Thursday, December 20, 2007

Lifeline Water and Sewer Rates Endorsed

Chairman Kyle Cook and the Fayetteville City Council's Water and Sewer Committee unanimously endorsed the concept of lower "lifeline" water and sewer rates for low-income elderly residents, probably 25% lower than regular rates. This progressive policy innovation was strongly supported by Aldermen Lioneld Jordan and Bobby Ferrell.

As might be expected, the only objections came from Dave Jurgens, city water and sewer director, who complained there would be extra staff costs and training to administer such a program, more likelihood of staff error, and problems providing adequate public information. He even suggested staff could not handle it and might have to hire an outside consulting firm. That seems to be the administration's answer to everything.

The out-of-state consultants hired by the city to advise on rate structure proposed dumping the entire lifeline subsidy costs on other residential ratepayers and giving a free ride to government, business, and industrial users. That's not right. We all share in our obligations to the community, and Chamber members should be willing to pay their fair share.

Other policy decisions still to be decided are whether to move to true cost-of-service rates for all users, or whether to continue the present rate structure that has residential customers subsidizing lower rates for industrial users who have no incentive to conserve. Darrell Froud, operations manager of the Tyson Foods plant in Fayetteville, said phasing in the increases would be the best for his company, meaning that residential customers should pay higher rates and bear the burden so corporations did not have to absorb the actual cost of doing business.

Neither the out-of-state consultants nor the corporate managers care that times are hard for working families and that rising costs affect every residential customer just as much. We'll have to wait to see whether our elected city officials represent the interests of the average citizens or the demands of the business interests represented by the Chamber crowd. We're hopeful that our Aldermen will have the wisdom and courage do the right thing.

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