the end of County Council's meeting the other evening, as
attenders were putting on their coats and getting ready to
vacate the premises, four additional resolutions came to the
floor under the 'Article J' rule. That's a way by which Council,
with agreement by a majority of its members can act on things
not on its advertised agenda. That would be either something to
deal with an emergency situation which had arisen after the
agenda was prepared or, much more commonly, routine
uncontroversial matters which, for one reason or another, are
deemed not appropriate to be put off until Council meets again
in two weeks.
the items clearly fit the latter category and the fourth --
prosaically titled 'Authorizing the Execution of Certain
Contacts' -- appeared at first glance also to do so. The
referenced contract was a purchase order to provide for a
redundant source of electricity for the Paul J. Sweeney
Building, which is being constructed to house police and other
minute, said Councilman Jea Street after he saw the bottom line
-- $200,000 -- and the vendor -- Delmarva Power. As he does
frequently, Street cut right to the heart of the matter by
asking a simple and, when you think about it, an obvious
question: "Are we paying a reasonable amount for what's going
into this building?"
Called to respond, Richard
Przywara, general manager of the Department of Special Services,
which is responsible for putting up and equipping the building,
explained that $200,000 was a negotiated figure -- "the best we
could get," is how he put it. Although the expenditure was in
the approved budget, county law requires Council approval
because the contract was not put to competitive bidding. How
could that be done, Przywara said, when Delmarva Power is the
only source of back-up electricity in this area.
end, Street stood alone in voting against the resolution. His
colleagues could hardly resist Przywara's explanation that a
source of reliable power -- which battery-generated electricity
may not be -- is essential if the 9-1-1 and other emergency
communications are not to go out when they are most needed.
"There is no other provider who can do this," he said.
Councilwoman Karen Venezky, who guards the purse strings as
chair of Council's finance committee, said she had no idea if
$200,000 was the best price or even a reasonable one. "We have
to take it at face value; this is something that needs to be
done," she said.
there is no doubt that Street does not want 9-1-1 to go dark,
either, his probing put into sharp focus the fundamental issue
apropos the panic emanating from Delmarva Power's announcement
that, come May 1 when utility deregulation takes hold and the
moratorium on raising electricity rates expires, it's going to
sock residential customers with an unprecedented -- and, one
might say, obscene -- 59% rate hike.
-- even government -- is at the mercy of the power company.
politicians are scurrying to find out what, if anything, they
can do to mitigate the situation. A lot of people are asking how
members of the General Assembly could have been so naive six
years ago as to think that an unregulated profit-driven utility
would not be out to grab all it could as soon as it could.
Equally naive was their reliance on the prospect of competition
coming along to keep things under control. It should have been
obvious that mom-and-pop generators could hardly provide an
effective counterbalance even if a market as small as Delaware
attracted them. There really is no viable competition for an
talk of reregulation with Terry Spence, speaker of the state
House of Representatives, and Wayne Smith, leader of its
Republican majority, leading the charge. An attempt to go that
course would certainly provoke an extended court battle and it's
a reasonably safe bet that our much esteemed but business-savvy
Court of Chancery would look askance at such a reaction. State
treasurer Jack Markell has called for an investigation into
whether Delmarva Power, a retailer of electricity and natural
gas, has looked hard enough to find the best deal for buying the
electricity it's distributing -- especially when you consider
that Conectiv Energy, a wholesaler, is its present source of
Delmarva Power and Conectiv Energy are wholly owned subsidiaries
of Pepco Holdings Inc., a Washington, D.C., company. Pepco -- a
descendent of Potomac Electric Power Co. -- recently increased
its stock dividend rate to $1.04 a year, which can be considered
a reasonable 4.4% return based on the current price of the
stock. The company's reported profit for the nine months ended
Sept. 30 -- apparently the most recent available -- was $289.6
million, a 15% increase from the comparable 2004 period. Total
revenue figures are not included in the financial report posted
on the Pepco website.
It may be
worthwhile, although certainly sure to generate considerable
anguish about preserving Delaware's kind-to-business reputation,
to consider looking to impose an offsetting tax or fee on greedy
utilities coupled with an allowable credit against state
personal income tax as a way to provide at least a partial
refund. A serious threat to move in that direction might well be
sufficient to induce Delmarva Power finance people to sharpen
their pencils and try again to be reasonable.
there's an effort underway to assist low-income households pay
their increased utility bills. Earlier in its session, County
Council approved a resolution calling on the General Assembly to
enact pending legislation to increase the amount of money
available for individual grants to needy households by imposing
surcharges on electricity and natural gas bills. Councilmen
George Smiley and Joseph Reda and Councilwoman Patty Powell
voted against that resolution.
Kowalko, of the Association for Community Organizations Now --
which goes by the acronym Acorn -- told Council's finance
committee that similar programs are working in other
jurisdictions and that the cost would be minimal, Smiley
questioned the logic behind them. He argued that it was nothing
more than a 'rob Peter to pay Paul' approach. There are a lot of
moderate-income families being pushed to the limit of their
means by an avalanche of increased costs of a variety of
necessities, he said. It would amount to "hitting them with a
mandatory fee on top of their higher utility bill" and that
hardly makes sense, he maintained.
fashion, it mirrors benign Delmarva Power's appeal to its
customers to contribute to the 'Good Neighbor Fund' administered
by the Salvation Army. Those contributions end up in Delmarva
Power's till by way of some of the company's more severely
another related matter at its session, Council received without
comment a proposed ordinance to provide an additional $650,000
to the Department of Special Services to cover budget shortfalls
caused by higher motor fuel and energy costs. Of that, $500,000
is to come from reducing the tax stabilization reserve with the
rest being transferred from the budget of the recorder of deeds.
The federal government is
on the verge of one of the biggest giveaways of oil and gas in
American history, worth an estimated $7 billion over five years.
New projections, buried in the Interior Department's
just-published budget plan, anticipate that the government will
let companies pump about $65 billion worth of oil and natural
gas from federal territory over the next five years without
paying any royalties to the government.
they say, if there's a will there has to be a way. In an effort
to block construction of a liquefied natural gas terminal in
Fall River, Mass., legislators managed to mandate saving an old
drawbridge with an opening too narrow for tankers that would
bring it to the site to pass through. Now, the gas companies
said it will just substitute smaller ships making more trips. At
least that beats going to war with a neighboring state.
HERE to read
the Boston Globe article.
we'd rather not have to live that way, it seems that concrete
barriers protecting government buildings and other places that
might be tempting targets for terrorists are going to be around
for a long time. So, why do they have to be eyesores? If you can
make an object d'arte out of a clothespin, why not apply a
little bit of creative imagination to concrete barriers.
HERE to read a
Boston Globe article about doing just that.
Floyd may have been an exception. A pair of researchers have now
discovered that criminals tend to be ugly.
HERE to read a
Washington Post article about that and other interesting
research you ought to know about.