Reform Richmond's Water Rates!
  • Petitioning Dwight Jones

This petition will be delivered to:

Richmond, VA Mayor
Dwight Jones
Richmond, VA Councilperson
Ellen Robertson
Richmond, VA City Councilperson
Chris Hilbert
Richmond, VA Councilperson
Marty Jewell
Richmond, VA Councilperson
Doug Conner
Richmond, VA City Council President
Kathy Graziano
Richmond, VA Councilperson
Charles Samuels
Richmond, VA Councilperson
Bruce Tyler
Richmond, VA Councilperson
Cynthia Newbille
Richmond, VA Councilperson
Reva Trammell

Reform Richmond's Water Rates!

    1. Scott Burger
    2. Petition by

      Scott Burger

      Richmond, VA

Drip ... drip ... drip ... drip ... drip ... That sound you hear is the water torture of Richmond's water/sewer bill. Even if you use no water, residential customers will soon have to pay $49.40 in minimum monthly service charges. These minimum water/sewer service charges are the highest in the entire country. Our local residents are up in arms over the proposed $1 monthly service charge for the toll road, but where is the outrage over a monthly service charge approaching 50 times as large for a necessity?

If you are a grandma trying to make do on social security, annually paying the city $592 in minimum water/sewer service charges will be a significant bite out of your check -- and a real financial burden. If you are living on fixed income, it is doubtful that you will be filling a swimming pool with water, sprinkling a massive yard or washing your car every day. Low-income residents on a tight budget typically use little water, but end up paying a disproportionately higher share of the city's water budget. Why does Richmond have the most backward and regressive water/sewer rate schedule of any city in the United States?

As an explanation, the Department of Utilities annually trots out the old rusted pipes myth. Even if Richmond's infrastructure and water pipes are in worse decay than any city in America, which we find hard to believe, why should Richmond finance the infrastructure repair through the most regressive means -- the minimum service charge?

Thanks to the internet, it is now easy to compare the minimum monthly service charge for water/sewer service in other localities: New York City, which may have a few rusty pipes of its own, has a minimum charge of 43 cents/day ($12,90) and that includes 4 ccf of service. Phoenix, facing a critical water shortage, has a minimum monthly water/sewer charge of only $5.36. Charlotte, our North Carolina rival, bills only $4.92 for the service charge. Closer to home, Charlottesville charges $8.00 and Norfolk only $1 for the monthly service charge. Norfolk's web page notes that the $1 fee is the actual cost to the city for printing the bill and reading the meter.

It is worthwhile to note that the water/sewer bill for residents of Norfolk will be in exact proportion to the amount of water they use. The cost per ccf of water is higher, but those who use little water will have a tiny bill. Those who use lots of water will receive a definite incentive to conserve water after opening the bill.

The problem is that Richmond's water rate schedule is not only an unconscionable burden to senior citizens and low-income residents struggling to pay their bills, but also it offers little incentive to use less water. The cost of each unit of water is kept artificially low because the city makes up the difference through the minimum service fees. Why not reduce the service charge in line with other communities and raise the cost per unit of water? This would encourage conservation and allow customers to pay for the city's water infrastructure in proportion to their actual use of the resource.

This summer the city may again invoke its mandatory drought restrictions, but even during a drought the city will give a high volume discount for residential customers using over 100 ccf (hundred cubic feet) of water. That's right, even under mandatory water restrictions, the city will still be offering a discount to residential customers using over 74,800 gallons of water in a month. How does that promote water conservation?

The city does not need to hire a consultant or to commission a study of its water/sewer rates because the solution to this problem is simple: all Richmond needs to do is to adopt the rate schedule used by Henrico County, which buys water from Richmond. Henrico's water/sewer rates are equitable and promote conservation. Henrico's minimum monthly water/sewer service charge is about a third of Richmond's. To encourage conservation, Henrico offers a volume use discount for customers who use 6 ccf or less of water, while customers using over 6 ccf pay a premium water/sewer volume rate. Richmond can receive the same total revenue from its water works by slashing the minimum monthly service charge, eliminating the high volume discount, and charging a premium for customers using over 6 ccf of water/sewer.

The City of Richmond has a long-term financial incentive to adopt Henrico's rate schedule. By giving customers genuine incentives to conserve water, Richmond will reduce the need for future treatment facilities and reduce pollutants downstream. Social security grandmas will have significantly more disposable income to make ends meet. Richmond residents will no longer have to dread the drip ... drip ... drip of the minimum monthly service charges.

Recent signatures

    News

    1. Better Government Richmond Sends Statement To City Council

      Scott Burger
      Petition Organizer

      From Better Government Richmond:

      Re: City of Richmond Department of Public Utilities

      Dear Members of Council,

      As you prepare for this Fall’s City Council meetings, please keep in mind that the City’s water/sewer rate structure that includes unusually high services charges is still an open issue. This past year the Department of Public Utilities reduced the service charge but there are still matters that need your attention. In fact, there are many points included in the list below that Better Government Richmond would like to be addressed by Council when taking up the City budget.

      A. CITY NONFEASANCE

      1. ITEMIZED UTILITY BILL

      Why has the city failed to reformat the utility bill?

      The city said the bill would be reformatted to include itemized charges and put into use around July of 2013. It has not been done. Customers should be told the amount of each charge that is included in the total for each utility.

      2. BRADLEY LAWSUIT

      Who authorized the settlement for Bradley vs. Richmond?

      On the 1st of August 2013, it was reported that there was a settlement of Bradley v. City of Richmond, which sought damages for alleged racial discrimination and harassment in the public utilities department. The city paid $1,000,000 to settle the case. City Council did not approve the settlement or payment. We asked Mayor Jones why the settlement bypassed City Council yet a previous settlement required Council approval. He refused to answer the question.

      B. ACCOUNTING PRACTICES

      1. STANDARDS

      How are utility department general operating costs allocated to each utility?

      How are City services allocated and charged to the utility department?

      How are utility services allocated and charged to the City? It is our understanding that charges are not based on actual time spent by the utility department employees.

      Are fire hydrant and street light costs charged to the City? The American Water Works Association recommends such costs should be charged to a municipality.

      Operating without a logical allocation system can result in excessive cost allocation to any one utility.

      2. ACCURACY

      Has the utility department started tracking time spent by using manually kept records as previously suggested by citizens? We are informed that Mr. Steidel, the Director of Utilities, agrees that the department needs a system to track service department costs.

      C. FEDERAL INCOME TAX CHARGE

      How and when did the City originally determine that the City Charter permitted the collection of federal income taxes from utility customers and turning the funds over to the City?

      How did City Attorney Allen L. Jackson recently justify collecting the federal income taxes?

      The utility department pays a “PILOT” (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) to the City for taxes that would have been paid by a private utility. The PILOT includes a payment for the theoretical amount a comparable privately owned utility would pay to the federal government in income taxes. The utility department adds the PILOT charges to customer bills, which means city utility customers are paying roughly $7 per month in “federal income taxes” to the city of Richmond.

      We can find no other public utility in Virginia that charges a federal income tax PILOT. We understand that City Attorney Allen L. Jackson issued a private opinion concluding that the charge is lawful. We believe the public has a right to know the legal justification for the charge.

      D. METROCARE WATER “CONSERVATION” PROGRAM

      We consider the Metrocare Water Assistance Program more of an economizing measure than a conservation effort.

      1. ELIGIBILITY

      Who will be eligible for “conservation” assistance?

      2. EFFECTIVENESS

      Is the James River already protected by minimum flow requirements?

      What are the proposed water “conservation” measures? (Household conservation measures typically include low flow toilets, low flow showerheads, grey water, etc.)

      What is the estimated cost of each water “conservation” device or upgrade?

      3. ALTERNATIVES

      Why is a low-income “conservation” program preferable to rate charges that accurately reflect the cost of the service?

      E. METROCARE WATER (& SEWER) ASSISTANCE PROGRAM

      1. JUSTIFICATION

      How was it determined that utility payment assistance should be a City priority? Citizen utility rate reformers asked for fair charges and rates, not a utility assistance payment program.

      2. ELIGIBILITY

      What is the proposed amount of the payment assistance subsidy?

      Will all low-income customers in Richmond receive a subsidy?

      Will the same amount be available for each low-income customer?

      3. ALTERNATIVES

      Would Richmond’s low-income customers be better served by adopting Norfolk’s $1 monthly base charge and rate calculation method?

      F. METROCARE FUNDING

      What is the proposed source of funding for the Metrocare programs?

      We believe it is erroneous to state that the utility department PILOT payments to the City would cover the costs of the proposed Metrocare programs. Currently the PILOT payments are credited to the City’s General Fund and available for other uses. Any City funds applied to the proposed Metrocare programs will then be unavailable for any other uses.

      City Council members, Better Government Richmond appreciates your time and interest in reading this list of points. We are very interested in making sure that the Department of Public Utilities receives needed attention and reform.

      Sincerely yours,

      C. Wayne Taylor, Secretary
      Better Government Richmond
      Better Government - US LLC
      www.bg-us.org

      Copy: City Clerk, Better Government Richmond, News media, Interested parties

    2. Speaking Before The City Council's Finance Committee

      Scott Burger
      Petition Organizer

      Richmond water reformers recently spoke during the Public Comment period during a City Council Finance Committee meeting:

      https://vimeo.com/87621713

      Later in the meeting, Bob Steidel, Director of Richmond's Dept. of Public Utilities gave a presentation on the department's analysis of the rate charged to consumers. Richmond has among the highest rates in the Commonwealth for a minimum charge for water service. Council charged the department with finding ways to reduce the cost to residents.

      https://vimeo.com/87640418

      Part 1/ - 2014 Feb. 20 - Approval of Minutes/Public Comment @ Finance - Richmond City Council - Richmond, Virginia

      The minutes were approved, public comments by Scott Burger and Charles Poole, who both spoke in support of Council's review of Water Rates by the Department of Utilities.

    3. Reached 1,500 signatures
    4. Richmond Water Rate Reformers Respond to Utility Report

      Scott Burger
      Petition Organizer

      Richmond water rate reformers had been eagerly anticipating the Sept. 17th City of Richmond Department of Public Utilities Report to Council (pursuant to City ordinances 2013-58-77 and 2013-61-79, study performed by DPU with consultant Ratfelis Financial Consultants). A copy of the study was finally earlier this month and is attached to this press release. Disturbingly, the report has not been worth the wait. It lacks substance and appears to be written to support the existing rate structure. At this point, City Council has asked it's staff to review and make some comments and recommendations for next steps, which suggests that it will consider the issue further in the next budget cycle.
      Citizens are urged to contact the press and their City Council representative and ask why the base charges cannot be further reduced and why the PILOT for federal tax is still part of their bills.

      Report lacks substance:
      Pages Topics
      00-01

    5. What's That Number?

      Scott Burger
      Petition Organizer

      http://www.oregonhill.net/2013/01/17/whats-that-number/

      Soon the City’s Dept. of Utilities will most likely announce recommendations towards a reduction in the $49 minimum monthly charge to ratepayers for water and wastewater service. The big question is what will that number be?

      The expectation is that the planned reduction will be a little less than 20% of the total monthly minimum charge and there will be a new charity rate created for poorer residents who have trouble for paying their utility bills.

      It would be easy for the citizens who have petitioned for water rate reform to declare victory and enjoy the hope that bills might be slightly less in the future for all Richmond households.

      But, when the history and big picture is considered, they would be wise to not do that and stand behind their stated request- that Mayor Jones and Richmond City Council to take immediate steps to lower the minimum monthly charge for water and sewer service to $15 per month, while raising the c

    6. Reached 1,000 signatures

    Supporters

    Reasons for signing

    • Marc Ayscue RICHMOND, VA
      • 2 months ago

      It is a disgrace when the basic necessity of water is the highest utility each month. Having lived all over the country I struggle to find what is so special about Richmond's water. The excuse is that charges are to cover repairs to infrastructure, yet the DOU had a surplus last year and paid it the general fund. Why not use it to fix those pipes and start lowering our water bills? It is a pure regressive tax and revenue generator for the city where it should simply be public works.

      REPORT THIS COMMENT:
    • robnesha smith RICHMOND, VA
      • 3 months ago

      My bills have increased since i've moved to the city of Richmond. My sewage bill is $20 more than my water bill. I have NEVER had to pay almost $90 a MONTH FOR A WATER BILL!

      REPORT THIS COMMENT:
    • Mark Kelly RICHMOND, VA
      • 6 months ago

      I lived in Northern Virginia for years and paid only about $100 every three months for water and sewer. Her is is more than that each month! This is a disgrace and a scandal.

      REPORT THIS COMMENT:
    • Piet Jones RICHMOND, VA
      • 7 months ago

      The schedule for water rates is regressive and does nothing to promote conservation or to ease the burden on the aging system.

      REPORT THIS COMMENT:
    • Lisa Perilli RICHMOND, VA
      • 7 months ago

      I resent being charged the highest rates in the country for a necessary-not luxury-item. The residents of the city should not have to pay exorbitant utility fees to make up for the wasteful practices of and careless spending by city management.

      REPORT THIS COMMENT:

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