Solutions to Yakima

We owe $13 million to a man who’s out of patience.
We have no extra money.
How can we fix it?

As La Paz County re-enters talks with Yakima Company after an attention-grabbing payroll crisis two weeks ago, speculation centers on what form those talks may take. Several ways to settle the County’s $13 million debt to Jim Willett have been proposed, some by Willett himself, others by various interested parties. Recently, many of this site’s visitors have left comments speculating on possible solutions to the problem.

As County Administrator Dan Field said in his ‘Current Events’ update on the issue, there may be no easy answers. The County’s assets are in most cases needed for necessary services or legally tied to their original purposes. Nevertheless, the County was reported to be “close” to an agreement in late 2009, giving some hope that a settlement can be found.¬†These are some of the various solutions that have been proposed.

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1) Sell Yakima various County properties for business

One of the earliest proposals was that Yakima would buy some surplus County properties at their appraised value, including Ted’s Truck Stop. This would have involved setting up in business, the profits of which would go to Willett.

2) Restore the biosolids project using local businesspeople

Reportedly, the closest the parties came to an agreement – so close that an agreement was drafted and sent for signature – involved restarting the original sludge facility at the center of the original lawsuit. Willett does not appear to want to run the facility himself, but some local businesspeople have submitted their willingness to run the project. At least one California municipality pledged a contract worth millions of dollars at the time, though the question of whether they would still be interested remains. The money needed to start the project would also be an issue. Another potential problem is that Willett may not be willing to wait until the project is profitable, which could be around 18 months from its development.

3) Conveyance of the Landfill to Willett

In a Settlement White Paper in July last year, Yakima proposed re-deeding the County Landfill to Willett (the Parker Live headline, “Give me your landfill” was widely read). UPDATE: Read the White Paper here. Although there have been questions as to the legality of conveying the Landfill, the White Paper is written by a former head of BLM, Arizona, now in private practice, attesting to the legality of the action. The upside of this solution is that it is comparatively painless as a solution. Yakima says it would honor the contracts already established with the waste collection companies. A concern of the County is that, because the County is obligated by state statute to provide Landfill services to its residents in perpetuity, any default on the contract by Yakima – even after many years – would leave the County in the position of having to develop a costly new landfill. (Counties generally own their landfills for this reason.)

4) Privatize the golf course or portions of the County Park

Turning the golf course or other County amenities over to Willett may not be feasible for reasons owing to restrictions on who may own these parcels of land, or by statute. (Field cites “federal and state obligations”, saying these options “would [not] be available legally”.) But some see these as fair options to explore further, or at least some kind of funneling of profits. However, typically facilities such as the golf course, although owned by the County, tend to run as self-contained businesses without showing profit.

5) Mandatory furlough days or pay cuts for County employees

Furloughs and pay cuts are generally seen as the least desirable forms of collecting money for paying Willett. The County is one of the largest employers in the area, leading some to fear that any cuts or other actions affecting employees would have a domino effect on the local economy and on the extent to which people can afford to live in La Paz County. Even if one of the more desirable solutions are implemented, however, some fear that employees may be affected during the development phase of one of the projects.

6) Modest tax increases

The old adage about the inevitability of death and taxes may spring to mind if this option is chosen as one way out of the Yakima problem. Some feel this option fairest of all, the general feeling about property taxes notwithstanding.

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Ultimately, a problem like this comes down to numbers. The numbers in this case can be overwhelming. The latest figure cited by Jim Willett is $13.8 million including fees. The monthly amount to Yakima at 3 percent over 30 years would be over $55,000 per month (if Willett were to hold a contract for that period of time on the full Judgment). One of the above methods of being able to pay that figure every month may be necessary.

All parties except Yakima have mentioned the possibility of Chapter 9 Bankruptcy. This is generally not seen as an end solution but rather a means to protect the County’s assets while solutions are being sought.

What other means of paying the huge bill to Yakima may be available to the County? Might one of these methods, or a combination, be the way forward? Should citizens be more involved in the process, perhaps using a model like Open Space Technology, which claims many resolutions to such complex problems? Which of the above solutions might be the most feasible, or perhaps the least disruptive to County life?

Let’s find out what the community feels about the solutions to this community problem.

10 comments

  1. After reading Mr. Jones’ website I would imagine a very small chance of doing business with any major sludge generators. Sounds like they may be a bit leery of doing business here.
    If it could happen it appears to be the best solution. IF the sludge folks came up with the capitol to start. Wouldn’t make the folks in Quartzsite very happy. Other than that we could offer Mr. Willett a position as a Park Ranger!

  2. Here’s what I don’t understand. There are thousands of trucks that travel through Quartzsite daily. They carry loads, including hazardous materials, and cattle. Why is there no outcry to stop these vehicles? They stop to refuel at the truck stops and drive through the town. What’s a little sludge compared to hazardous materials or cattle poop? Why not honor the contract, pay Willets lawyer fees and lost profit and call it even?

  3. You forgot option 10. Chapter 9 Bankruptcy.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chapter_9

    Furloughs, Pay Cuts, and Tax hikes won’t be enough to pay off Yakima. At least cutting to where the county government still functions. (Although I’m sure some are happy with the County not functioning) Most Departments are BARELY functioning. If you live anywhere in the county that’s not Parker or Quartzsite, try calling the Sheriffs and see how long it takes them to get there. There’s not enough fat to trim without cutting off arms and legs.

    Chapter 9 isn’t that bad. While it’ll hurt business coming to the county, it’d be no more damage than Yakima has done. Not like this county has even been business friendly in its almost 30 year history.

    I posted a few news articles about Westfall Township PA. They declared Bankruptcy in 2009 because of losing a massive lawsuit. You can read about what has happened to them. The situation seems to mirror ours a lot.

    http://www.wnep.com/news/countybycounty/wnep-westfall-township-files-for-bankruptcy,0,4660471.story

    http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/westfall-twp-s-first-in-the-state-bankruptcy-may-not-be-pennsylvania-s-last-1.695242#axzz1DXpQapGn

    http://www.thepublicpurse.com/2010/03/12/chapter-9-municipal-bankruptcy-in-pennsylvania/

    This may be the least painful solution for the citizens of this county, should a settlement agreement not be possible. Just “paying it off” is NOT an option if you want a functional county government.

  4. Here’s what I don’t understand##################################################!

  5. Let’s get this straight, I have lived in Quartzsite for 21 years and I have never

  6. been involved with the small faction that held up “No Sludge” signs that was seen at the corner of Main and Hwy 95. This small faction is very similar to the on-going group that is trying to take over our Town.
    I am not against Mr Willit and his business and the exscuse that was used” the flys are comming from the sludge” That statement only showed the mentality of the small group that was complaining.
    You never heard these people complain about a livestock truck.
    If Mr Willits enterprise was handled better and more fairly by fisher, edy and scott, we would be making money hand over fist.
    Why this enterprise took a bad turn, only fisher,edy and scott could answer.
    Get this business back on track, beg forgiveness from Mr Willit–pay him some nusience money and let’s get going with a profitable business. Quartzsite get over it and come into the 21st century. Your crap don’t smell so good also when the north wind is blowing from the waste water plant.

  7. Gracie, the answer as to why this enterprise took a bad turn is because just about almost every enterprise that comes to this county gets treated poorly by management, be it the county Supes, or the town councils.

    The County Government is one of, if not THE, largest legal employer in this county. This is because the county and towns roadblock any major business that wants to come here. They have for 30 years.

    Remember back in the late 80’s when Fort Howard wanted to build a major paper manufacturing plant? Shot down by the county. The Tierra Buelna housing division in Parker South? Ruined by the Towns poor management of water lines. Even recently, the Mancation business at Parker South. Shot down by the town. Its a miracle they pulled off the Wal mart deal, but it took close to 20 years to do it! And that was the work of the Tribes. Wal Mart had been trying to put a store out here that long! Anyone want to take bets that the factories planned on Highway 60 in Vicksburg will never happen?

    So many jobs lost. When opportunity knocks on the doors of this county, it is greeted with a shotgun and a cranky old man saying “we don’t take kindly to your types ’round here.”

    Yakima was another example. The County took a business that would have brought money and jobs, and turned it into a 13 million dollar debt.

    We can blame the politicians, but its as much the fault of the citizens for tolerating this for so long. We complain that there’s no opportunity and that our children leave for college and never come back. But then the citizens fight advancement every step of the way.

    Its a shame that our economy and job market is so dependent on a Government entity, but that’s all that is left after 3 decades of anti-business sentiment by our elected officials.

    Whats sad is that this will probably not change until everyone from the Generation that has run this county for 30 years retires or passes. It will be their children that make this county a success in the coming decades. If enough of them stay behind to do it. Leaving behind this massive debt for them to deal with sure won’t help.

  8. CS I think you nailed it. Until the underlying principles of the elected change the County is going to stay in the ditch. Gracie I am with you on asking Willett for forgiveness and begging for a solution. Why have the supervisors not flown to Wash. state and pleaded for a deal. Far as I know the county has still not offered a deal to Willett. I wonder how the county can go after the supervisors that caused this. From what I have read and heard the supervisors pushed the lawsuit forward even after being advised by council to stop. God help the county. This is getting scary.

  9. CS- I didn’t mention bankruptcy because it’s generally seen not as an end solution but a means to protect the County’s assets while a longterm solution is sought. I would expect that the County may consider bankruptcy at this point. An update will clarify that.

    A further update is added to provide a link to the White Paper referenced under the Landfill proposal. (A former BLM source appears to maintain the legality of transferring the Landfill to Willett.)

  10. I think what may have taken place in our new county is that there is a certain faction that has taken the stand that they know best what is good for us, the citizens of LaPaz county.
    There is a group of which one of them lives here in Quartzsite and the others are scattered around Parker and upriver.
    They are still in control of certain individuals that are pulling the strings in LaPaz county. I could name names, but that is not the answer. The citizens have got to stand up and take their power away.
    One of the ways is to either have the B O S set up a meeting with Mr Willit without Dan Feild present and hammer out a solution. One of which is what I suggested earlier. Give him the right to have a good business relationship with us, THE CITIZENS of LaPaz county.
    B O S!!wake up and do the job you were elected to do–get rid of the so-called attorneys that you are listining too. That includes Dan Field also.

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