Sunday, January 31, 2010

GOOD CITY/BAD CITY: Sewer law do-over/recycling bins

GOOD CITY:  Recycling bins on Monday's Council agenda
COLUMBIA, 1/31/10  (Beat Byte) --  Columbia City Council members will hear about an experiment with curbside recycling bins Monday night that will have 1,900 Columbia households receiving two plastic recycling bins in mid-February:  one for beverage and food containers, and one for paper and cardboard.
Mostly funded by a $22,800 grant from the Mid-Missouri Solid Waste Management District, the experiment should prove what I learned as a long-time Seattle-area resident -- curbside bins are a better alternative to plastic bags that actually add to waste and costs.
Gooood city!   Gooood City! 
BAD CITY:  Sewer law do-over on Monday's council agenda
COLUMBIA, 1/31/10  (Beat Byte) --  The Columbia City Council Monday night will also take a first vote on changes to the city's sewer ordinances that could give city manager Bill Watkins and his staff a sweeping new power:  "to enter into sewer service agreements with governmental users.  These agreements may provide for sewer charges that differ from the charges set forth in the ordinance." 
The changes would also mandate that only sewer users with a water meter would receive a base monthly sewer charge of $6.09. 
Baaaaad City!  Baaaaaad City!   Even a staff report included indicates making these changes could cost the city  $150,000 lost revenue for the current fiscal year, which everyone says is tighter than ever already.  
But more importantly, emails regarding City Hall's "sewer billing scandal" show the impact of making these changes. 
Because they don't have separate water meters, the following sewer users would NOT be charged the base sewer rate of $6.09/month, leaving the rest of us with water meters to make up the difference:   
About 2,000 commercial units
3,149 apartment and duplex units
6,480 University units (dormitories and such) 
714 Columbia Housing Authority units
125 Lenoir Retirement Center units
Doing the math, the city will lose (3,149 + 6,480 + 2,000+ 714 + 125 units)  x  $6.09/month  X  12 months  =
a whopping $911,000 annually.  And the staff report says any annual loss may require an adjustment (read: hike) in the base fee in 2011.   That hike, of course, would only affect users with water meters.   People who use the sewer system but have no water meter would not be affected, which certainly doesn't seem fair. 
"Certain, Fair, Easy to Administer and Cost Neutral," says the city manager's report.  Not yet, it's not. (Perhaps MU could be persuaded to pass on its huge sewer savings in the form of lower tuition rather than admin pay hikes??)      

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