This past week, Manassas water customers received bills reflecting the new increase in the water base charge, from $14 to $27 ($25 plus a $2 tank maintenance fund charge). As you will recall from a previous article, this increase was approved, along with an insurance franchise tax, at the March city council meeting. There are at least three things wrong with this base charge increase:
First, as we showed in that previous article, the city has been working hard to hide the money they were already getting by making the budget obscure and mingling the water enterprise fund with the general fund. This allows the money to be spent on practically anything with little to no accountability. As an example, last year’s budget for the water system included line items for streetlights and the mayor’s son and son-in-law (the only two recurring contractors on the budget) on no-bid contracts. Now, there isn’t even that much visibility. If the city can’t be trusted to spend water enterprise money responsibly, and openly report how it is spending it, how can we trust them to demand and spend even more?
Next, when the Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) for the last two major water system upgrades were approved, those applications specifically addressed the benefit that the water system upgrades would bring to low-income people. However, this base charge increase deliberately hurts low-income people the most, by nearly doubling the cost of the first drop of water. Now, they could have kept the base charge the same, kept the low-tier rate the same, and increased rates on the high end for large water consumers, leaving no or minimal impact on low-income users. But, this might have caused their agricultural friends to have to pay more for water. Also, you can’t very well expect government officials with pools to have to pay more per gallon, could you?
Finally, the city claims to be setting aside $2 of this base rate increase in a tank maintenance fund. However, we have already seen that they can’t be trusted to keep a separate budget for the water enterprise fund. How can they be trusted to keep a separate tank maintenance fund when they siphon off water funds already to support literally who knows what?
As a bonus, just as this rate increase went into effect, the city had to issue a water quality notice, which includes language indicating a quality problem. What, you didn’t get your copy of that? Neither did we. Sure, they posted a notice on the bulletin board, but conveniently did not show the important pages. You’ll have to make time during the work day on some Tuesday afternoon to go see that. Rest assured that we’ll dig into this problem just as we have the other problems we’ve uncovered. Maybe if the city wasn’t wasting water enterprise money on the mayor’s relatives and putting up streetlights so that the water isn’t afraid to go down the pipe at night, more attention could be paid to potential quality problems.
I remind the reader of Councilwoman Edwards’ proud display of her “No Quarter” pirate flag across the street from city hall. If you’ve got a quarter left, the Manassas pirates want to spend it.