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INEQUITY: CoMo's Weitkemper uses hard numbers to show utility bill unfairness

Opus gets another big break

COLUMBIA, Mo 1/5/15 (Beat Byte) -- Retiring as a high-level public works supervisor after nearly 40 years with Columbia city government, Bill Weitkemper has become the community's leading advocate for a simple yet politically-charged topic:  utility billing fairness

His hard-hitting December emails to the Columbia City Council have eye-opening numbers that show City Hall subsidizing Big Development and Big Business by passing the costs for water, sewer, electric, even parking to residential and small business customers. 

"I would like an explanation why the monthly sewer bill for each residence at the Opus development is 39% less than the monthly sewer bill for my residence, based on the same usage," Weitkemper emailed Council members. 

The Opus development is a student apartment downtown facing litigation, partly over its connection to and use of Columbia's publicly-owned utilities.   City Hall charges two fees for sewer use:  a base charge everyone pays, no matter how much they discharge; and a variable "volume" charge based on actual use. 

The base charge covers overhead all sewer uses receive -- connection costs, sewer line cleanouts, wastewater treatment, etc.   In a fair billing system, it shouldn't vary much between an apartment and a house.      

But Weitkemper found the base charge for his home "was increased by 51%, from $7.30/mo to $11.01/mo," while Opus got a big break.  During their September round of utility bill hikes, Council members increased the base charge for each Opus apartment and an onsite retail area only 13%.    

The net effect is a big one:  Weitkemper's average monthly sewer bill went up 13%, while Opus' average monthly sewer bill went down 4%.   

Assuming the same usage to compare apples with apples, the average Opus apartment would pay $15.09/mo to use the sewer, "which is 39% less than my monthly sewer bill of $24.63/mo," Weitkemper told Council members, urging them to correct any figures they could find in error. 

No one found any errors. 


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