Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Changing Tide at the CFPUA

The CFPUA’s public hearing tonight on it’s rate structure revealed a couple of things. The first was that a majority of board members realize the current rate structure has some serious problems. Secondly, the fix, whatever it may be, is not going to be pretty.

A long line of people spoke letting board members know their opinion. At one point board member Michael Brown polled the crowd in attendance asking them which structure they preferred an inclining block rate which is what we have now, or a uniform rate, the rate structure that was in place before the CFPUA was created. Only one person raised their hand for the inclining block rate. The balance that voted approved of the uniform rate.

The problems with inclining rates are numerous. Randomly set tiers benefit some families and penalize other. Over and over people with larger families spoke saying that regardless of how much they attempted to conserve they were punished with second and third tier rates simply because of the number of people in their household. The consensus was that the first tier of the current rate structure is set entirely to low.

National organizations such as the American Water Works Association suggest that if inclining block rates are used, the first tier should be set where families are not punished for essential water needs. That means the first tier would need to be 30,000 gallons. By contrast, the CFPUA's first tier is currently set at 9000 gallons.

Speakers pointed out that water supply and treatment capacity are not an issue. In fact the CFPUA has so much excess capacity that they are actively seeking to expand their customer base to increase revenue.

A vast majority of speakers advocated for the uniform rate, where all usage is charge at the same rate. The consultants noted that a move back to uniform rates was possible, but suggested it may have to be achieved through steps, rather than all at once.

Rate discussions will be ongoing through March and board members asked the consultants to present additional rate scenarios for consideration.

It’s notable that for over two years the public has petitioned CFPUA board to change the rate structure. Persistence pays off. With a number of new board members asking tough questions and pointing out the some of the fatal flaws in inclining block rate structure, the opportunity for equity for all customers by changing back to a uniform rate is greater now than ever before.