Amarillo’s latest embarrassment — those “estimated” water use bills — might be cause to rethink a view that the city is well-run.
It’s one of those “on one hand this, but on the other hand that” kind of assessments.
On the one hand, you have a city with a superb bond rating. It has relatively low debt. It asks residents to pay a mere pittance in property tax to fund municipal government. It has a fine park system. Its police department is a mostly progressive operation that runs well most of the time. Firefighters answer the bell quickly.
On the other hand, there’s a series of misfires that makes me wonder: Can’t they shoot straight down there? The city hired a traffic engineer who, it turned out, had been fired from his previous job because of serious malfeasance. The police department didn’t alert residents that a rapist was on the loose for several days. The city animal control department had to be reformed, renamed and reorganized after it was revealed that animals were being euthanized in a less-than-humane manner.
Now we have perhaps the most ridiculous development of all: The city “estimated” water bills without reading residents’ meters, in some instances assessing bills about six times the normal amount usually billed monthly. The city had fired eight of its 11 water meter-readers — on the same day.
Does the juxtaposition — the good financial performance measured against these mistakes — make sense?
Well, if you think about it, one really doesn’t have anything to do with the other. The city still is in solid fiscal shape. Its financial house is in order; the city provides essential services to the residents who pay for them. All that good news, though, gets overtaken by the nonsense that bubbles up from time to time.
Overlaid across all of this is the city’s effort to revamp its downtown district.
I remain committed to the concept that’s been presented. I still believe it’ll work. The ballpark, the hotel, the parking garage all make sense when you consider the sequence of what the city is planning. The financing of this project also makes sense — and it means next to zero impact on residential property taxpayers.
The competence issue — and the lingering doubts arising from these series of hiccups, such as the latest one involving the weird water billing SNAFU — is darkening my optimism.
It hasn’t been snuffed out. But, man, the doubts are building.