Saturday, August 9, 2014

Those “not that muches” add up

Perhaps it comes with age. Fixed incomes come with aging. Gradually you become painfully aware of how easy it is for folks to take more money out of your pocket, making it sound so easy.

Older folks tell me they have the feeling younger folks “look through” them. The older you are, and we might add, the poorer you are, the less others notice you. Both groups are on relatively fixed incomes.

Whether its water or trash pickup rates, or another Cheyenne Light Fuel and Power Company rate hike, they’re all justified by the same argument. In each case, they take more money out of our pockets saying, “Ah, it’s not that much.”

All those “not that muches” add up, unless they’re “looking through” some people.

When the city recently raised water rates, the Board of Public Utilities said “it’s not that much.” They explained the increase would cost average residential customers “only” an additional $1.28 per month. Monthly sewer rates will go up about $1.41 for residential customers. That’s another $2.49 on average. Not that much right? But it’s not alone.

There are also increased rates for commercial customers, which will also eventually come out of our pockets as costs are passed along. Commercial customers increases average $3.18 more per month for water, and $3.81 for sewer, combining for $6.99.

That brings the big board total to $9.48 per month.

Coming soon to a checkbook near you are also additional costs for trash services.

Just weeks after the City Council denied an increase, the proposal is back. Council members first wanted to see the results of a long-awaited study of the sanitation program. The study is in and it will provide the council with cover for reaching into our pockets for more than a little loose change.

If the rate increases recommended by the study were implemented, residential customers currently paying $20 per month would be paying more than $29 for the same services in 2019. 

That's a 45 percent increase over five years.

And here comes the argument that “looks through” us. The vice president of HDR, the consulting firm that conducted the study said, "The impact of the increases appears reasonable.” Gould added, "I suspect that it might not even be noticed (by customers). And if it's noticed, it wouldn't create affordability issues."

Easy for him to say, but let’s head on over to the big board. Add in additional monthly costs Gould says we won’t even notice to the additional costs we’ll see on our water bill, and the subtotal becomes $18.48.
Then there’s the ever-present Cheyenne Light Fuel and Power rate increases. CLFP asked the Wyoming Public Service Commission (PSC) to approve a 12.7 million dollar rate increase, which will add $10.41 per month to already-high residential electricity monthly bills in Laramie County.

The argument CLFP trots out is predictable. “Energy still remains a great value for our customers,” Mark Stege, vice president of operations for Cheyenne Light, said. A “great value” is far different from “affordable.”

After hearing concerns from senior citizens and two large industrial consumers, the PSC not only approved the rates but also a process of reducing the “burden” on industrial users by shifting their costs to us.

Between the Board of Public Utilities, the city council, and CLFP, the tote board expropriates additional monthly charges for water and sewer, trash collection, electricity and gas of almost $30 a month from the fixed incomes of the elderly and low income folks. And it’s not as though the current charges are too low!

The legislature repealed cost-of-living increases for state retirees and rate increases greatly exceed the 1.5% cost-of-living increase in Social Security. Thus rate hikes called “not much,” and “unnoticeable” add significantly to the budgets of those already hammered by accelerating food, transportation, and medical costs.

Perhaps the PSC and other rate-making authorities should be required to have low and fixed-income members. Otherwise, rate increases will always seem to them to be “not that much.”

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