If you want to get Naperville city officials a useful Christmas gift this year, get them a little cheap calculator. The one I use is a Canon LS-80Z made in Malaysia, it costs about $5. It’s not made in America, but math is math and I’ve been using it for about 20 years, and it works. Whatever Naperville city officials are using to do math is definitely not working, or maybe it does work, but the city official using it isn’t working. In this case that person would be Naperville Director of Water and Wastewater, Jim Holzapfel.
Naperville raised the water rates in May of this year. Now word comes out that city officials grossly under calculated the numbers causing a shortfall of $3 million. Usually when Naperville city officials get the numbers wrong, it’s a decimal point, so a 1.4% increase is actually 14%, or missing a couple of 0’s here or there and a $30,000 expense becomes $300,000. For city officials it’s only numbers or a couple of dollars, but for tax or rate payers, it’s the difference between signing the kids up for hockey, or having them play whack-a-mole on the kitchen table. As councilwoman Judy Brodhead once said “it’s only $5,000” when referring to an expense.
When Naperville city officials blow it, they blow it big time. In this case some of the inaccurate numbers they used to determine water rates included:
- Incorrect starting balances
- Inaccurate revenue streams, some appearing twice
- System leakage
- Inaccurate meter readings
- Non-metered water losses
Other than that, everything else was picture-perfect; what’s a few decimals or zeros.
Undoubtedly city officials will blame it on the company hired to do the rate model. That’s the problem. City officials spend money to hire somebody else to do the work, then they head downtown to pound down a few brews, come back to accept the report, then send it to the council for approval, and bingo, the new rates are inflicted upon residents and businesses.
Where is the oversight by city officials? Inaccurate numbers and conclusions move along the conveyor belt for approval, from Holzapfel, to city manager Doug Krieger, to the Naperville city council. Are there no checks and balances? In the business world it’s ‘trust but verify’, in government it needs to be ‘don’t trust but confirm’.
It’s also possible that Naperville city officials are attempting magic with a version of sleight of hand tricks with numbers.
It’s either by design or incompetence, neither of which are beneficial to rate payers.
To make matters worse, the new (supposedly corrected) numbers don’t add up. Holzapel said the average residential water bill would increase by $3.76 per month in 2018 (wrong, it would go up $3.67), and it would increase by $2.31 in 2019 (wrong again, it would go up $4.19). They still can’t get it right. How Naperville does their math vs. universally understood and accepted mathematical principles are two different things.
What needs to be done, won’t be done; someone needs to be held accountable. Someone needs to ‘disappear’ on a Friday, with someone new appearing on Monday to take over. You can be sure that will grab the attention of all those remaining in the Municipal Center. Accountability and accuracy at every level will increase and decimals and zeros will again have meaning.
If city officials find that sure-cure solution too difficult to execute, they can set up an ongoing ‘Go Fund Me Account’ to cover sure-to-be math shortfalls in the future. What’s currently being done is totally unacceptable.