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Should
Municipal
Governments
Supply
Water & Sewer
Service?

Options

 

There are several ways to supply water and sewer utilities.  The focus here is municipal systems and investor owned for‑profit systems.

Who is best qualified often becomes an issue when Big Water offers to buy a municipal system and that municipality wants to sell.  Frequently both buyer and seller start suggesting that:

#1 - Local governments should not be in the water or sewer business.  They have more important things to do. 

 

#2 - Water and sewer service should be left to the “pros” of a Big Water company.

Really?  Consider The Following

 

Local government exists to serve the needs of its citizens:  roads, schools, police and fire protection, storm water management, parks, libraries, zoning, and many other similar things.  Water and sewer service is a common need of everyone and fits very well into the type of services provided by local government. 

 

Public systems far out number private for profit systems – both in number of systems and number of customers.  Municipal systems generally provide quality service in the most cost effective way. 

 

The technology to supply water and sewer service is well known and widely available.  Big Water and municipalities do the same things to supply quality service. 

Other Points To Consider

Horror Stories 

Occasionally water utility “horror” stories hit the news media: Flint, Michigan, Jackson, Mississippi or Baltimore Maryland.  Indeed, these systems have problems. Is the root cause municipal ownership?  No.  Did some local officials fail to fulfill their responsibilities?  Probably.  Can the problems be fixed?  Yes, but there will be costs involved.  There will also likely be a tempest in a teapot as people point fingers and disclaim responsibility.  Somebody will suggest selling to Big Water.  Could Big Water fix things?  Yes, but that probably will be the highest cost solution.  These are situations where level headed people need to take charge.  Never be stampeded into a "solution" you will later regret.   

 

Cost Constraints

One of the common claims is that a municipal system does not or cannot raise rates enough to cover the true cost of operating the system. The suggestion is that fear of political blow back keeps local officials from raising rates because ratepayers will see it as a tax increase.  Tax revenue should in no way support utility operations and utility revenue should not subsidize tax income.  If a rate increase is needed, that needs to be explained to ratepayers and put into effect. 

Competency

The utility should be staffed by competent people.  The technology to run a water or sewer system is well known.  Ensuring that the needed skills are in place needs proper attention - public or private.  This is a part of proper funding.  You do not hire someone off the street and appoint them chief water or sewer engineer. 

 

Adequate Resources

Most water and sewer utilities are not labor intensive.  This can be a problem for small systems.  There are options for contracting and resource sharing with other nearby systems.

Conclusion

If someone is trying to claim your local government should get out of the utility business remember:

#1 - The money being offered can be a seductive temptation (LINK).  It is likely that they do not have your best interests in mind. 

#2 - It is time for a lot of skepticism.  Start asking them a lot of pointed questions.

Question   Question   Question

 

Your Local Officials. 

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