The proposed city coup of Black Hills Energy is a disaster in the making for many reasons. I strongly urge a “no” vote on ballot issue 2A.
Caveat emptor (“let the buyer beware”) is a principle in contract law which places the burden on a purchaser to perform due diligence before making a purchase. In the case of 2A, the city neglects or refuses to do that.
The fact that the price is somewhere between $400 million and $1 billion should be sufficient to justify a no vote. Th city hasn’t demonstrated the due diligence necessary to justify asking voters for what is essentially a blank check.
The city summarily dismisses the historical perspective experienced by Boulder in its quest to buy out Xcel Energy. It is sheer folly to disregard the yet-to-be-determined consequences of the Boulder fiasco.
Proponents suggest we have learned lessons from Boulder. In fact, they have cherry picked facts to support their cause. When pressed, they point to eliminating cost controls and limiting the citizen’s say to a single vote on 2A as valuable lessons learned.
While there are obvious differences between Pueblo and Boulder, the fact remains that Boulder has spent more time and money than initially anticipated. If the city treats that as insignificant, it perhaps serves as an omen of the city’s inability to comprehend the enormity of the takeover and its subsequent fiduciary responsibility.
The city touts that one advantage of municipalization is to be removed from the claws of the Public Utilities Commission. As it is with human nature, the city is satisfied with the PUC when it agrees and dissatisfied with the PUC when it disagrees.
Regardless, the PUC is independent of local politics and operates independently of political considerations. The city fails to provide information on how it intends to regulate or provide oversight of the water board.
Instead, city leaders simply suggest that we can vote out members of the water board when they are up next for election. If citizens are unhappy with board actions today, they have to wait five more years to get rid of the most recently elected water board members.
This is simply not a reasonable time to address concerns if we are unhappy with their decision making. In the school bond issue campaign, it was loud and clear that the community demanded an oversight committee be included in the bond language to ensure that funds were properly used.
Issue 2A is two to four times as large as the school bond issue. Voters deserve better oversight for a project of this magnitude.
The lack of specificity is reminiscent of the animal shelter debacle where the city bungled the decision from the very beginning in the application process and skewed selection criteria. This looks eerily similar to the work of the Electric Utility Commission, which failed in its duty to evaluate all options, not rubber stamp the creation of a municipal utility.
We simply cannot afford a mistake of this proportion.
Proponents are upset because Pueblo CARES has generously supported the “No on 2A” issue committee and want to call its support “dark money.” Really, what difference does it make who is bankrolling the No on 2A issue committee?
My guess would be that most of the financial support is coming from Black Hills ― and rightfully so, in defense of its property. If the city underestimated the resolve of Black Hills, shame on it.
Let’s not forget the city didn’t blink when they handed more than $800,000 in taxpayer dollars to consultants and attorneys to study the issue.
Black Hills presently pays roughly $17 million dollars into the city and county coffers for property, sales and use taxes and the franchise fee. That number will increase by $1.7 million in 2023. All of this disappears if the city coup is successful.
What is the city’s plan to replenish that revenue? When private assets are taken for public use, the citizens are left to fill the gap. I expect that will be the case here as well.
Finally, as an aside, If the water board is so flush with money, why doesn’t it recognize the contributions and loyalty of the ratepayers by returning some of it to the ratepayers in either a reduction in charges or a dividend? After all, we are the ones who provided it with the financial resources to invest heavily in an undertaking which does not have the unanimous support of its investors.
Dennis Maes is a retired chief district court judge and current member of the Pueblo School District 60 board of education.