Water and Sewer Grants are Like Midnight

I?m going to swim against the recent tide of commentaries in this publication and dozens of others on water and sewer funding. All call for more grants. Au contraire!?

Going back about 45 years I see that water and sewer grants are a lot like Midnight.

The family cat ? Midnight ? was a black Burmese tomcat; big, tough as leather, cunning and close to feral.????

The neighbors, two doors down, kept Standard Poodles in a chain link fenced kennel surrounded by a wall. One day, I went outside and heard a terrible racket. I tracked the noise to the kennel. Those poodles were barking their vocal cords out. On the wall sat Midnight, cleaning.

It turns out, Midnight and water and sewer grants are a lot alike: tempting, cunning and usually just out of reach. Your system? A caged poodle.

Do you want a water or sewer grant? Then let your system fall into wrenching need of work. Or, pull lots of political strings to rig your selection over more deserving systems. Run your financial reserves into the ground and make sure your ratepayers are bad off, too.

No, you don?t really want to be in that place. But still, you can?t help thinking, ?If I could just jump a little higher, I could clear this fence and I?d catch that Midnight.?

Make no mistake, when a client needs a grant, I scrap too. But really, most systems should just set user rates higher and forget the grants game. Here?s why.????

For?nearly 20 years of analyzing user rates, I have found that most systems need 20 to 45 percent more revenue to be completely self-sustaining. That does not mean their rates need to go horrendously higher. It means their current rates are horrendously too low.

The average one-time increase needed to put residential water or sewer rates on a sustainable track may be $7 to $15.75 per month (usually a lot less for low volume, low income customers). Most folks spend far more than that on soda pop, movies, CDs, doggie toys, lottery tickets, you name it. This amount wouldn?t even put a dent in the really bad habits we should rein in.

We?ve got the money. We just choose to spend it on other things.???

You counter with, ?But federal and state laws and regulations make water and sewer cost more.? That can be said of almost every law and regulation. It?s the nature of the beast.???

Sure, some communities truly are down and out and we don?t want their residents to die from bad water or sanitation. We need to maintain grant programs for these communities.

The rest of us? Let?s stop the groveling for grants. We?re better than that.

Carl Brown, a former grant administrator, is president of GettingGreatRates.com, specializing in water, sewer and other utility rate analysis and do-it-yourself rate setting tools. The firm also serves as the RATES Program rate analyst for five state rural water associations. Contact: (573) 619-3411; carl@gettinggreatrates.com.

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