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Concerned citizens form coalition against Kansas City water rate hike: A new group is calling out the city on its water rate hikes.
KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -
Recently, I and a group of water company ratepayers and concerned citizens met to discuss how to respond to your April 2016 water rate hike, which doubled and even tripled water rates of most residential customers. We created a group, “Right2Water Coalition-KCMO,” which is a watchdog group, designed to compel regulatory compliance, fairness in the water rate structure, and community control of water service.Your April rate hike of double the amount of customers’ bills concerns us greatly. We believe your rationale that it must be done to address the sewage infrastructure crisis, and that EPA is compelling you to bill Kansas City ratepayers $2.5 billion is false, and we believe that these are numbers you have made up yourself. We are not saying that the financial necessity does not exist for the construction project, but we believe that the company’s construction request contains an inflated figure, and further believe that you have not stated the economic necessity for it. We feel that there is no financial justification for such a massive customer rate hike over a 25-year period to obtain it, and that there has to be a better method You just are not considering it. Finally, we believe that you are not locked into the kind of pipes or other construction products you purchase from a particular vendor, and should be seeking to save money, instead of adopting a “cadillac plan” of profligate overspending. Ratepayers are on the hook for whatever you do.Why was there no consideration of a one-cent sales tax over 25 years, similar to that for the newly inaugurated downtown streetcar service? Why not try to raise taxes (or secure municipal bonds) for an equivalent amount from residents of the entire city and surrounding county, any of which depends on KC Water Services? In addition, why are people who use less than 2,500 gallons of water seeing any increase at all, that is, if you are concerned about overburdening the poor and low income workers with these hikes to their bills? Further, we question if commercial and industrial customers received similar rate hikes for sewer infrastructure since you have kept this a company secret from the media and public. In our opinion, businesses generally should pay much more than residential customers for their services, and they should bear the lion’s share of all payments toward the current sewer infrastructure repairs. If they use more water and have more toilets, like Kauffman Stadium, they should be paying more, as just one example.Finally, sir, if the city and water company officials had applied to EPA for infrastructure grants from their Clean Water State Revolving Fund years ago, when company and government officials first realized they were polluting the Missouri River with sewage, then the city likely would have gotten federal grant money and federal support, rather than a massive $600,000+ fine for violating the Clean Water Act. This is a matter of bad leadership, poor planning, and dishonesty by local government officials. This is why it is hard for us to believe you now when you say you need $2.5 billion in project funds, as we believe the figure may be much smaller, and if you obtained this amount, much of the surplus of this money would be transferred to the General Operating Fund of the city government for unrestricted and unaccountable spending by politicians.We are also concerned about the possible shutoffs of many customers’ water service altogether, more than your “assistance plan” can possibly handle because of these and other water rate hikes affecting so many people. Most families cannot pay $200-$300 per month, which is the projected cost for your service over the next few years. If this happens, we could quickly have a social crisis like Detroit or Flint, Michigan, where thousands have no water at all, because of mass shutoffs and their inability to pay. We fear that this city’s water service is also becoming unaffordable.In April 2016, local government and company officials also created the “Cost of Service Task Force,” which supposedly is looking for diversified funding. This body supports the public posture that KC Water is investigating other sources of funding for the sewage repair project. Well, EPA grant-making may still be possible from the Clean Water Fund, but there are also numerous other grants from both government and corporate foundations. This would drive down significantly the amount of revenue expected to be paid by local water ratepayers. In fact, it is irresponsible, and would be mismanagement of the worst sort to place the entire burden on residential ratepayers alone for the years of neglect by local government and company officials.We therefore emphatically urge your Cost of Service Task Force to begin to immediately consider an EPA grant and other such funding sources, and not continue with their charade of how to pick the pockets of ratepayers, and make them accept your corporate plan as being in their own interest, or the only possible option.We Object to the composition and Functioning of the Cost of Water Task Force.In addition to the April 2016 water rate hike, we object to the undemocratic process used to select the members of the Cost of Services Task Force. It is stocked with 15 well-heeled, politically connected cronies of the mayor and representatives of big business and commercial customers. Further, it is a conflict of interest to have city council members be on this COS Task Force, since they voted for the creation of the body and serve in the local government. This is clearly unethical, and ratepayers can have no faith in the veracity of such a process. There is not even one low-income ratepayer among these 15 appointees. This is a travesty, but it points out that this body is totally unresponsive and just a political sounding board, not a body seeking to work with all the ratepayers of your company to come up with actual solutions to the sewer infrastructure crisis. This COS-TF body needs to be dismantled and reconstructed to ensure that everyone has a voice and seat at the table, even those who disagree with company methods.This COS Task Force structure, as presently constructed, is all one-way communication, which makes it clear that low income and residential customers need their own organization, a pressure group that will make you listen to us, and which allows us to express a dissident opinion. We do not accept a puppet body which does not express our needs and concerns. We therefore created the Right2Water Coalition-KCMO, an independent non-governmental and non-corporate watchdog to ensure accountability and to challenge authority in this matter. We will contact you again and attend some of your COS-TF meetings where we will raise our positions and concerns on behalf of ratepayers. Thank you.