Saturday, January 12, 2008

Reading About Rates

With apologies to Robert Fulghum, all I know is what I read in the newspapers. I try to be an informed citizen, but my problem is that sometimes I have to read an article several times to get it right and am not always sure that I do. A recent article about Alderman Kyle Cook's comments on water and sewer rates during a Ward Two meeting this week is a case in point, and I don't know whether it is my poor reading comprehension, poor reporting by the newspaper, or poor communication by a public official.

"Sewer rates could go up by 20 percent, and water rates could increase by 15 percent over the next few years, [Cook] said." Okay. Does that mean that is the amount of additional revenue that will be needed for the city to cover operating expenses and/or to cover construction cost overruns? Does that mean residential rates and industrial rates will each increase by the same percentage? There are also missing assumptions about cost-of-service pricing, flat rate, and increasing block rates that might make this more clear.

"The Fayetteville Water and Sewer Committee will discuss reducing rates for low-income elderly customers at a meeting next week. Alderman Kyle Cook, committee chairman, said the cost of reducing the rates for elderly residents would be absorbed by the residential customers." Why is that? I favor a lifeline rate for low-income elderly residents, but why does Cook want to assign the cost only to other residential customers? Don't businesses have an equal responsibility for assisting the less fortunate? Why not have a reduced rate for the first 2,000 gallons per month for all customers and make it up by adding a few cents per thousand above 10,000 gallons per month? There might be reasons against that, but the article does not mention them or that they might have been consider or discussed by Alderman Cook.

Has Alderman Cook not considered alternatives? Is he insensitive to his constituents who, the article reports, "said they think all water users, including industrial and commercial users, should contribute to the cost?" If so, he has an obligation to his constituents to explain why he wants residential customers to bear greater burdens and responsibilities than business customers for lifeline rates and the overall cost of water and sewer services. Perhaps he did, and the reporter failed to share that information with the readers.

Whatever the case, Alderman Cook and the Water and Sewer Committee that he chairs should make clear why certain customers are treated differently and charged more than others, what policy objectives are advanced by charging different rates, and why they think that is a good idea and a fair one. They owe that much to the citizens before jacking up their water and sewer rates by 20%.

The Water and Sewer Committee will meet at 4:30 next Wednesday. If it is on cable Channel 16, I'll watch the last part of it after I get home from work and hope to read a clear account of the discussions in next Thursday's newspaper. Then I will hope that my aldermen will give more consideration to my views than Alderman Cook was "reported" to have given to those expressed by citizens in his ward.

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