Sunday, December 28, 2008

Another Year Done, Another Year Coming

Well, it has been an interesting year, I'm still in no danger of dying from boredom. In a continuing tradition of personal contrarianism, while much of the economic news seems to be of the sackcloth and ashes variety, I have recently landed the best job I've ever had. Back in the propane business with West Texas Gas (pardon the wee plug) making good money with actual insurance and everything.

Actually, San Angelo appears to be well positioned to weather this storm relatively well. We never really saw the huge housing "bubble" and don't appear to be seeing the collapse so many parts of the country are experiencing. With Martifer coming in to jump on the wind power boom, we may have a prosperous New Year. While it had nothing to do with my support of the recently passed school bond, that work will take up a good bit of slack in the construction trades for a few years. The announcement of the Loop 306 project won't hurt, that road ain't gonna build itself.

The past year has seen City Gov't continue to improve its online accessibilty, with an exception or two I will return to. There is some talk of the County Commissioners using the public access channel to televise its proceedings. I encourage them to look at this again, I think they are overestimating the cost, which seems to be the main sticking point. As we demonstrated here with the recordings of police chief debates/forums, this sort of thing can be done on the cheap, Conchoinfo for sure is not rolling in money.

We have a few things on the horizon.

The City Stormwater Plan is available online, first page of their site. If you missed the public meetings on this, take a look at it. About half of the cost of this is one of those infamous "unfunded mandates". True, it's been out there for a long time, but it only recently wound its way from federal to state to now-we-have-a-deadline. The other half consists of related projects from an impoundment pond near North Bell to various street projects designed to do away with the street flooding we see during one of our infrequent, but inevitable monsoons. The funding mechanism will be a levy on the renamed utility bill (think water bill) based on square footage of roofs and parking lots, different rates for residential and commercial. I will say this for staff, the projects, should we decide we can afford this second half, are well prioritized.

All this was initially trotted out before the economic crisis hit, so let me introduce a couple of thoughts. If we could get this on the "shovel-ready" infrastructure stimulus package President-elect Obama is promising, the non-mandated projects could be an additional economic boon for the city, but Texas may have voted for the wrong guy. On the other hand, if we were to be funding this out of local money, it would be a heck of a hit on precisely the two sectors of the economy that are taking a hit here: automobiles and retail stores. All that parking lot acreage would turn into a huge liability for an already ailing business.

Speaking of that utility bill! Now that I get paid every two weeks, I have started noticing, the average time between my receipt of the bill and the due date is right at ten days. When the bill hits right after one paycheck, it is due before I get another check. That hasn't been a problem for me, but I understand now what some of my friends are beefing about. The water bill has already gone up enough to be a good piece of some folks' income, and we will see a substantial increase from this stormwater proposal, whether we do all of it or just the mandate.

One of the few items in the federal response to the crisis designed for us common folk has been a credit card reform measure. Among the items in it is a requirement that card companies bill at least 21 days prior to due date, turns out some companies had shortened that billing cycle seemingly to generate more late fees and penalty interest rates. I know, it's hard to believe such a financial institution would do such a thing, but... Actually, not that many do. I have a mittful of cards, I went trolling through my files, and sure enough, all mine already do the 21 day deal.

Now the city has no power to mandate pay periods, I'm not sure I'd want them to. The city can alleviate this inconvenience by extending the due date. Nearly all utility bills get one or two day delivery, I don't see where this would be a major expense to the city.

Another item on the city radar is the dog limits ordinance redux. This thing keeps coming back like Harold Stassen for President. Most recently, Council ran into a bit of a buzzsaw and kicked it down the road to the Animal Services Board for further public comment and study. Returning briefly to that online accessibility I mentioned, Animal Services is one of the exceptions. I'm not pointing fingers as to who might have dropped the ball, but ASB's site is singularly uninformative. Early on I suggested they might consider an evening meeting to allow public comment to be made without the public having to take time off work to comment. No word on that, but if they hold to the regular schedule, the next meeting will be noon at the animal shelter on Jan. 15. This will expand to a column on the limit idea itself later, sufficient for now, I think it is a quick fix idea with negative unanticipated consequences and will not address the real issues, namely nuisance and sanitation. I personally don't care how many dogs my neighbor has so long as I don't smell 'em or stay up at night listening to them howl at the moon.

Segueing neatly to another instance of minding one's own business, we have another nanny state notion coming up in the State Legislature this biennium. Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) and Representative Myra Crownover (R-Denton) apparantly have too much time on their hands. They have announced their intention to try and make Texas smoke-free, including bars and restaurants. They do not seem inclined to exempt San Angelo, or for that matter, ask San Angelo's opinion. Folks, my handle on the Gosanangelo site is barkeep, and I do have considerable experience in that field.

San Angelo has looked at such an ordinance and turned it down. I know that smokers are down to about 20% of adults. That is reflected in the fact that smoking is already locally banned in all government buildings, nearly all retail stores, certainly all the large ones. As to restaurants, no one will have a problem finding a smoke-free place to eat. Others have separate areas, with varying degrees of effectiveness.

As to bars, I spent twenty years in two states doing that. The 20% figure I cited very nearly reverses in that environment. I have never seen a smoke-free beer joint make it financially unless all the competition had been forced to be smoke-free. Think I'm wrong, fine, spend your money, get a license, stock the place and hire people. Don't worry about being trampled by the rushing horde of patrons. Now Ellis and Crownover will shed crocodile tears over the poor non-smoking employees of bars "forced" to endure the health hazards of second hand smoke. People, bartending has its good points, but it ain't the top of the economic food chain. If you don't like smoke, FIND ANOTHER JOB! Rep. Crownover, I'll make a deal with you. I promise not to come to your house and stink it up with cigarette smoke if you will just leave my bar the hell alone.
I know it may sound radical in today's Nanny State, but I have this axiomatic belief that the person who owns a business, pays the taxes and employees, and presumably knows his customer base should decide which legal activity he chooses to allow in his business. What a concept!

OK, ranting done. I hope you had a wonderful Christmas, and I wish you all a happy and prosperous New Year.

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