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TMCNet:  EDITORIAL: Chattanooga mayor's regional sewer idea stinks

[December 11, 2012]

EDITORIAL: Chattanooga mayor's regional sewer idea stinks

Dec 11, 2012 (Chattanooga Times Free Press - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Tomorrow Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield will take another step in his wrongheaded effort to consolidate the region's water and sewer utilities into one huge, bumbling, expensive, socialist-style mess.

The mayor is planning to pitch his scheme to create a regional wastewater (and, ultimately, water) authority at 6 p.m. on Wednesday in the City Council building. The thought that the Chattanooga government, which has failed monumentally in running its own sewer system, could be in a position to dictate to successful wastewater departments how to operate has already sent surrounding utilities running from the idea.

"We don't plan on joining them," Don Stafford, general manager of Eastside Utility District, told Times Free Press reporter Cliff Hightower. And for good reason.

Eastside and the half-dozen other water and wastewater utilities in the Hamilton County area have been able to manage their water and sewer services without massive rate increases or running afoul of federal regulators. The same can't be said for the city's sewer system.

Over the past decade, the average monthly city sewer bill has nearly doubled -- increasing from $12.82 to $22.99. Despite this outrageous price hike, the city government's sewer department has failed to perform adequate maintenance and make needed repairs to Chattanooga's sewer system. As a result, the federal government slapped the city's sewer system with a $250 million consent decree, which will further increase Chattanoogans' sewer bills.

It's no wonder the other area water and wastewater departments aren't chomping at the bit to let the bungling city government lead them down the path of consolidation.

Littlefield claims that he wants to pattern the new authority after other Chattanooga government authorities -- namely, the Airport Authority and EPB. That fact alone should cause Chattanoogans to riot in the streets.

Under Littlefield's watch, the Airport Authority has wasted more than $10 million of tax money on a government-owned storage and service facility for private planes -- despite the fact that there was already a private business providing those services at Lovell Field. The Airport Authority's welfare project to ensure private jets have a nice place to spend the night loses so much money that taxpayers' will spend a projected $1.1 million by the end of the year in bailouts to the facility.

EPB is an even more costly experiment in socialism. Under the guise of saving electricity, preventing theft and reducing outage times, EPB used $552 million of federal and local taxpayers' and electric customers' money -- including principle and interest -- to build a "Smart Grid." In truth, the Smart Grid was built as it was in order to get the government electric company into the Internet, cable and phone business. The results have been underwhelming. EPB is relying on electric customers to subsidize the infrastructure for the city's cable and Internet scheme -- and it'll be 23 years before it is paid off.

If this new water authority is a boondoggle like the Airport Authority and EPB have been, it wouldn't be a surprise if water taps run dry and raw sewage streams through the streets.

Why does the mayor want to concoct a regional wastewater authority to trample the sovereignty of the surrounding successful water and sewer systems There are three reasons, each as bad as the next.

First, it gives the outgoing mayor a legacy -- something he doesn't have now.

Second, it would ultimately force the successful water and sewer providers to subsidize a portion of the city's $250 million sewer repair bill -- even though they had no responsibility for the city's crumbling sewer lines.

Finally, and most importantly for Littlefield, the authority could ultimately take over Tennessee American Water -- the private company that provides water to 80,000 Chattanooga-area customers. Even though Tennessee American maintains a customer satisfaction rating of 94 percent, provides some of the cleanest, safest water in the United States and charges customers only about a half-cent per gallon of water, Littlefield thinks that the government should own the business.

That's because there's no business that Littlefield doesn't want the government to run, be it a water system, a private airplane service facility or an Internet and cable company.

Chattanooga has already proven inept at managing its own sewer system. The last things the area's surrounding water and wastewater utilities need is the city getting its grubby paws on their successful water and sewer departments.

Littlefield's attempt to force other sewer and water providers to pay for the city's sewer fiasco, while attempting to take over a beloved private water provider, is a laughable, last-ditch effort of a man who will never understand that more government isn't always the answer.

___ (c)2012 the Chattanooga Times/Free Press (Chattanooga, Tenn.) Visit the Chattanooga Times/Free Press (Chattanooga, Tenn.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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