Bob Dunning

Bob Dunning: City should declare ‘no more tiers’

By From page A2 | December 09, 2012

Every mom and dad living in America in the past 50 years knows about Johnson and Johnson’s “No More Tears” shampoo.

And now it’s time for our City Fathers (and Mother) to come up with a No More Tiers solution for the one essential ingredient of a good shampoo — water.

In a couple of days’ time, our esteemed City Council will meet to wrestle with the complicated water rate formula it has been handed by our hard-working Water Advisory Committee, a formula that even this town’s rocket scientists are having trouble understanding.

The dramatically increased fees required to pay Davis’ $113 million share of our joint water project with our new best friend, the city of Woodland, will go into effect May 1. That is, if the project is approved by voters on March 5.

The catch is that a large portion of a whole year’s worth of water rates apparently will be based upon your water usage from the summer of 2012, before you were even aware that every drop of water you used that summer was going to be held against you presumably until May of 2014, nearly two years later. If the phrase “lack of fair warning” comes to mind, you are not alone.

Those council members I’ve questioned on this have been unable to give me a definitive answer, but since the new rates would go into effect on May 1, the only “previous summer’s usage” they could be based on would be 2012.

Simple fairness would dictate that everyone be given advance warning that beginning on such and such a date in the future, your water use will be used to calculate your actual charges.

In criminal law, they call that “ex post facto,” where you can’t be charged for a crime that wasn’t a crime when you committed it. In civil law, they just call it misguided.

Maybe you had an especially bad summer in 2012 and have since replaced that thirsty expanse of lawn with wood chips and prickly pear cactus. No matter. For most of the next two years, you’ll be paying for that lawn, over and over and over again.

Maybe your financial situation was superb in the summer of 2012, but now you’ve lost your job and that water bill you used to ignore as insignificant is now demanding your attention. Tough luck. You’ll be stuck with that 2012 usage for the foreseeable future.

Then again, maybe you spent the summer of 2012 in Saskatoon and forgot to set your sprinklers before you left, so your water bill was nonexistent. Consider yourself lucky. At least until May of 2014.

And remember, the more you conserve, the more the city will have to charge you for a gallon of water. That $113 million is a fixed cost and someone will have to pay the bill. If our water usage drops to half the projected consumption, the city will have no choice but to double our rates.

That $113 million bill won’t go away because people suddenly started conserving water, just as that $500-a-month car payment won’t go away just because you stopped driving the kids to school.

Speaking of kids, the rate structure the WAC has recommended that the City Council adopt refuses to take into account the number of residents in a household before moving that household into a punitive and substantially more expensive “tier.”

What this does is set up a form of class warfare, where your water-wasting neighbor is paying less per gallon for his water than your water-conserving family of four is paying for its water. The long and short of it is that a large family’s higher rates are subsidizing a smaller family’s lower rates

Those who have large families or have invited Grandma and Grandpa to live with them in their later years expect that if they use more water than their neighbors, they’ll have a proportionately higher bill. That’s only fair. If your family of six uses six times as much water as your single neighbor, your bill should be six times higher.

The problem with tiers in the WAC plan is that at a very low level of water usage you suddenly find yourself in the more expensive Tier II, where you are paying substantially more per gallon than you were in Tier I.

And for many households it will be impossible to avoid the higher per-gallon charges no matter how much they conserve.

Fortunately, there is a very straightforward, simple and fair way to solve this inequity, an inequity that clearly violates the 14th Amendment’s promise of “equal protection” of the law for all residents.

You simply charge each household, regardless of size, the exact same amount for each gallon of water used. We don’t care if there are 40 people in your household or four people in your household. We don’t care if you’re watering the lawn, filling your swimming pool or giving the kids a bath. It’s 10 cents a gallon (or whatever) for everyone. No exceptions, no questions asked.

Naturally, bigger families will have considerably higher water bills than smaller families. That’s as it should be. But everyone will be paying the same amount per gallon.

It’s also a plan that’s easy to implement and understand. You simply calculate how much money per month the city needs to raise to pay for water delivery and the water project and everything else associated with water and divide it by the number of gallons of water used citywide per month. That gives you your price per gallon.

And then everyone pays that price for the gallons they consume, just like we do with gasoline, milk, soda pop and beer.

Nugget doesn’t move you into a second tier and charge you a penalty if you show up at the checkout line with six gallons of milk instead of two. Neither should the city.

Rather than billing us through tiers or upon how much water we used 12 months ago, base our bills on how much water we actually used last month.

If you use 100 gallons, you pay 10 bucks. If you use 1,000 gallons, you pay 100 bucks. Or whatever the price per gallon turns out to be.

It’s fair to big families, it’s fair to small families and it’s fair to those who live alone. No more pitting one group of Davisites against another by charging everyone different rates for the same gallon of water.

There is simply no rational basis for charging one family 10 cents for a gallon of water and another family 15 cents for a gallon of water, just because one family has two kids and the other one has three. The city has never explained this discriminatory, anti-child policy because there is no explanation.

And if you’re worried about encouraging conservation, trust me, when people see the shockingly high bills this project will produce, they’ll conserve.

It’s time for the city to stop casting one group of ratepayers against another and instead put us all on equal footing. Declare once and for all that in Davis there will be “No More Tiers.”

Just like the shampoo.

— Reach Bob Dunning at [email protected]

Bob Dunning

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