Friday, December 19, 2008

The weather's back!

snowToday: Light snow likely this morning...then snow this afternoon. Snow may be heavy at times this afternoon. Snow accumulation of 3 to 5 inches. Highs around 19. Northeast winds 10 to 15 mph. Chance of snow near 100 percent.

Cloudy. Snow likely until midnight...then a chance of light snow after midnight. Total snow accumulation of 4 to 6 inches. Lows around 2 above. Northeast winds 10 to 15 mph. Chance of snow 70 percent.

What do you think about residential water meters?

Back thirty years or so ago, I became the mayor of our little village. It wasn't a position I actively sought, but one that I was strongly encouraged to seek after I had made my intentions known that I intended to run for a seat on the local school board.

The microcosm of politics, played out in small town America.

Sitting around, shooting the bull with fellow volunteer firefighters one evening, I mentioned that I was considering running for a vacant seat in the upcoming school board election. Someone suggested that I run for mayor. I said no, I wasn't interested in being mayor, and besides Kenny was running for re-election, and he was doing a good job wasn't he? And after all, he too is a member of the fire department!

That's just the point said my confrères; "Kenny wants to decrease the amount of money the village contributes to the running of the fire department."

"Why is that", I asked.

"He's pissed that we're going to send some members to become EMTs and that will do away for our need to have Ken teach the Red Cross first aid course. He's been a Red Cross instructor for years and he thinks there is no need to move up to an EMT status. So basically he's holding our funding over our heads to make us kowtow to his wishes."

"Wow, that's too bad," I said, "but I'm no politician and I don't know shit about running a village government, or what a mayor does, even."

"It's all politics rel, school board, mayor, trustee, they're all elected positions, so really it's all politics."

"I don't know guys, I think school board is more my speed."

"Listen rel, run for mayor against Kenny, everyone in the fire department will vote you. You'll win in a landslide. That will send Kenny a message and at the same time you can preserve our allotment. It'll only be for two years rel, after that you can run for school board. Hey, it'll give you more leverage to win a seat there. Whadda ya say bud?"

" Well, OK, since you put it that way, I'll give it a go."

What does all that have to do with water meters?
Suffice it to say, I was elected to the office of mayor and I did preserve the economy of the MVFD. As mayor I also had considerable influence over whether to install water meters or leave the water billing at the former flat rate system that had been in use since Moses was a teenager.

In those days, thirty years ago, I was an idealistic, fair play kinda guy. I made a piss poor politician, but I like to think I made a good two term mayor. I was the epitome of transparency in government. I also believed, and still do to this day, that the leaders of government have a duty to make their relationship with the citizenry a we, we arrangement as opposed to the, all too frequent, us-vs-them philosophy.

State law states that a water department must be self funding. It allows the general fund of the municipal budget to lend money to the water department in cases of a shortfall in the water departments funds, but that loan must be paid back, preferably in the next budget cycle if not before.

The former mayor and the mayors before him had been subsidizing the water department out of the general fund for years and never paying it back. Now you may think that that is a fair thing to do; no one was complaining. It was and is against the law. Anybody want to be fined or go to jail even? Not me, no thank you!

What to do? Easy enough, raise the flat rate to ensure that the water department takes in enough revenues to pay it's expenses and, if your smart, you'll charge a little more so as to build up a capital reserve fund to cover unanticipated emergencies.

Ok mayor, let's get down to brass tacks. It's your responsibility to prepare a proposed budget and then bring it to the board table to be discussed and wrangled over by yourself and the two trustees, one of whom is in charge of the water budget.

I noted that our village of ~500 or so residents had a high number of older and retired folks. So for comparisons sake I looked at the fairness of charging Mrs. Erikson, or Harold Thomas, the same amount for water as I, a young family man with a wife and three children. Or how about my two next door neighbors who also had young families and swimming pools; one, an in ground pool.

I thought it unfair to charge a one person dwelling, housing a elderly person of limited and fixed means $150.00 for water and to say it was fair for me and those like me to pay the same.

Another point of importance to this discussion is the geography of the village; we are situated on a rock ledge with very little soil depth for 2/3 of the village, meaning that a large percentage of our water lines were unable to be placed below the frost line. We live in a place of frigid winters. In just the five years that we'd been residents of the village we'd had a major waterline freeze-up every winter. To say that the delivery system had been sorely tried and was in a sad state of repair would be a gross under statement. The point; the system had many points of leakage. Citizens were paying for water they weren't even using.

We decided to install water meters to solve these two problems; pay for what you use and identify how much treated water was being lost to the ground. This decision was subject to permissive referendum to which no one submitted a petition.

Harold Thomas used 3000 gal of water the first year after the meters were installed, Mrs. Erikson a little over 6000. rel and family used over 30,000 gals. The neighbor with the pool; 60,000.

I think water meters are a good thing!


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

The realities of government are surprising, aren't they? They general public has no idea.

11:51 AM  
Blogger Jellyhead said...

I loved reading about the nitty gritty of town politics ..... it's a world away from what I've ever been exposed to, and I find it really interesting!

I think water meters make people act more responsibly about their water use. And in a dry country like mine, that is extremely important. So I'm all for them too!

2:53 PM  
Blogger Churlita said...

I'm all for meters. I didn't know there was a time when they didn't have them.

4:17 PM  
Blogger Catch said...

we had the meters installed too.....I think they are great. I bet you made a great mayor Rel!

1:19 PM  

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