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Money down the drain

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JACK JOYCE
GUEST COLUMNIST

Good heavens, George ,you’re drinking Jimmy’s coffee? It helps you think? It would help me think, too. I would think that I didn’t want anymore of Jimmy’s coffee. And what the heck are you doing with all of these napkins? It looks like you are calculating the national debt.

Yes, I can guess what you are doing. That amount, $42.74, looks extremely familiar.

That is the amount of my monthly water-sewer-storm water-trash bill. You got that bill for a house that is empty most of the time? How come you received two bills? Oh, yeah, I remember you bought that little house a block over so that your college son could have a place for him and his new wife on weekends. I remember you thought you could fix it up and sell it when he was out of school and had a job.

Yes, I remember now. Your son is a student of architecture and he gave you that list of things you could do to save water, I see, you did all of those things, like low-flow toilets, swapped a tub for a shower with a low-flow shower head and put aerators on all of the faucets?

You even installed a water-saver return line and valves to keep from wasting hot water?

Simmer down, George, you are saving water. But you are not saving money. I will try to explain why all that money you spent did not make the slightest difference in your bill. Well, yes I can understand why you won’t be doing all of that to your own house if it didn’t make any difference in the water bill.

Just think of some elderly lady with a minimal income. That’s who you bought the house from? And she probably never complained.

You see you are being charged for water you are not using. Jimmy, you’d better sweeten up George’s coffee before he has a heart attack. It’s half and half now? Yep, I’ve heard of that Jim Beam Cream. I suppose now would be a good time to explain why I am not quoting George directly.

The fact is that after 30 some years in the Marines, the kindest thing you can say about George’s language is that it is colorful. In fact it is so colorful that I can’t spell half of the words and none of them could be printed. I can say that there is no doubt at all about the sentiments expressed by George when he is angry.

Get hold of yourself, George! You haven’t heard the half of it yet.

Besides the problem with the water department bill the sewer department is charging you for sewer service you don’t use. They are also charging you an unfair rate for stormwater service. No, sir! That $2 on your bill is not really the stormwater charge. They conveniently hid the actual stormwater charge in the sewer rate. Sure it’s all complicated and I will try to explain.

I will start with the problems with the rates. Let’s start with what has you upset. They charge you a minimum water bill but they included in that minimum something like 3,600 gallons of water, which includes paying for treatment and delivery of those 3,600 gallons of water even if you don’t use any at all. Yes, everybody pays that, or so they say.

So what is wrong with that? Some people use less than the 3,600 gallons, or none at all on occasion, and that means that those users pay more for each gallon than users who use a larger amount of water. The effect is that lady on a small fixed-income is subsidizing the six-bathroom mansion on the hill. And there are guys like you who are penalized and who just set out to save what is becoming a scarce and valuable resource.

What about the sewer (wastewater) bill? Well that gets a lot more complicated. The charges on your bill are based on the amount of water you use or the minimum amount. Because of that, if you pay the minimum water bill you are also paying for sewer service you don’t use.

That is, you are being charged for 3,600 gallons of sewage that was not collected in the sewer pipes and was not treated at the sewer plant.

Yes, they will tell you that everyone pays the minimum sewer bill. I believe, though, that not everyone pays a sewer bill at all. You are right. I can’t figure that out either. The so-called sewer (waste water) charges are really unfair because they also contain the charges for handling stormwater. Why is that? It is because stormwater is properly measured by the amount of water that runs off of a surface when there is a rainstorm.

It is definitely not measured by the amount of water that you use or that is included in the minimum water charge.

Take a drink, George. I see that you understand. Your little house is a Shotgun on a 48-foot lot. You are subsidizing a lot of businesses and others who have big parking lots. I can think of one whole block that is roofed or paved. George, forget the $2. That $2 was just a thing the council did to avoid any real action to control stormwater. It makes you wonder doesn’t it? You are paying a lot of money for something you are not getting. George, I owe you some more explanation on the storm water. Maybe tomorrow.

Yes it looks to me that most households are paying more than their fair share of the cost of handling wastewater and particularly stormwater. George, you and others who pay the minimum bill are certainly subsidizing everyone else.   

Jimmy, pour George another cup of coffee. On second thought, pour me one, too. Yes make them both half and half. That Jim Beam Cream is good for your disposition.

Joyce is the retired superintendent of the Tell City Electric Department.