Editor's Log: Blame And Responsibility

By Robert Carpenter, Editor | April 2010 Vol. 65 No. 4

Another ignored fact: Federal programs were never designed to be the primary funding source for municipal sewer/water departments. In fact, federal programs, including the SRLF, have been artificially extended since the 90s. But because these programs are politically popular, they keep getting funded to some degree to keep a trickle of funds flowing back home – that makes congressmen and senators look like they care and allows local city governments to once again delay or defer needed user fee increases.

Unfunded mandates, both at federal and state levels, are everywhere and in all fairness, continue to plague every aspect of our lives, often with negative, unintended effects. But until the U.S. Conference of Mayors is able to lobby a change to those mandates, they’ll just have to live with them.

And that means adjusting user fee structures on an as-needed basis. No more three, five or even 15 year waits between rate increases. No one wants high sewer/water rates; yet most people don’t notice small increases on a regular basis to keep up with inflation and true operational costs. It’s those massive rate hikes every five or 10 years when an emergency strikes (such as EPA intervention) that almost causes community revolts.

Perhaps I’m being overly harsh in my criticism. There are certainly shining examples of proactive cities that have worked very hard to meet their issues head-on and effectively. But it’s hard to be sympathetic when so many local city councils brag to their constituents about “holding the line” on sewer/water rate increases while at the same time effectively sabotaging their future.

Granted, most of these mayors have inherited a dismal situation through historically short-sighted city governments. No doubt it would be optimum if Congress could unite and agree to kill billions in pork projects and reinvest in America’s infrastructure. But what are the odds of that happening? Besides, Congress is having its own, well-documented funding crisis.

Mayors and city council members, roll up your sleeves and go to work. You can’t – and shouldn’t – count on the federal government as your savior, especially for problems you created. And this time, use a little vision.