Water Rates, Overflowing And Automated Meters Coming!

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There is a Board of Public Utilities meeting on Wednesday, February 20 at the Municipal Building in the Council Chambers. It is important to attend and voice your public comment for at least three topics on the agenda.

First, the Department of Public Utilities wants to raise your water rates … again. 6.25% this time.  It seems like an annual increase.

As water usage has dropped due to conservation efforts by the community, the Department wants to raise rates to keep up their revenues, ostensibly for future capital improvement projects. That’s where we should be concerned.

Our County government likes to raise rates, then later decide what to spend it on. Once rates are increased, we the rate payers no longer have a say in how the money is used. Also, without having a specific project for those funds and tying the funds to that project, there is little hope that rates will ever come back down. The Board of Public Utilities should require that DPU tie rate increases to actual costs incurred and specific projects, not some later expenditure, TO BE DECIDED.

Second, the Advanced Metering Infrastructure topic is back on the table. The discussion this time is about giving consumers a chance to OPT OUT. Apparently, the topic is not about being able to OPT OUT of having the meters installed but just turning off the regular, electronic communication between the County and the meters, and the instant, micro-tracking of your utility usage. They will still use the meter’s electronic communication to report your monthly usage to the county.

We should tell the Board that we want our OPT OUT option to preclude the installation of the meters, not leaving it up to the County to turn the communications on and off by ‘mistake’ or ‘accidentally’ leaving it on after a monthly read. Your utility usage will be a matter of public record and available to anyone under Public Records Act, if it is collected through these meters. This includes after you OPT OUT.

What is being sold as a cost saving measure will not reduce your utility costs. They will not get rid of ‘excess’ meter readers. They will keep them on the payroll until the County finds other jobs for them.

The third item relates to the previously mentioned water rate increases. The Department of Public Utilities is not allowed to make a profit. Since they have an excess of funds from gas and electric rates collected, they are asking to turn those excess funds over to the County’s General Fund. This is instead of lowering our rates or spending it on Utility Capital Projects. How will it be any different with the water rate increases?

The Department of Public Utilities, with Council approval, can transfer funds between utilities. Why are the excess Utility funds being given to the County to spend on non-utility expenses, while our other utility rates are being increased without a specific use defined? If they are generating an excess, why do our electric and gas rates remain at current levels and not reduced? Are rate increases just another way for the County to tax us?

We need to speak up at the meeting on Wednesday and demand better accountability for our Utility dollars. We need to speak up about having the County’s AMI metering equipment forced on us.

I hope to see you there on Wednesday evening.

Brady Burke