Wednesday, November 16, 2011

CFPUA Could Follow Citys Lead and Jump on Pay Raise Bandwagon

With the City of Wilmington handing out bonuses, The CFPUA sets up a scenario to do the same

At Tuesday night’s Wilmington City Council meeting council members voted unanimously to pay out $1.2 million dollar in bonuses. City council sited a hiring freeze and other cost savings as the source of the bonuses. It’s very likely the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority will take a page out of the city’s playbook and make the same argument for their employees in the not too distant future.

According to CFPUA Chief Communications Officer Cary Ricks Authority employees have not seen pay increases since the Authority was created 3 years ago. There is one exception, CFPUA CEO Matt Jordan. Jordan took a controversial pay raise while his employees salaries remained stagnant. His raise made him one of the top paid officials in New Hanover County.

Rather than bonuses, the CFPUA would more likey lean towards permanent pay raises. The raises could be paid for with new rate increases Authority officials have already told customers are not too far down the road.

While pay adjustments may indeed be past due in some cases, pay raises, if passed, would be financed on the back of citizens who themselves are facing some of the worst economic conditions in decades. Many are working two or more jobs while others are taking pay cuts to keep the jobs they have. Some are losing their jobs or even their homes.

The CFPUA could also use a looming Compensation Study and Benefits Survey to justify the pay increases. The Authority has strategically used consultants in the past as a tool to justify the leadership’s agenda.

Wilmington City Councilman Ron Sparks, who also sits on the CFPUA board, voted in favor of spending the money on city employee bonuses. According to Sparks, city employees have worked hard and deserve bonuses. As a CFPUA board member, he could easily make the same argument for Authority employees.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Cape Fear Public Utility Authority Serves as a Career Ender for Local Incumbents

Elected officials serving on the CFPUA board have been voted out of office in the past 3 elections

Serving on the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority is hazardous to your political health. Whether Republican or Democrat, the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority seems to serve as the one common thread ending the political aspirations of incumbents seeking re-election.

The past 3 years have proven costly to elected officials appointed to the CFPUA Board. Former City Councilman Jim Quinn, former New Hanover County Commissioner Bill Caster, and now former City Councilman Ron Sparks all lost their bids for re-election. While they all have different backgrounds and political philosophies, they all sat on the CFPUA board and were subsequently removed from office.

Jim Quinn was the CFPUA’s first victim placing a distant 7th place in his reelection bid in 2009 Municipal election. Quinn was an outspoken proponent of the CFPUA and played an integral part in its creation in 2008. When the 2009 election rolled around voters had apparently had their fill of huge bills and rates that seemed to be spiraling out of control.

By the time the 2010 election occurred, voters had been subject to two years of CFPUA rate increases with no end in sight. To the dismay of many, the price some families were being charged for water had nearly tripled. CFPUA Board Member and County Commissioner Bill Caster lost a hotly contested re-election race where the CFPUA’s spending and rate increases were a central issue.

The CFPUA’s most recent casualty was City Councilman and CFPUA Board member Ron Sparks, who came in 4th place behind newcomer Neil Anderson in a race for 3 open seats. Sparks was an outspoken advocate for the Authority’s controversial tiered rate structure which targets larger families with higher water prices even while they are conserving water.

Fellow democrat and incumbent Laura Padgett was up for reelection as well, but skated back into office. While had both Padgett and Sparks had seen their share of controversy in office, Padgett distanced herself from the CFPUA.

More recent appointees to the CFPUA board, City Councilman Charlie Rivenbark and New Hanover County Commissioner Rick Catlin, likely have less to be worried about. Both ran on platforms calling for additional oversight and accountability for the Authority and have pushed to change the status quo.

With the CPFUA forecasting that spending and rates will continue to increase, we can be sure the controversial organization will continue to be a point of contention with voters for the foreseeable future.

Monday, November 7, 2011

CFPUA Board Members Return Political Favors

Sparks gets political endorsements from fellow CFPUA board members Quinn and Kusek

Cape Fear Public Utility Authority Board members are handing out political endorsements to help one of their own. The CFPUA’s Chairman and its Secretary stepped into the political arena to help Ron Sparks, Wilmington city councilman and a fellow CFPUA board member, get re-elected. As a city councilman, Sparks played an integral part in both of their appointments to the CFPUA board.

Sparks began running television commercials as a part of his re-election bid for Wilmington City Council. The commercial features three personal endorsements. While most of the general public wouldn’t realize it, and it’s not disclosed in the commercial, two of the three endorsements are from fellow CFPUA Board Members Chairman Jim Quinn and Secretary Pat Kusek, both of whom Sparks helped get appointed to the CFPUA.

According to the CPFUA website Quinn was appointed by the city and Kusek was a joint appointee of the city and county.

The three were instrumental this past year in keeping in place the controversial tiered rate billing structure implemented by the CFPUA. The rate structure is designed to punish families with higher prices, even while conserving water.

According to standards established by national organizations such as American Water Works Association, the CFPUAs’ tired rate structure is inherently punitive and unfair. The CFPUA does not target commercial customers with tiered rates.

Questions have been raised before as to whether political appointees should be endorsing those that put them in the positions they hold. While it’s not a violation of election law, it certainly muddies the water….not something the struggling organization needs at this time.

References Links:
Sparks Political Commercial
CFPUA Board Member Page

Thursday, October 13, 2011

CFPUA Rate Hikes Hit Families Hard

At Wednesday’s CFPUA Board meeting the public speaking signup sheet was full for the first time in a long time. Most listed “rates” as the subject of discussion. As the Authority’s newest round of water and sewer rate hikes have landed in New Hanover County mailboxes, families are finding it harder to foot the bill, especially in tough economic times.

Presenters told board members about bills that had doubled since the Authority took over. Others spoke about being on a fixed income and the inability to afford the onslaught of rate increases.

More than one person stated the CFPUA had now become the highest utility expense for their family, even exceeding their power bill.

The rate increases have hit some customers harder than others. The CFPUA’s newest rate structure specifically targets families with higher tiered rates while giving commercial customers a pass, charging them a uniform rate.

According to reports in the Wilmington Star News, the next round of rate increases will likely begin in 2013, a little more than a year from now.

Cape Fear Public Utility Authority customers will not get relief from higher rates anytime in the near future. As the organization’s spending continues to grow, rates will rise unless the CFPUA finds a significant increase in revenue from improved economic conditions or is able to substantially grow its customer base.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Regime Change at the Authority

Former City Councilman Jim Quinn was appointed as Chairman of the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority Board replacing long time Chair Gene Renzaglia. Renzaglia has ruled as chair since the CFPUA’s inception in 2008. The appointment will likely result in little positive change for CFPUA customers as the two were in lock step on most issues.

Like Renzaglia, Quinn supported the CFPUA’s change to a controversial tiered rate structure. The CFPUA’s tiered rate, classified as discriminatory according to national standards, targets only families with higher pricing as more water is used. Under the CFPUA’s rate policy businesses and those with irrigation meters are given a pass and not penalized with the higher tiered rates.

Quinn has been involved with the authority since it’s inception. After it’s creation, he filled one of the two City Council seats until November of 2009 when he lost a re-election bid for City Council coming in a distant 7th place. Many credit Quinn’s loss to his participation in the creation of the controversial government organization.

While the voters did not see fit to return Quinn to city council, he was able to regain his position on the CFPUA board by lobbying for an appointment for one of the at large seats, replacing Charles Wells. Wells was CFPUA treasurer but quietly resigned due to his involvement in the ongoing ABC board scandal.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Cape Fear Public Utility Authority Chairman Threatens Police Involvement to Silence Public Comment

At Wednesday’s Cape Fear Public Utility Authority meeting Chairman Gene Renzaglia threatened Chad O’Shields with police action if he did not refrain from speaking during the public speaking portion of the meeting. O’Shields, a long time advocate for uniform water rates, spoke at Wednesdays meeting about his concerns with the CFPUA’s newest rate structure.

He noted that commercial customers pay a uniform rate of $3.96 and customers with irrigation meters pay a uniform rate of $2.64, regardless of the amount of water used. O'Shields pointed out that only families were targeted with an inclining block rate, punished with rates as high as $5.28 for essential water use. He questioned how this could be justified.

After the presentation City Councilman Ron Sparks made heated comments directed at O’Shields and his presentations. Sparks also took issue with O’Shields repeated attendance of the CFPUA meetings. City Councilman Charlie Rivenbark countered Sparks’ tirade stating the public had a right to address the board.

With ample time left in the public speaking portion of the meeting, O’Shields began to address Councilman Sparks' comments. Chairman Renzaglia immediately interrupted, attempting to speak over O’Shields and disrupt his comments, eventually threatening him with removal from the building by law enforcement if he continued to speak. In spite of the Chairman’s interruptions and threats, O’Shields respectfully finished his remarks.

While Councilman Sparks’ comments are troubling enough, one questions by what authority Renzaglia, who is an appointed board member, not an elected official, garners the police power he threatened to use. In July of 2010 the CFPUA threatened customers with police enforcement if customers were found in violation of their mandatory water restrictions. It was later exposed they had no such authority to do so.

The meeting was recorded. You may view the public comments in the first few minutes of Part 1.  Video is available here.