Something's got to give

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Editorial: May 10, 2012

ISSUE: Proposed water and sewer rate increases
Hit can't be avoided

Elizabethtown Mayor Tim Walker summed it up succinctly: “We’ve kicked the can down the road until we’ve kicked it against the wall.”

He was talking about Elizabethtown’s publicly owned water and sewer utilities.

New wastewater projects are needed and the cash on hand slowly has evaporated over the last several years.

Consultants recommend raising water rates 60 percent and sewer rates 83 percent.

Such moves would raise minimum water bills from $8 to $12.80 and minimum sewer bills from $6 to $10 a month. For residential customers, the increases likely rate as inconveniences.

None of this is a surprise to City Council.

They’ve known for years the city would be required by law to add to its water treatment capabilities.

They’ve known for years sewer service needed improvements and upgrades.

They’ve also known for years that cash reserves were dwindling.

What they didn’t know before 2005 is that money from the U.S. Army’s Base Realignment and Closure initiative would relieve some of that burden.

They also didn’t know the U.S. economy also would run headlong into a brick wall, the likes of which has not been seen since the Great Depression.

Raising rates by the proposed amounts likely would be more than an inconvenience for local industry. It could be disastrous for those already here, and weigh heavily on possible near-term economic development.

So is it the “can” of water and sewer rates up against the wall, or is it the backs of City Council?

We suggest it is both.

Water and sewer rates in Elizabethtown’s service area have been artificially low for a very long time. Aside from small increases in 2003 and 2007, water rates have been steady for 30 years, and residents have enjoyed the benefits. Some council members likely viewed steady rates as feathers in their caps at election time.

But now it’s decision time. Councilman Larry Ashlock’s proposal to raise rates incrementally over a few years has some merit, but because “expert advisers” came up with the suggested rates, other experts should be consulted before attempting to kick this can again.

Because when one kicks something that’s already against a wall, something is going to break — either the can or the foot — and it’s going to hurt.

This editorial represents a consensus of The News-Enterprise editorial board.