Tuesday, September 27, 2011

RATE HIKE WASN'T NEEDED: Says Columbia sewer superintendent

Staff error sends rates soaring when reduction was in order, city's top sewer chief tells Council 

COLUMBIA, 9/27/11  (Beat Byte) --  A hefty 15% hike in sewer utility rates approved by the Columbia City Council last week wasn't necessary, says City Hall's top expert in sewage and wastewater management.    

Instead, the rates should have been reduced -- and a nearly $1 million dollar city staff miscalculation is to blame.   

Sewer rate changes approved in March as part of a billing reform plan already added plenty of money to city coffers, explained city sewer utility supervisor Bill Weitkemper in a letter to Council members before their vote.   City residents will now overpay somewhere between $900,000 and $2,000,000 annually, largely because city staffers miscalculated the impact of the March changes in this latest rate hike proposal.   

"The staff report was not accurate," Weitkemper told Council members.   Among other problems, the report failed to apply a new base charged approved in March to some 4,400 residential and non-residential customers, underestimating city revenue by a whopping $912,124 for residential customers city-wide.

To stave off the unnecessary increase, Weitkemper -- a 37-year City Hall veteran -- said he also met personally with Mayor Bob McDavid, Councilmen Gary Kespohl, Daryl Dudley, and city manager Mike Matthes. 

"The only solution that would be both fair and equitable and revenue neutral would be to reduce the residential base fee to $3.68/month," Weitkemper -- who has long advocated for utility rate reform -- told the Council, backing up his claims with extensive calculations, ordinance citations, and historical data.  

City Manager Mike Matthes
Instead, Council members hiked rates 15%, from $5.52 to $6.35/month.

To stave off the unnecessary increase, Weitkemper -- a 37-year City Hall veteran -- said he
also met personally with "Mayor Bob McDavid, Councilmen Gary Kespohl, and Daryl Dudley on August 31 in the Mayor's office.  I gave them each a very detailed written report, with attachments, on everything I thought needed to be corrected with the sewer ordinance as well as the upcoming 15% sewer rate increase that was not needed."  

To complete the chain of command, Weitkemper said he met with city manager Mike Matthes nearly one month ago, on September 1.   "I gave him the same report.  He said he would read the entire report and ask Public Works to comment and get back to me."

But Matthes never did get back said Weitkemper, despite his repeated attempts to meet.

"When I had not heard from Mr. Matthes, I e-mailed him on Sept. 13 and indicated I needed to know something about my concerns about the 15% sewer rate increase by the following Monday.   He did not reply.  I e-mailed him twice more on Sept. 16." 

And still, nothing.  

After getting City Hall's version of the bum's rush for his efforts to protect average consumers, Weitkemper blames the politics of hard cash for making "equitable" such a dirty word in sewer billing.   Fair rates for average users means big players -- from Mizzou to Stan Kroenke -- would have to pay more, he explained. 

RELATED:

http://gocolumbiamo.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=502&meta_id=28777

http://gocolumbiamo.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=384&meta_id=23495

3 comments:

  1. Yet another blow to the average middle class and low income citizens of Columbia already being hammered by stagnant or reduced wages, soaring utility rates, and prices for everything from food to paper towels.

    Has the city been using these rate hikes the last few years for other things? Do city officials view it as a source of revenue to feed their ferocious appetite for spending on non essentials? If so maybe Columbians need to look at filing a class action against the city. The citizens of Marcelene, MO are doing so because officials there have jacked up utility rates to pay for other things. Which is supposed to be an illegal practice.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Perhaps if everyone subtracted 15% from our combined utility payments...

    ReplyDelete
  3. This is what's so discouraging. I used to have a lot of faith and confidence in the people at city hall, but every time something like this comes out, it drains my confidence bit by bit. Their treatment of Mr. Weitkemper, btw, is deplorable!

    ReplyDelete