Thursday, May 7, 2020

Water Rates & Billing - Letter to the City of Ferndale

I have prepared the following open letter to our City of Ferndale Mayor, City Administrator, and Council in response to the errors and adjustments on recent water/sewer billing statements.  I invite you to add your voice to mine by "signing" your name using the form below!  I will deliver the letter and "signatures" prior to the next regularly scheduled City Council meeting on May 18, 2020.




Dear City of Ferndale Mayor, Council, and Staff,

Over the last several years, the residents of Ferndale have experienced significant uncertainty when it comes to our water supply, rates, and infrastructure.  The billing errors that came to light when water/sewer bills were released this month are just another symptom of systemic problems that have not been addressed for too long.  The rate study that was conducted in 2019 was a good step toward addressing some of these issues, but the work is not done yet; there are still many factors to be addressed, contributing to the frustration, anxiety, and distrust felt by many City residents. 

New water and sewer rates were adopted by the City Council in December 2019 based on information collected and presented in the rate study.  Council was presented with several options for water, and separate options for sewer, that would all address the financial needs of operating, maintaining, and upgrading our water and wastewater infrastructure.  Of the three sewer rate options presented, Council by majority vote (Xczar, Hansen, Taylor, Bishop, Llanos approved; O’Larey, Olsen opposed) adopted the sewer rate structure that averages prior winter water usage and applies that average to the sewer portion of the bill during the summer months.  The trade-off for this structure, commonly referred to as a summer watering discount, is that all sewer usage is billed at a higher flat rate per unit ($8.92-9.35, depending on single-family, multifamily, or commercial classification) after the base fee, instead of the rates being tiered based on water consumption as they were in 2019.

According to the rate study, the adopted fee schedule results in HIGHER sewer rates for more than 98% of rate-payers when compared to the option for an across-the-board increase of the previous tiered rate structure.  While the idea of a “summer watering discount” sounds appealing, and there is political pressure to keep that “discount” in place, this hardly seems like a good deal for more than 98% of our residents.  In practice, our current rate structure requires regular families to subsidize the cost of our City water and wastewater infrastructure for the few who use “very large” quantities of water (defined in the rate study as 96 units per billing cycle).   I encourage the current Council to reassess the rate study and consider adopting the “Across the Board” sewer rate schedule for 2021 and beyond.   

Ferndale’s utility billing system is deficient, outdated, and the source of great frustration, anxiety, and distrust felt by many City residents, as this is one of the primary regular points of contact the City has with most residents.  The information provided in the billing statement is woefully insufficient for people to have the information needed to detect problems with their bills.  While the bills include meter readings and water unit consumption, there is no information about how the billed amounts are calculated.  Particularly with the current complex sewer rate structure, the City should, at a minimum, include the winter water average used to calculate the sewer portion of each bill.  Ideally, the bill would include rate breakdowns for each billing category so that residents are equipped to verify their bills and detect potential discrepancies.  I appreciate that the City has invited residents to contact the billing clerk if problems are suspected, however, not enough information is included on the current bill format to determine whether something is wrong.  Residents can only look at their bills and say “that SEEMS high.” Without information showing how the amounts were calculated, we’re stuck.  Including this information on billing statements would be a simple way for the City to demonstrate transparency and build trust in the community. 

It is also time for City utility billing information to be fully accessible online.  The current system appears to be underutilized.  When logged in, there are tabs for account-specific billing information, but nothing is there.  I encourage the Mayor, City Council, and Staff to prioritize the development of the online utility bill payment system into a functional tool.

As for the errors that came to light in the most recent billing cycle, this is a personnel issue—one that I hope Mayor Hansen and Administrator Burnett take seriously.  I do not have reason to believe that the Mayor, City Administrator, or Council had knowledge of or intentionally withheld information about this significant error, however, someone at City Hall had to be aware of the error far enough in advance to make the required “adjustments” to the bills that arrived in mailboxes last week, as noted in the City’s statement released May 5, 2020.  The fact that billing adjustments were made without notice to affected residents is an indication of a larger problem at City Hall.  At this early stage in Mayor Hansen’s tenure, I hope that he, along with Administrator Burnett and City staff, will use this as an opportunity to identify the problems that led to the poor outcome in this situation, and work to put measures in place to promote accountability, foster trust, and improve transparency inside City Hall and with the Ferndale community. 

                                                                        Sincerely,

                                                                        Maralise Fegan



Monday, January 6, 2020

Planning Commission

I am excited to begin serving on the Ferndale Planning Commission this month after my appointment was unanimously approved by City Council this evening.  If you are wondering about what it is that the Planning Commission does, you can find out more at https://www.cityofferndale.org/your-government/boards-and-commissions/planning-commission/.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Thank you, and stay tuned...

While I will not be serving on the Ferndale City Council at this time, I am so honored by the support and enthusiasm I have received throughout this campaign. I have made new friendships, strengthened others, and found encouragement and strength in all of them. Thank you. My commitment to helping make our city a better place for all of us remains unchanged and I am looking forward to the next chapter.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Statement to Council on Banked Capacity

I attended the public hearing this evening about the proposal that the City draw it's banked capacity in 2020 and read the following statement: 

Saturday, October 26, 2019

City Banked Capacity



The proposal from City staff that we draw 100% of our banked capacity next year is yet another symptom of an administration that has failed for years to plan ahead for the future needs of our city and instead are now scrambling to find a way to react to a largely self-imposed emergency. It’s time to stop postponing the tough decisions. Why should we suffer a huge tax increase when the City was willing to give developers eight years of no property taxes. And was willing to forego hundreds of thousands of dollars in potential fees when we're still trying to determine how to pay for the wastewater treatment plant. Once again, this Administration would prefer to pretend residents don't have to pay for its excesses rather than face the truth of their own poor decision making.

We do need to fund the operations of our city, but it’s time for the City to stop backing our citizens into a corner with inadequate time or information for Council to make these serious decisions. It’s time for your City Council to take back its power to fight for you, the people paying the bills. With the right people in place, our residents’ interests can be brought to the forefront. The choice is yours. Vote for people who will fight for you.

A Public Hearing will be held by the Ferndale City Council on Monday, November 4th, at 6 p.m. at Council Chambers/City Hall Annex (5694 Second Ave.) regarding the 2020 property tax levy.


Saturday, October 19, 2019

Doing this together!

It is an honor to be endorsed and supported by so many people I respect and admire.  Thank you to each and every one of you, and to everyone who has contributed or volunteered for my campaign.  You are the reason I truly believe that we can achieve great outcomes for our community when we work together!

Read the letters of support I have received here.


Now that ballots are arriving in mailboxes, the decision is in your hands.  As a voter, you get to use your vote to choose who will serve our community in public office, and I would be honored to receive your vote to serve on our Ferndale City Council. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

General Election Ballots Coming Soon!

Ballots were mailed today and should be arriving in mailboxes on Friday and Saturday!  You still have time to register or update your registration (online and by mail until October 28th and in person at the auditor's office until November 5th!)


VOTE  BY 
November 5th!

Find out more at www.myvote.wa.gov!

You can see the Whatcom County Voter Guide online here.


OR contact the Whatcom County Auditor with questions at:

Monday, October 7, 2019

We'd better get started!

I've talked with a number of people who tell me that the issues I want to tackle on City Council, like addressing access to public transit and creating a watershed-wide plan for our water infrastructure will be challenging and will take a long time. The issues aren't going to go away just because they are hard to address. We are going to need to work together to do it. My response over and over - We'd better get started!

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Public Hearings

There are a number of occasions where part of the Council decision-making process includes conducting a public hearing.  This is an opportunity for members of the public to share thoughts, concerns, support, or questions about a particular question placed in front of the Council.  The Council listens to the comments from the public and can use that information to inform their decisions, or at least that's the idea.

In practice, however, public hearings often boil down to theatrics.  Public hearings are routinely held immediately before the Council is asked to make a decision on a matter.  This provides little time for deliberation or follow-up on public input by members of the Council, City staff, and other members of the public.  The Council can agree by a majority vote to postpone a decision, but that means deviating from the default procedure.  

When I am elected to the Ferndale City Council, I will propose and advocate for changes to this standard operating procedure.  All members of the public should be provided an opportunity to share their comments, and the Council should be provided an opportunity to properly consider those comments when making these important decisions.  I will propose that standard operating procedures be updated to allow for public hearings to remain open for written comment for a minimum of 24 hours following the in-person hearing and that at least a week is provided to Council for deliberation following the hearing, with a vote routinely scheduled for the next regularly scheduled City Council meeting.  Of course, in specific situations, the majority of Council could vote to modify these rules in cases of emergency or other urgent need, however, it would reset the default procedure to not only allow, but encourage public engagement in determining how the City of Ferndale will approach decisions that ultimately affect all of us.  

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Community Energy Challenge




This evening I attended the Energy Efficiency and Home Improvement Fair hosted by Community Energy Challenge, Sustainable Connections, and the City of Bellingham. I met some great people who are working to make energy-efficient home improvements accessible and achievable.  Wouldn't it be great if we could bring more from the Community Energy Challenge to Ferndale?  Find out more about the Community Energy Challenge at http://www.communityenergychallenge.org





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