I was one of the 7,666 homeowners to receive a shocking letter from the Bismarck Department of Public Works, dated April 12. In that letter I learned that I should expect my coming August water bill to increase by about 84%. What? (That's a huge red flag!)
I recently tuned in late to a televised city commission meeting and, consequently, missed the testimony of a private citizen as he complained about this cockamamie water rate increase. However, I did not miss Commissioner Shawn Oban's overly simplistic, woefully inadequate defense of this bad decision made by our elected commissioners. Oban openly scolded this complaining citizen, and by proxy the rest of us that agree with that citizen, by stating that adults need to pay attention.
There is no doubt in my mind that "pay attention" is good advice for people of all ages but, in this case, is a horribly weak admonition. Oban went on to preach that there were many meetings we complainers could have attended related to this issue. Whoa, slow down! Oban, please take note. I am an adult. I pay attention. I routinely tune in to most locally televised commission/board meetings − city, county, school board, park board, planning and zoning. Furthermore, may I remind you that years ago the citizens of this city chose to incorporate a representative governing model for conducting city business. You campaigned and you were elected to represent the citizens.
In a simpler sense, we expect you to be our "eyes and ears" as decisions are made and business is conducted. Where were you when your hired consultants proposed this outlandish solution? Were you paying attention? Why didn't you reveal this information to citizens well in advance of the commission making this terrible decision? Had I known, I would have been near the head of the line at your next meeting to voice my opposition. In addition to you being our "eyes and ears" in this case, I also expected you to be our "nose." Have you no olfactory sense? Could you not "smell this rat"?
I contend that reasonable adults just never imagined that a study of this sort would conclude with such a recommendation and our elected representatives would rubber stamp it. In this instance, we citizens were severely sideswiped.
Let me be clear. I am not opposed to raising utility rates, when needed, to pay for critical infrastructure. Nor am I necessarily opposed to a tiered water rate system. But, if you commissioners think that an 84% increase in rates in one fell swoop is reasonable and prudent, then your judgment is suspect.
My memory is not crystal clear, but I do recall months ago when your commission was discussing hiring a consultant to review water usage/rates. (No red flags then.) Admittedly I was quite surprised recently when I learned just how much money you contracted to pay for this study. Ouch! In the end, your hired consultants did provide you with a solution but, it was clearly not a good solution. Far from it.
Commissioners, had I known you were ready to accept any old solution, no matter how absurd, I would have volunteered my solution. Simply assess each member of the Board of City Commissioners a $200,000 fee payable to the water utility. Just imagine all the positive outcomes. The $1,000,000 shortfall would be covered, there would be 7,661 fewer upset citizens, and I wouldn't have charged you a dime! How's that for a win win win?
Commissioner Zenker, thank you for your attempt to right this wrong. You precisely summed up this mess when you declared, "This is just wrong." Shame on the rest of you for not supporting his motion. Commissioner Nancy Guy, I have long considered you to be the "shining star" on this commission. You are a true public servant. I have admired your consistent, studied, voice of reason as the commission has grappled with some very complex issues over the last few years. This time, even you disappointed me. Michelle Klose (director of utility operations), you need not apologize to me for being passionate about your work. That is an admirable trait for any employee. But, when your passion overshadows your common sense, you've gone too far.
In closing, commissioners be assured that this alert adult will be voting in the next city election. I suspect that at least 7,665 others will be voting as well.