Advocates for lower Richmond water and sewer charges have thus far been stonewalled by the city administration in attempts to obtain a consultant’s study that will be central to the utility rates the mayor will propose this month as part of the city budget.
The city’s Public Utilities Department has denied a Freedom of Information Act request from Charles Pool, an Oregon Hill resident who is among a chorus of city utility customers calling for lower base charges for water and wastewater, for the report by Raftelis Financial Consultants.
Before drinking a single drop of water or flushing a toilet, Richmond’s water and wastewater customers pay $49.40 a month, the highest base charge in the area and, some argue, higher than most municipalities in the country. The water, wastewater and gas utilities, after covering their own operating expenses, will contribute an estimated $21.5 million this year to the city’s general fund in the form of a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes, a provision of the city charter that critics say subsidizes city government on the backs of utility customers.
The study’s recommendations will be included in the budget the mayor is scheduled to present to the council March 12. And though the council won’t vote on the final budget until May, Bedell argued that once the rates make it into the mayor’s budget, they’ll be more difficult for council members to alter. The rate discussion, he said, should be conducted with the council and public.
“It’s like all the proposals the city tries to push through,” Bedell said, citing the new city jail and Washington Redskins training camp now under construction. “I think their whole philosophy is … hold back as much as you can and spring it on them on the last minute.”
Oregon Hill resident Charles Pool has been bringing this issue for over five years now. Will 2013 mark a turning point?