It's not too late

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The ongoing issue of the City of Cassville's proposed water and sewer rate increases is getting lots of attention from the public these days, especially after letters were mailed out informing citizens of the pending changes. The whole process has been rather confusing, and I know many citizens are upset because they believe the decision has already been made without their input. This concern is justified because a large number of city residents and businesses are facing a doubling of water rates they cannot afford in today's struggling economy. Citizens are asking why the council acted upon the infrastructure task force committee's recomendation before holding a public hearing where people can offer their opinions.

Last night at the city council meeting, Mayor Tracy Holle attempted to clarify this issue. She stated that the rates currently being considered by the city council are a proposal not a final plan, and we interpret that to mean that it's not too late for citizens to make their opinions known. We hope we are right in our interpretation.

We are urging city residents and business owners to attend the informational meeting about the proposed water and sewer rate increases at 6 p.m. this Thursday at City Hall, and more importantly, we ask that people come out in mass for the Nov. 3 public hearing. Thursday's meeting will be a time to learn more about the rate increase from city officials, and the meeting on Nov. 3 is when citizens will have the chance to speak out and be heard. If people do not turn out for the hearing, you can assume the rates will go into effect as proposed.

It is our hope that the council is prepared to modify their planned increase if enough members of the public show up to express their concerns. In the past week, more and more people are speaking out on the issue after they call city hall to find out what their new rates will be and discover their rates, in many cases, are increasing significantly. Talking about the rates with your neighbors or with us is fine, but your opinions also need to be expressed to the people who have the power to control the actual rates, and those people are members of the city council.

In researching the process other cities have followed in raising water rates, we found that many cities had a detailed engineering study done of their water system and had very specific numbers compiled as to what it actually costs to run the system and a very detailed plan of how they were going to spend the money generated by the rate increase. We know the city is working to get a handle on the condition of its aging water system, but the citizens of Cassville would be much more willing to accept a sizable rate increase if detailed reports of this nature were available. "Trust us to do what's best with your money" just does not fly in this day and age.

Let us be clear, we are not opposed to an increase in water rates. We realize rates are low and adjustments need to be made, but in the current economy, it will be a major hardship on households and businesses if rates are more than doubled and those increases go into effect immediately. A more palatable approach would involve raising rates to the level they need to be over a two- or three-year period. I believe the city council would be wise to consider this approach rather than hitting citizens and businesses hard in the pocketbook with a drastic increase all at once. The citizens of Cassville are not unreasonable. They just want to know their voices are being heard and that the city is spending their money carefully and conservatively, especially during tough economic times.

Phasing in water and sewer rate increases over time is the fairest way to approach this situation. It would allow businesses and households to plan ahead and adjust their budgets accordingly. With the economy the way it is, very few people or business owners can absorb cost increases of this magnitude, and in the end, it will be the community as a whole that suffers. Less money will be spent with local businesses as citizens cut back to meet the demands of higher water bills, and all of this will come at a time when many small businesses are holding on by a thread.

It's time for the community to get involved. Again, we urge area residents to attend the upcoming public meetings and let city leaders know how you feel.

Lisa Schlichtman