City Council: Water, water, everywhere

There was a pre-game show tonight. Scott Burger and Sierra Club supporters showed up early to protest Richmond’s water rates outside of City Hall. Other than that, business as usual.

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There was a pre-game show tonight. Scott Burger and Sierra Club supporters showed up early to protest Richmond’s water rates outside of City Hall. It was a decent turnout, as these things go, and local TV, the RTD, and RVANews were there to cover it. They would carry their message inside City Council later. I’ll have more detail when we get to it.

Inside, the Council is wrapping up its Informal Session. Marty Jewell was steamed when he learned papers he submitted in August could not be heard till December. Council bylaws prevent members from introducing papers that benefit their own district 90 days before the election. Since Council didn’t meet in August he missed the deadline; Doug Conner was in the same boat. It was Reva Trammell who insisted on going by the book, and in the end both continued their papers till next year.

In between sessions the chamber emptied. For a short while you could hear a pin drop, but soon the demonstrators and other spectators file in, and the Regular Session begins. It’s a very light agenda tonight. By the time they’re through amending it there are no items on the Regular Agenda and a dozen or so left on the Consent Agenda. There’s a full slate of speakers though, to fill things in, and Marty Jewell held in reserve, just in case.

Before things get started, Council celebrates the 100th birthday of Mr. Edgar Duffy. Mr. Duffy served as Assistant City Clerk from 1943 till 1974 and then City Clerk for another 10 years, almost 1,000 meetings exactly. Oh the stories he could tell–Mr. Duffy, you deserve a medal.

Now for Citizen Comment. First up, Charles Poole of the Sierra Club addresses Richmond’s high water rates. This is the second time in three months this has come up. In between, an online petition has gathered 1,300 signatures. The soft spoken Mr. Poole asserts that Richmond’s water rates are among the highest in the country and unfairly burden the poor and the elderly, that funds are being diverted from infrastructure repair into the General Fund, and that water was being sold to Henrico County at the expense of Richmond residents. As happened previously, this sparks a impromptu hearing called by a skeptical Marty Jewell. The short of it is the City maintains their rates are not only NOT the highest in the country, but not even the highest in the state and has a “lifeline” rate and will work with citizens to keep their water on. The City Administration is genuinely put out by this and the Mayor has issued a statement saying as much. Expect all of this to come up again early next year.

Other speakers include Rick Tatnall, city activist and former Mayoral candidate, speaking about the Richmond Open Government project. So far they have nudged the City to archive video of Council meetings on the City website. They are just getting started. You can read more about that here.

Three speakers–Julius Green, Janice Thomas, Meredyth Temple–are here to promote urban chickens. There are no cute kids this time.

Eric Brown spoke in favor of education reform quoting Dr, Seuss, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not!” His point being, “Don’t teach kids to take tests, teach kids to think.”

Now on to real legislation.

Only one of the items on the Consent Agenda would generated any discussion and that was to “authorize the acquisition by gift, purchase, condemnation or otherwise, with any condemnation to be in the manner prescribed by Richmond City Charter § 18.03, of permanent and temporary easements on the properties known as 6001 and 6007 Hull Street Road for the purpose of the realignment of Hull Street Road, Hey Road and Derwent Road.” I couldn’t have said it better myself, no really. The drama is provided by property owner, Lena Haas, who is here with two of her four kids to plead her case before Council. Haas is worried about flooding on her remaining property and the safety of her family. Doug Conner says not so. The property has been the subject of long fruitless discussion and Councilman Conner is ready to move on. Not so fast say Trammell and Jewell who are apparently hearing about this for the first time. Bowing to Council etiquette, Mr. Conner agrees to continue this two weeks when he promises the exact same impasse. That said the Consent Agenda is whisked away, 9-0.

That leaves one expedited paper presented by the Administration renewing the Southside Enterprise Zone which must be approved by October 1st, meaning tonight. Council is none too amused. One of their pet peeves is last minute legislation from the Administration. Now here’s a 65 page ordinance that no one has seen. Ordinarily this would be a routine matter, and Council understands this is due to last minute changes by the State. After some speed reading, they pass it, but not without some gentle chiding. Kathy Graziano gives one of her “school marm” looks and says “Please don’t do this again.”

We’re now done with business, on to the District reports, and I’m off to the races. In spite of all the hubbub, tonight’s meeting is just short of two hours.

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Paul Hammond

Paul has been writing about life and politics in Richmond for 11 years. You can often find him walking his dog up and down Franklin Street and yes, he does bite, the dog that is.

6 comments on City Council: Water, water, everywhere

  1. Scott Burger on said:

    Falls of the James, Sierra Club

        FACT SHEET:  Richmond’s $49.40 monthly water/sewer service charge

    ·         At $49.40, Richmond’s minimum monthly water/sewer service charge is one of the highest in the nation.  It is unconscionable that every senior citizen getting by on Social Security and every other low income resident of the city must pay $592 annually just to be connected to the water supply.
     
    ·         1360 persons have signed a petition asking that  Richmond reduce the minimum monthly water/sewer service charge to $15 per month,  which is line with other localities.
     
    ·         The 51,825 residential customers in Richmond annually pay $30.7 million in water/sewer service charges.  The city claims that these service charges are so large because of the city’s rusted pipes, but almost half of this amount, $12 million,  is paid annually by the water and sewer utilities into the city’s general fund.  Instead of passing on to the residents the savings of owning their utility, the city is using the city owned water/sewer utility as a cash cow.
     
    ·         The surrounding counties buy water from the city at a wholesale rate, and, unlike Richmond, the counties pass these savings on to their residents.  For example, Henrico’s service charge is about a third of Richmond’s,  and Henrico gives a discount to those who use 6 or less units of water volume.
     
    ·         Water is a necessity that no one can do without.  This is the most regressive means possible to fund the city through an outrageous service charge on this necessity.
     
    ·         The city water and sewer utilities collect more from the minimum monthly service fees than from the charge for the actual volume of water and sewer service.  As a result the city’s water rate structure provides little financial incentive to conserve water. 
     
    ·         Because of the $49.40 monthly service charge, residents who use the least water are paying proportionally the highest amount for each unit of water and sewer service.  Someone using 10 units of water will not even pay twice as much as someone using just 1 unit of water.  In Norfolk,  the minimum monthly service charge is $1; everyone’s bill  is in proportion to the amount of water used.
     
    ·         There would be a giant protest if Va. Power charged $49.40 monthly just to be connected to the power grid.  When the toll road proposed charging $1 each month for a service charge, there was a major protest, but residents are paying 49 times that each month as a water/sewer service charge.
     
    ·         The minimum water/sewer service charges are not even shown on the bill, so many residents are not aware that they must pay a high minimum water sewer bill of $49.40 even if they use no water.
     
    ·         If Richmond had fair water rates that provided a financial incentive to conserve water,  there would be less need for more water treatment facilities and less pollutants would be released downstream.  The city would be better prepared for periodic drought conditions .

  2. South Barton on said:

    right on scott! Everyone is making noise about the meals tax, but this is the important issue. going out to eat is a luxury and i can understand paying a higher tax on that. water is a necessity. no way around that.

  3. @south barton – people should be making noise about both! not one or the other..
    eating out is a luxury that we, as an economy, need people to do.
    Considering food service is just about THE ONLY industry young people in this city have an opportunity to work, I think it is VITAL to keeping Richmond from turning back into hell.

  4. 4 new restaurants opening soon in Jackson Ward, 2 others recently opened another one doubling it’s space.

  5. South Barton on said:

    yeah, i don’t think the restaurant industry is hurting, and i don’t think it’s really an “industry” it is not something that can sustain the economy. It is the reflection of a healthier economy. richmond does not have a huge tax base to draw, I am all for creative ways to tax on luxury. i just wish there was better transparency for the money being spent.

  6. South Barton on said:

    anyways, we should unite where we are united. out of curiosity where did you draw your information on statistics that ranks richmond’s position in minimum fees? I was thinking it would be very effective to show what each county in va paid, I would be willing to do it the old fashion way and call each municipality to find out but if there is an easier way, i would love to know.

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