the case he referred to which led me to numerous other lawsuits that have been filed over the years and a Grand Jury investigation since the implementation of Prop 218 and the courts have consistently upheld the language in the law that says a property owner can't be charged for utilities that aren't for their property. Essentially, rate payers are not allowed to be charged for providing free water to others. The city has been aware of it for a long time as RDFD Chief Shane Wilson confirmed at the council meeting last night that the city has brought this up to them more than once in the past and then dropped it. In any case, we submitted a public records act request for documents related to the subsidized water in order to get an idea of the scale. Every one of us in Rio Dell is currently paying the highest utility rates in the region for water and sewer; at least some of those high charges are to cover the cost of free water for the city and others. We will post the records that were requested as soon as they are received. The city has also begun the process of raising the water rates significantly for everyone. Before they ask the citizens to pay even more for water, the city needs to correct their long standing illegal billing practices for city facilities and others (the Fire Hall is not the only other party). The city council is looking to finally start contributing to the RDFD in order to cover the utility charges which seems only fair. It is important for the city to follow the law (for a change) and charge all utility customers fairly. It might seem silly that they would charge a fee and then reimburse the RDFD for that same fee but it is critical for the sake of transparency in your government. The more pressing issue that should interest all of the rate payers concerns the almost two decades of higher rates everyone has been paying in violation of Prop 218 in order for the city to get their free water. Think about that when you are looking at your utility bill or watching the city sprinklers run while the rest of us can't afford to water our lawns.

Stay tuned for the public records! The city is holding a special meeting next Tuesday to approve the budget and get legal advice on the issue of contributing to the RDFD in order to off set the utility fees.

-Sharon

p.s. the city said they had "mis read" the meter for the fire hall and the charge would be considerably less than $7,000.

3.16.14 The city is moving towards terminating water service to properties on Old Ranch Rd. in a drastic response to a failure to work out some type of agreement with the property owners for access to the city owned Monument Springs property. There has been a long standing issue going on over the right of way that the city had to the water property which was wiped out in a landslide during the winter of 2005/2006. The city repaired the water line after the slide by laying the water pipe atop the debris and that was that for a while. They stopped using Monument Springs (and the water wells at the former Eel River Sawmill site) later in 2006 when we began using the Eel River as the source of municipal water. We are working on getting more information but so far we haven't found any record of repairs to the water property once they stopped using it even though it remained city property. There is a California Geological Survey report about the property from 2006 that details the landslide(s) and the significant repairs needed for that property. The city has recently moved to declare the water properties for sale as surplus which has brought the issue of access to the forefront. The city council meeting scheduled for Tuesday the 18th includes approval for the city to either relocate the water meters and let the property owners run their own lines or terminate water service entirely to the Old Ranch Rd properties. The summary that was written only gives one side of the story of course so read it with a grain of salt. We will continue to pursue additional information. It is a matter of public interest when a city moves to cut off homes from their water so pay careful attention to this one. If the city decides to go that route, they will need to apply for permission from LAFCo and make their case as to why it is necessary.

-Sharon

2.20.14 Here is the actual proposed contract with Kemp Inspection Service (finally). There are a number of very interesting changes from his earlier agreements linked below. The contract was buried inside the last council packet that was not made available online until after the meeting.

2.19.14 There will be a public hearing at the city council meeting on March 4th 6:30pm to approve the 66% increase in building permit fees that are needed to both make the program self supporting and to pay for professional insurance on behalf of long time city building inspector and independent contractor Arnold Kemp of Kemp Inspection Service who has been operating without insurance, putting the full risk and costs onto the city residents, for at least a decade now. Rio Dell will be paying 60% of his costs and Ferndale 40% so he does not have to pay anything towards what is a common cost of business for any other independent contractor. According to city manager, Jim Stretch, the special and highly unusual deal of the city paying for Kemp's insurance costs is not actually a special deal for a well connected cronie because the city would look at paying those costs for anyone else. Stretch stated, "If we had another contractor and it was the same situation then it would be the same recommendation (to pay for their insurance)." Anyone interested in being an independent contractor but doesn't feel like they should have to pay for standard insurance should contact city hall and sign up immediately for this unheard of bargain! The city had proposed having Kemp actually pay for his own insurance (like everyone else) but he had a fit and turned in a letter of resignation in protest so the city backed down and is now going to buy it for him. Technically, the city can't outright buy the insurance for him as the insurance agency wouldn't allow it so the city is getting around that inconvenient rule by "reimbursing" Kemp for the cost. Additionally, it was disclosed during the council meeting last night that Kemp has been getting paid 80% of fees that he was never entitled to such as penalties, renewals, administrative fees, etc. for years now. All of the fee's have been paid in full and in advance regardless of whether or not the permit was ever completed. These kinds of things are supposed to be corrected finally in the newly proposed contract but to date the city has not uploaded the council packet that would have contained the documents for the public to see. Kemp's contracts from 2007 and 2009 are available however.

So what is the city getting for this sweetheart deal? Well, we can look to the past to demonstrate the kind of skills and integrity demonstrated by Kemp to date. Of course there is our personal experience with Kemp and the illegal electrical permit he signed without having a permit application or fees which should have been paid out of the Rio Dell First Time Homebuyers Program administered by Larry Miller of RCAA. Why would a building inspector come out and sign an electrical permit when no fees had been paid when they were supposed to be paid their 80% out of those fees? Doesn't that seem a little odd to you? What kind of a homeowner would not want to have a fully documented and permitted electrical upgrade on their home? We sure did but the scam was unknown to us at the time. How about the severe health and safety code violations in our home that Kemp chose to overlook each time he was at the property? The city had to eventually pay for a structural engineer's report on the home to verify the potentially life threatening structural failures at the house that Kemp ignored. Or how about the unpermitted large garage that former Public Works Director Jim Hale was building which was well documented in the Public Works Investigation Report. The name of the building official involved is redacted but there is only one building inspector that Rio Dell uses so you can figure out who they are referring to. Here is an exerpt if you are short on time but it is worth your while to read the whole thing since it involves felony level embezzlement that the city tried so hard to cover up. Two building permits were started for the two-story 26' x 40' shop but never paid for. A third permit for a roof and bathroom addition to the house was issued but never paid for. PG&E won't turn on the power to the electrical box without a signed permit sticker. Again, why would the permits never be paid for since that is where the building inspector is supposed to get paid from? Strange, don't you think? Not to mention the lost city revenue for the increased property value. The city is raising the building permit fees to make up for lost revenue so you are going to pay higher rates to cover for these types of scams. For whatever reason, the city is so intent on keeping this person that they are willing to buy the insurance for him. For everyone else, you don't have to use Kemp Inspection Service for your permits. There are infinitely more qualified building inspectors available, either through the county or independently.

The City of Ferndale is looking into a proposal to ship their wastewater sludge over here to Rio Dell. They have gone as far as having testing results sent to the city in anticipation, according to the minutes of their Feb. 6th council meeting.

-Sharon

2.4.14 Hope everyone is having a good start to the new year. We are in a historic drought in California that doesn't show much sign of stopping any time soon. The Eel River, where Rio Dell pulls its drinking water from, is down to a trickle and destined to dry up even more unless we get some significant rain soon. The state has already sent a letter to the city that the water rights to pull from the Eel River could be at risk if the drought continues. The city is supposed to start discussing plans some time soon so stay tuned for ongoing drought coverage.

It has come to public attention that the independent contractor city building inspector, Arnold Kemp of Kemp Inspection Service, that the city has used for years now, has never carried basic errors & ommission insurance which is an industry standard requirement every else. That means that if someone decided to sue the inspector for professional negligence, for example, the city (aka the residents) would be financially liable for the whole thing. The residents have been paying the price for years of the city continuing to use this person despite so many documented problems. Now, the city is considering raising the rates for all building permits so the city can pay for this guys insurance (page 34 of the agenda packet). Unbelievable! Every other independent contractor carries their own insurance as a standard cost of doing business. It is routine and there is absolutely no excuse at all why he has been allowed by the city to not carry basic insurance for all these years. Rio Dell wants to cover 60% of his costs while Ferndale raises their rates to cover the other 40% so the independent contractor doesn't have to pay a nickel towards their own basic insurance (he currently receives 80% of all permit fees). The city claims the building permit fees are too low anyway and should be raised but if we raise the fees then the city can use the funds to pay for a competent inspector who does their job above board and without blatant favoritism for cronies. Take a look at this exerpt from the full Public Works Investigation Report that clearly discusses the favoritism and unpaid building permits that some people have been allowed to get away with; with the full knowledge and complicity of the building inspector. The report is redacted but there is only one building inspector so isn't hard to tell who they are referring to. Not enough proof? Here is the electrical permit this guy signed off on for our own home as well as the other documentation; the structural engineers report on the severe health and safety code violations in our home that he ignored can be read as well. How about the Grand Jury investigation report? Do you feel like paying higher rates to cover for this person? If we are going to need to increase the rates for building permits then at least use that to pay for a competent inspector who carries their own insurance.

12.31.13 I can hardly believe it is the last day of the year! Time flies when you're having fun, or something like that. Residents are going to be asked to participate in plans for developing the public access to the Eel River as well as issues like the possible restriction of motorized vehicles on the banks of the river. The city will be asking Mr. Barisdale to remove fencing, vegetation and any outbuildings that are encroaching on the historic public right of way to the river at the end of Painter St. which the city wants to restore. The plan is for only foot traffic so parking nearby will have to be provided. Watch for future council meetings to discuss restrictions on access, expanding public areas, etc. The public input is critical so speak up now!

Keep your eye on the mounting pile of wastewater biosolids that the city is accumulating. The plan for giving it away to residents to use as a soil additive throughout the city is currently on hold but the council has asked for more details for a future reconsideration. The biosolids are exactly what you think they are but they have been treated and meet the EPA guidelines for a Grade A-Exceptional Quality designation. We have created a page with links to material you can read regarding the issue which is a much larger problem then we ever knew about. Over 50% of all the waste product biosolids in California is repurposed into compost/soil amendment that is used in a variety of locations that include food crops and livestock pasture. There are no labeling requirements on compost so you may be buying waste products without even knowing it. The EPA does not test for known carcinogens like dioxins and their testing has not been updated since 1993. The waste product is going to have to be dealt with in one way or another but do residents want it in their front yards or their gardens? Council member Melissa Marks was concerned about renters putting the waste product onto the property without the knowledge or consent of the land owner. The city would not be in a position to police where it goes.

Speaking of police...we heard an interesting story about a recent interaction with the Rio Dell Police Department (RDPD) that we wanted to share. A resident paid their water bill at city hall with cash and one of the $10 bills was found to be counterfeit. The RDPD came over to check it out and ask where the bill came from but the resident didn't know for sure. Anyway, the police took the bill as they are required to do so it gets out of circulation. A couple of weeks later, the resident gets an envelope in the mail from RDPD and it had a $10 bill in it. When I heard the story I thought how nice it was that the police department would replace the counterfeit money that the resident had taken away from them. However, the $10 bill that the resident received from the RDPD was the same counterfeit bill that had been confiscated! Now I am not an expert in these kinds of things but isn't sending counterfeit money through the United States Postal Service a crime? And why was it returned in the first place since that could realistically put counterfeit money back into circulation? According to the Federal Reserve, it is illegal to knowingly pass on counterfeit money and a person should turn it into law enforcement as soon as possible. The United States Secret Service takes it pretty seriously as well.

Don't forget to check out the KMUD Reports page for audio clips that include city council updates, water issues and much more!

We hope everyone has a safe and happy new year!

-Sharon

 

 

 

 
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