Editorial: Restore fair water rates Op-Ed · April 05, 2013
The West Branch City Council took a 180-degree turn in February when it voted to give breaks on increasing water rates to the highest-end users, a move we hope it will reconsider.
The vote came about two years after the council rejected an idea to charge high-end users more than anyone else. We used this space then to applaud the councilís reasoning, and we use that same reasoning today to ask the current council to restore a flat rate to all users.
The original issue dates back to 2011, when the council increased water rates by 14 percent per year for five years. It amounted to a total 59-percent increase when the 2011 rate was compared to the final 2016 rate.
The rate had been $4.59 for 1,000 gallons, which with the first bump this past July 1 increased 64 cents to $5.23. This coming July 1, it will rise another 64 cents to $5.87. By the final increase in 2016, the water rate will hit $7.79.
The 64-cent annual increase was expected to raise water revenues another $80,000 per year. The cityís estimate amounted to another $400,000 per year by 2016, nearly 70 percent higher.
If that seems like a lot to you, imagine how it seems to the cityís biggest users ó those who consume more than 250,000 gallons per month ó Hames West Branch Village Mobile Homes, Plastic Products, West Branch High School and Crestview Nursing and Rehab Center.
But the reasoning behind the 2011 price hike for city water was that the water department ought to charge a rate that allowed it to support itself, rather than be subsidized by property taxes. Yes, the increase hurts the pocketbooks of all who live and run businesses in West Branch, but the cityís reasoning made fiscal sense.
So when the idea came to charge even more to high-end users, the council balked, stating the suggestion was unnecessary and unfair.
We used this space then to point out that any business which uses more volume must, under a flat rate, pay more. Itís simple math. The council needed to reach its objective of a balanced water budget by coming up with a single rate that affected all users equally.
And it took some courage to do so.
One of the key arguments in February for lowering the rate for high-end users was how West Branch Village uses only 14 percent of the cityís water, but pays 26 percent of the annual water revenue. This is obviously out of kilter and needs to be addressed. Cutting their rate is easy, but it is the wrong way to address this discrepancy because the water rate itself is not to blame for the problem. This problem existed before the rate increase.
Now we have a situation where four high-end users are getting cheaper rates while the rest of the town subsidizes the water budget. Unfair water rates, whether they punish or reward, are a misuse of government power.
We see no legitimate reason to charge high-end users less for water than residents or low-end users. A flat rate seems most appropriate.