“The city’s combined water and sewer rates are set for a 7 percent hike. This comes on the heels of a nearly 10 percent increase in those rates a year ago.” — Free Times, June 14
And that’s only the beginning, folks, as more and more water and sewer rate hikes are inevitably coming (back to that sad truth in a moment).
Further, those newly announced increases are on top of a string of others already implemented since 2008. Specifically, Free Times reported that during that period, the average Columbia water and sewer bill has risen 62 percent. No, that’s not a typo.
In real money, that means the average Columbia water customer’s bill has gone from $37 per month to $60 per month over that time. Again, that’s the statistically average customer, with the monthly bill now far beyond that $60 level for many families with kids and/or other relatives living under the same roof.
And once next year’s 7 percent hike kicks in, the average bill will hit $64 per month, with the cumulative rate hike over the past 12 years surpassing 70 percent.
Oh, and that doesn’t count the storm water fee and a separate increase for it. That’s set to rise 7 percent next year, to an average of over $13 per month. That in turn will bump the hypothetical average monthly bill to almost $80.
And again, those rate hikes will just keep on coming. Why? Because the City of Columbia is under a federal consent decree with the Environmental Protection Agency requiring us to spend $750 million to update our sewer system.
Why? Because of staggering incompetence by Columbia City Council. Period.
From the 1990s until just three years ago, council diverted over $100 million away from the city’s water and sewer fund account. That is money generated by the system, which by law is supposed to go to water and sewer maintenance.
Instead, it went to pay for a variety of general fund (and slush fund) expenditures, none of which had anything to do with maintaining the water and sewer system. Here is how I characterized that scheme in the past in this column, and wouldn’t change a word today:
“The bizarre idea, launched during the Coble-Cromartie era that city residents should ‘profit’ from the water system by transferring revenue from it to the general fund and pet projects was always a financial fantasy and a political scam.
“Why? Because none of those who voted for the transfers could ever explain how you had a ‘profit’ from the system when you simultaneously had hundreds of millions of dollars in unfunded maintenance, improvement and expansion costs waiting to be met.”
While the raid of water and sewer fund revenues and its effect on the system is Mayor Bob Coble’s sad legacy, the responsibility also falls on the shoulders of Mayor Steve Benjamin, who went along with the nonsense through the first six years of his tenure as well.
Only when two more fiscally responsible council members (Ed McDowell and Howard Duvall) were elected in 2015 did a majority come to exist on Council to stop the bleeding.
Mayor Benjamin, along with the king and queen of the water and sewer fund transfers, Sam Davis and Tameika Devine (who had voted for every dollar of the raids for all those years), were forced to yield.
And sadly, we are all now forced to pay for that staggering political incompetence.
Here’s to Eva, She Was Our Diva
While everyone associated with Free Times has great stories about working with recently departed executive editor Eva Moore, I’ll share two quick moments of my interactions with her that show both the intellectual and compassionate sides of the lady.
The first was when she kicked my ass a few weeks ago about a passage in the column
I submitted to her about the cancellation of the annual walk to support victims of criminal domestic violence.
While I had made what I thought was an obvious satirical reference to what should happen to men who abuse women, Eva wrote back saying she would not print that paragraph, period. I quickly said, “Yes, ma’am” and rewrote it.
And then there was the time someone forwarded me a tweet Eva had posted on her account about a column I’d written on the loss of the last of the five animals that had lived at my house over the past 35 years.
She simply wrote, “Mark it down. Kevin Fisher’s column this week made me cry.”
Free Times readers will miss Eva Moore. So will Free Times writers.
Fisher is president of Fisher Communications, a Columbia advertising and public relations firm. He is active in local issues involving the arts, conservation, business and politics. Let us know what you think: Email firstname.lastname@example.org.