Thursday, January 17, 2008

Water Wisdom

Facing increased water and sewer rates to cover the expense of service to new developments, insufficient impact fees, and construction cost over runs, the Fayetteville Water and Sewer Committee has responded to the challenge and done so wisely. The policy implications of utility rate structures might seem wonkishly boring, but Chairman Kyle Cook and Aldermen Adella Gray, Bobby Ferrell, and Lioneld Jordan have crafted a proposed rate policy that serves our citizens well.

The Committee did a double good deed on residential water rates, proposing an increasing block rate that charges less for the first 2,000 gallons and more for consumption greater that 18,000 gallons per month. This plan encourages water conservation and provides a cost break for households that use less water, regardless of age or income.
Gary Dumas says that's essentially what is done with solid waste rates, David Jurgens says it would reduce red tape, and City Attorney Kit Williams says it's legal. This is simply brilliant and a considerable improvement over past policies. It gets even better. The Committee has proposed moving to a cost-of-service plan for both water and sewer rates by customer class to more fairly distribute the looming 15% increase in water rates and 20% increase in sewer rates.

Water rates would rise in four annual increments, beginning this year with residential customers increasing overall by 5.5% , nonresidential customers by 4.1%, and major industrial users by 6.6 %. The sewer rate increases will be 15% for residential customers, 21% for nonresidential customers, and 30% for major industrial users of more than 1 million gallons. Not pleasant for anyone, but greatly improved over the existing regressive rate structure that has residents subsidizing lower rates for business and industry, which have had three years to begin planning and budgeting to pay their fair share.

The new rate structure will have to be approved by the full City Council in February. Let us hope that they act as wisely as has the Water and Sewer Committee in resolving to enact a progressive policy for resource conservation and fundamental fairness in pricing.

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