Sunday, May 16, 2010

CITY SEWER MANAGER: Billing ordinance changes won't work

COLUMBIA, 5/16/10  (Beat Byte) --  City sewer maintenance supervisor Bill Weitkemper -- an outspoken critic of Columbia's sewer billing policies -- says changes being proposed at Monday's City Council meeting won't work.  
He advises his department -- Public Works -- to look at the Water and Light department for guidance.
Any new Sewer Ordinance "should use the Water Ordinance's more workable definition of a 'residential dwelling unit,'" Weitkemper said.  "Many of the things that the City Manager says the sewer ordinance should not do -- or cannot do -- are apparently being done by the water folks," he added.   
Earlier, Weitkemper discovered that large, politically powerful customers like the University of Missouri are paying far lower rates for sewer use than the rest of us. 
Rushing to plug the gap, city leaders quickly suggested revising the current city ordinance governing sewer rates.  But instead of a revision, Weitkemper continues to argue for enforcement of the current ordinance.   For instance, "although the sewer ordinance provides for charging each residential and commercial premises a monthly base charge, this is not being done," Weitkemper explained. 
The effect on city coffers is staggering -- over $1 million lost every year, Weitkemper estimates.   One proposed solution -- extending a 20% discount to the University of Missouri as a "Wholesale User" -- will only extend those losses, he argues.

"The University of Missouri should not be classified as a 'Wholesale User' or given a 20% discount," he explained.  "The present sewer ordinance can and should be applied. 
The University should be charged a sewer base charge for each residential and commercial premises connected to the city's sewer system, as defined by the current sewer ordinance."
Strangely enough, City Hall has been granting another large sewer user -- the Boone County Regional Sewer District (BCRSD) -- a 20% Wholesale User discount.  But "there is no mention of a 'Wholesale User' or 20% Wholesale User discount in the sewer ordinance," Weitkemper explained, effectively making the practice illegal

Weitkemper says we'd all benefit from the additional revenue enforcing the current ordinance would generate. 
The present sewer base charge of $6.09/month could be reduced -- by as much as 25%, to $4.56/month.   Or the additional revenue could be used to reduce wet weather sewer overflows and basement backups.  
Since April 10, 2008, Columbia has reported 133 wet weather sewer overflows to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Weitkemper explained.   "Although many residents do not report basement backups during periods of heavy rainfall and flooding, 37 basement back-ups were also reported." 
City manager Bill Watkins has also recommended defeating the proposed sewer billing changes.

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