Sunday, February 24, 2008

Water Rate Increases: Before You Go Off the Deep End, Read This

Metro Council member and local infrastructure wonk, Emily Evans let's us take a peek at her response to a constituent over water rate increases that loom on the horizon. She surveys various aspects of the problem including the inevitable chickens now coming home to roost as the result "payments in lieu of taxes" ex-Mayor Phil Bredesen charged to water services to service the debt on the Titans' football stadium. That's about $4 million a year that we don't have any choice but to pay from water until 2026. (Thanks, NFL, Yes! and the 59% majority of Davidson County Voters who authorized funding in 1996! I wonder whether Williamson County benefits more from that arrangement than Davidson County?)

However, the most salient comment CM Evans makes has to do with the true causes of the coming rate increases

Now, all that money is gone and there is little hope of additional funds from the general fund.
The fact that there is little money left usually moves people to scream about mismanagement. That is not the case here. The depletion of fund balances at Metro Water is a result of increased costs (Electricity up 34%, Treatment Chemicals up 151%, Plant and Building Security up 199%) and flat revenues. Average Operation and Maintenance expense for Water and Sewer (ex stormwater) has been 3.13% per year for 9 years. We have few, if any, other departments that can compare. That performance is due to aggressive cost cutting mostly in the form of reduced personnel. Basically, MWS did what most people want done - it cut costs before it asked for more money.
So, MWS has already cut back services to the bone.

There won't be any money to spare anywhere else thanks to the anti-revenue mob at Tennessee Tax Revolt and three-quarters of voters who approved the property tax referendum in 2006. Look for the anti-revenue mob to be in out in force opposing water rate increases and stirring the pot this time around too, but be sure you check all of their "facts" with infrastructure wonks like CM Evans before you assume that they are true.

I want to pay higher rates about as little as the next average Nashvillian, but if we want a safe water system and effective stormwater run-off, who else is going to pay for it?

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