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City needs to retire its utility crutch

May 07, 2011

Glendale Water & Power has been used as a crutch to prop up the city's budget since voters approved Proposition 13, severely cramping the local property revenues typically used to cover the costs of public services.

But the recent series of events, occurring since the City Council stopped transferring millions in water utility revenues, smacks of shell-game budgeting. The council grudgingly stopped when it was determined the practice could violate state law.

City officials are floating a proposal that would essentially make up some of that loss by changing the way Glendale Water & Power is charged for certain water and electric services. It just so happens, they say, that the water utility was being undercharged all these years, so by shifting $2 million in expenses to the water side, they can pull the same amount more over from the electricity side to the General Fund as they work to bridge an $18-million gap.

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Never mind that this convenient revelation came just weeks after attorneys put the kibosh on what had been a $4.2-million transfer from water utility revenues last year. The timing reeks of just another political shell game used to lean on Glendale Water & Power as much as possible — without going directly to the source of what we all know is the real budget issue: employee costs.

The City Council is understandably doing all it can to avoid heavy impacts to employees, but the fact of the matter remains that the city-owned utility can be tapped only as a cash cow for so long. Glendale Water & Power has its own obligations and expensive environmental mandates and infrastructure plans.

City Hall must address employee costs — salaries and retirement benefits — if it intends to make any real headway toward budget stability. The Glendale Water & Power crutch can only withstand so much weight.

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