Tuesday, September 1, 2015

$8/Month for a Meter? Are You Kidding Me?

Some Richardson residents complain about having to pay $8/month for having a second meter at their home for outdoor irrigation, even in winter months when they don't water their lawn.

If instead of charging you $8/month, suppose the city charged you $96 once a year. You use the meter every year, don't you? Would that eliminate your complaint of paying for billing periods that you don't use the meter? Paying month to month, spreading the cost evenly over the year is just a convenient bookkeeping technique. Kind of like the electric company offering to take your variable monthly bills and evenly spread them throughout the year.

But is $8/mo or $96/year the right fee for a meter? I suspect it's a case of spreading the cost of supplying water to the city out in a lot of little ways. If the meter fee is too high that means the cost somewhere else is too low. Reduce the cost of the meters to zero and the city has to make up the lost revenue somewhere else to come out even. There's no free lunch. (By the way, the city isn't alone. I pay Time Warner a monthly rental fee for equipment that I suspect is higher than the cost of providing the equipment alone.)

All this is not to claim the NTMWD and the city are doing everything they can to provide a reliable supply of safe drinking water at the lowest possible cost. It's just to say that I don't think residents' water bills would go down if the city quit charging for meters. The bills would just go up somewhere else.

So, is there room for NTMWD and the city to reduce costs? Almost certainly. But quitting billing for meters wouldn't do that. It would just reduce the city's revenues. To reduce cost, you have to dig into where all the money we pay on our water bills goes now. How much goes to NTMWD, the supplier of the water? How much goes to pay off the bonds used to finance pipelines and reservoirs? How much goes to buy chemicals to treat the water and sewage? How much goes to pay wages for workers in the water department? How much goes to lay new pipes and sewers in, say, Palisades? I don't know, but I suppose the data is available for someone to dig into. As for the future, it's even harder to pin down. Will, say, the economic development at Palisades and CityLine shift some of the burden of supplying water onto businesses and away from residents? I'm at even more of a loss to say how all the economic development will affect those numbers in years to come.

But if you suspect the NTMWD and the city are doing a poor job of supplying water at the lowest cost, there may be room for someone to run for city council in 2017 on a "The Water Bill is Too Damn High" ticket.

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