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R.R. ANDERSON'S TACOMICS

Dan Hasty responds to the Tacoma Public Works Director’s move to Tacoma Public Utilities to work on “special projects”

News Tribune Feb. 5, 2013

Within recent months the powers that be in Tacoma have been pushing TPU to embark on an all out effort to underground their utilities.

My intuition tells me that the "important projects for TPU" revolve around how to shift financial responsibility for Tacoma's failing and failed infrastructure onto the back, or should I say into the wallets, of TPU rate payers.

I forecasted this very move well over a decade ago
when the "Powers That Be" hatched a scheme to transfer as much of the available incoming revenue streams  to "Downtown Revitalization". The promise was that by deferring maintenance for a short period of time and using the "savings" to fund "downtown revitalization" that before long businesses and residents would come flocking into the "Revitalization Zone." Those new residents and business would generate increased revenues through property taxes, B&O taxes, impact mitigation fees, etc. that would far surpass the costs and this new largess would be "more than sufficient" to offset the increased deterioration to the City's infrastructure. 

I sat and listened. I questioned the model that was being bandied about as representative of the cumulative deterioration over time and pointed out that deterioration caused by deferred maintenance, e.g. neglect, is not linear. A regression analysis of deterioration caused by deferred maintenance is unquestionably non-linear, and at some point becomes exponential in form. When I asked the City Planners to quantify "short period" in years I was rebuffed. I asked if we were talking about a decade before the "revitalization zone" would be self sustaining and generating "excess revenues?" Revenues that the City inferred would be used to rebuild the infrastructure that was neglected while the revenues stripped from the budgets used to maintain them was poured into the revitalization of Downtown. I got no answer that meant anything to someone literate in the English language.

I continued to push and ask the City Planners if they could quantify the damage to the City infrastructure if after say... fifteen years of deferred maintenance the excess revenues do not materialize. I got no answer. I even went so far as to disregard throwing in what happens if "they" don't come flocking into the "revitalized" Downtown, and the revitalization zone is not generating enough revenue to even pay for it's own City services. I did not ask what if the Convention Center is a bust. I did not ask what if the Museums don't generate enough revenue to even pay for themselves, much less pay back what it cost to build them. I simply asked what would happen and when I got no answer I laid out the scenario we see playing out in front of us today.

Tacoma's infrastructure has deteriorated to the point at which future deterioration is outpacing the incoming revenue needed to stay even. It is the classic example of taking two steps forward and three steps back and expecting to maintain the status quo. Not only that, Tacoma continues to budget its incoming revenue streams in ways that do not favor trying to make up for past indiscretions. I said at some point Tacoma would have deteriorated streets that were no longer maintainable and when that day comes the powers that be are going to look to the Utility ratepayers at TPU as a new revenue source to tap.

I said that there would be a big push to underground all utilities and that the Utility Board would have their arms twisted to go along. I said that the case would be made that the Utility would have an obligation to restore the streets after the Utility work was completed. I said that the push to underground Utilities would coincide with the point at which enough of the residents (voters) recognized the situation regarding correcting the failed infrastructure was indeed unsustainable. 

That day is today. Yesterday we find out that Tacoma's Public Works Director has stepped down in order to "assist Tacoma Power Superintendent Ted Coates on a number of important projects at Tacoma Public Utilities." 

Ray Charles could see what is going on. Restoring the street means “TO THE CONDITION THE STREET WAS IN ON THE DAY THE UTILITY UNDER-GROUNDING COMMENCED’. It does not mean contributing a "fair share" towards rebuilding a street that was in failed condition to a new condition. The Utility ratepayers have NO INTEREST in contributing to restoring failed streets to a new condition and owe absolutely nothing to that end. PERIOD.

Hasty has lived in Tacoma since 1991 and is a licensed Civil Engineer. He has worked for one of the five larger cities in the Puget Sound region as a Civil Engineer/Transportation Planner since 2001.

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