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.
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