Talking utility rates

We kept busy this weekend with events going on in and around the community, despite the cold and snowy weather. It was refreshing to see 44 people come out to the candidate forum Sunday.

One of the topics of discussion at the forum, as well as at recent city council meetings, was utility rates. Candidates variously voiced support for setting utility rates to break even or high enough to subsidize the general fund.

While we would never advocate the city lose money on electrical, water, sewer, and trash service, setting the rates high enough that the city can transfer money out of utility funds and into the general fund is deceptive and unfair.

Utility rates, cable fees, phone fees, and any of the other hundreds of government-imposed fees artificially keep taxes down, hiding the true cost of government from citizens. It’s death by a thousand cuts. When you get a property tax bill and see the costs all at once, you get a much better idea of what you’re paying than when you pay a nickel here, a penny here, and a couple of bucks there. Sales tax does the same thing, bleeding taxpayers of their money slowly enough that they don’t fuss.

In a perfect situation, the city’s utility funds would neither require infusions from nor prop up the general fund. Utilities should be self-supporting, including carrying a reserve for maintenance, repairs, and larger unexpected costs. Charge enough for trash pickup that you can replace a truck when one dies. But don’t use higher utility rates to artificially suppress property taxes.

– Adam Stewart

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