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SEWER BOND STINK: CoMo's leading expert holding nose over proposal

Broken promises  and unfair billing practices may make this bond issue not ready for prime time

 
COLUMBIA, Mo 10/24/13 (Beat Byte) -- Broken promises, unfair billing practices, and impractical expectations are all part of City Hall's $32.5 million sewer bond Columbia voters will be asked to approve Nov. 5, says Columbia's top expert on sewer infrastructure. 

If voters pass the bond -- essentially a debt -- rate hikes will follow to pay it off. 

"There are many issues that should be discussed prior to the ballot issue," Bill Weitkemper wrote in a letter today that lays out eight major concerns about the sewer bond to the Columbia City Council.  
 
A 40-year city utility veteran who retired as the Columbia sewer superintendent, Weitkemper has sent the Council dozens of emails over the past several months, apprising them of problems he claims the city's public works department has never addressed.   He has researched virtually every area of the bond proposal, requesting city documents and other records several times a week. 

Four years ago, Weitkemper blew the whistle on utility billing practices that shift much of the financial burden from large utility users such as Mizzou, mall, and apartment owners to residential households.  Fair billing, Weitkemper maintains to this day, would eliminate the need for higher rates, and save the city over $1 million annually. 

Today, Weitkemper worries City Hall is setting voters up for another broken promise.  A $77 million sewer bond issue sold to voters in 2008 promised $4 million to "eliminate private common collector sewers in the city," a form of private sewer system.  The idea drew raves from then City Council member Jerry Wade

But that promise wasn't kept and now, City Hall is re-selling it to voters

This time, reports say, the city will use almost the same amount -- $3.9 million -- to "eliminate a pesky relic in the city's sanitary sewer infrastructure:  Private common-collector sewers." 

Weitkemper sees the same broken promise attached to eliminating so called "inflow and infiltration" problems -- sewer backups into basements and other areas after stormwater works its way through gaps in the aging system. 

"The largest single chunk of the bond issue proceeds, $12.3 million, is being proposed for inflow and infiltration elimination projects," Weitkemper told the City Council.    "It is concerning the city is asking voters to approve funding for continuing inflow and infiltration reduction efforts that, to date, have not significantly reduced inflow and infiltration."

In his letter to the Council, Weitkemper also reiterates the need for "accurate and equitable billing practices." 

A major source of billing inequity, he reminds, are single "master meters" that measure water and sewer usage at hundreds of apartments or dozens of mall shops.   Those should be abolished, Weitkemper says, in favor of the individual meters used at the homes of John and Jane Q. Public. 

City administrators and Council members have shown little inclination to act on Weitkemper's concerns.  Instead, they're charging ahead with the sewer bond, more rate hikes -- and an implied threat that if voters don't pass the bond, basement backups and bad sewers which should have been replaced decades ago will continue swamping the city.


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