July 6, 2018 11:02:36 AM
On Tuesday, Starkville's board of aldermen approved by a 6-1 vote a proposal to raise the city's water/sewer rates and several things did not happen in the aftermath.
Citizens did not descend on city hail with torches and pitchforks. They did not make plans to move. They didn't use social media to blast the mayor, aldermen or Starkville Utilities officials.
The Mississippi legislature should be taking notes because what happened in Starkville Tuesday illustrates a point that is often forgotten in this conservative corner of the world: People will pay more for a service if they are convinced the money will be used for a good purpose and spent wisely and the burden will be equitably divided.
In the manner in which the city raised its water/sewer rates, the city checked those boxes.
The extra income generated by the rate increase, estimated to be $1.7 million annually, will be used to repair, upgrade and expand the city's water/sewer infrastructure. While it might go too far to say the city is being entirely pro-active in raising the rates now - there are already some areas of the city where the infrastructure is inadequate - a comprehensive plan to improve the city's entire water/sewer infrastructure will undoubtedly address some areas before a crisis emerges.
That is something citizens can generally understand and accept since water/sewer service is something everyone relies on daily.
Beyond raising the rates to generate the needed income, the city also diffused criticism in another important way - adjusting its rate structure to protect low-income citizens for whom a rate increase could be a burden.
Under the new plan, the water rates are variable, increasing based on usage. The bulk of the money will be generated by commercial properties whose usage far exceeds that of the average household. The variable rate is not applied to the first 1,000 gallons of water, so citizens can save money on their bills through conservation.
It's pretty simple: The more water you use, the more you pay, which gives the customer a degree of control.
While it is estimated that about half of the city's residents will see an increase in their water/sewer rates, the obvious need to address the current and future infrastructure needs should mute criticism.
Unlike the state legislature, which apparently believes there is an Infrastructure Santa Claus, the city has taken the necessary steps to ensure it can continue to provide the services citizens deserve and expect.
That's called responsible leadership.