NEELY: Eureka owes millions for sewage infrastructure
Humboldt County Supervisor Bonnie Neely questioned the Eureka City Council at its Tuesday meeting about the whereabouts of millions of dollars owed by the city to maintain sewage treatment facilities.
Neely said the city is asking voters to raise taxes to fund infrastructure they’ve already paid for.
“What happened to these public monies,” Neely asked. “Were they diverted and spent on other City Services or City redevelopment projects? Was this diversion of funds legal?”
Neely said the city claims to have lost the document that formalized a payment agreement between the city and Humboldt Community Services District, who jointly fund the sewage system. But she said terms of the agreement are clear based on other documents in the city’s possession.
Neely called for an independent investigation and “full disclosure” of the findings to the public.
Mayor Virginia Bass, who is challenging Neely for her seat on the Board of Supervisors, said the city would “get a response” to Neely’s comments.
Neely’s full comments below.
Good evening Mayor and Members of the Council.
I’m Bonnie Neely, member of the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors. I’m here on behalf of citizens and tax payers of the 4th district, many of whom reside within the city limits and boundaries of Humboldt Community Services District. The city and district are jointly responsible for providing and maintaining sewer and sewage treatment facilities to the citizens and tax payers, and I think you know that many of these citizens are senior citizens on fixed incomes.
The city has approved placing a new tax on the November ballot and increased fees to improve and continue to maintain these facilities. However, our constituents need to be assured that monies previously collected for system maintenance and improvements have been properly collected, spent and accounted for.
Since the early 1980’s a relationship has existed between the district and the city for the operation and maintenance by the city of the waste water facility serving both jurisdictions. The cost of the operation and maintenance of that facility were to be split 2/3 to the city and 1/3 to the district. The city now claims to be unable to locate a document formalizing that agreement, however it can be clearly inferred by other grant documents, by payments made by the district, and by the subsequent actions of the parties that such an agreement exists.
What is documented is that since 1991, the Humboldt Community Services District made regular payments to the city for maintenance funds in amounts exceeding $80,000 per year. Under the district’s understanding of the agreement, the city should have been contributing twice that amount. Total amounts which should have been collected are between $6-7 million of public monies. The problem today is the lack of information regarding what monies were collected and how they were spent. What happened to these public monies? Where they diverted and spent on other city services?
A public being asked to support higher taxes and increased fees to pay for things it thought were already paid for wants to know.
Although the city of Eureka has denied wrong-doing, it has impliedly admitted some degree of financial responsibility by offering to settle this dispute with the Community Services District. What is left out of these discussions is the interest of the public — our constituency — for full disclosure. The many questions which remain can only be answered by a thorough and independent audit of these funds, followed by disclosure to the public and review by responsible agencies to determine if laws have been violated. That is our responsibility and anything less is a violation of public trust. I and the people look forward to your response.