020318-nws-waterrate

Rapid City residents are now voting on a water rate increase after a Rapid City Council resolution was referred t the ballot. 

Journal file

Sometimes, it is difficult to understand where the Citizens for Liberty really stand on local issues.

On Tuesday, the citizens’ group told the Rapid City Council it opposes a new Barnett Arena, citing wasteful spending while suggesting money would be better spent on items like infrastructure, which includes the city’s vast water supply and distribution system.

At the same time, however, the same group is responsible for this month’s $60,000 special election that challenges the city council’s recent vote to raise water rates.

The liberty group collected the signatures needed to challenge the vote on the ballot after the council approved what the city says is a 52 percent increase in water rates for the average residential user that will be phased in over five years.

Technically, though, the special election only addresses a technicality. The city council passed the hike with a resolution rather than an ordinance — which meant one fewer public hearing was held that likely would not have changed the outcome. The resolution was approved on a 9-1 vote by the council, which can revisit the rates whenever it chooses.

The liberty group seized on that perceived public slight as the reason for the special election, suggesting this is an issue of process, which is a smokescreen. The real issue, of course, is the percentage increase of the rate hike that seems alarming without considering the big picture.

Focusing on just the percentage increase is like watching a movie through a pinhole. This is about water, which has a direct impact on public health and safety, economic development, and life, liberty and happiness.

If one takes the time to enlarge the pinhole even just a little bit, they will discover that the availability of clean water from a reliable source will continue to be one of the best deals in town.

Currently, most single-family homes are billed $3.11 for every 748 gallons — or one billing unit — of water and uses the average 7.5 units a month. In addition, those users are assessed a $7.39 meter charge for a total monthly bill of $30.72, a little over a dollar a day.

By 2022, those same customers would pay $4.73 per unit and an $11.18 meter charge for a bill of $46.22 a month, a little more than $1.50 a day. If voters approve, it will be the first rate increase since 2013.

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It’s hard, therefore, to argue that having a reliable source of clean water delivered to your home for $1.50 a day is a consequence of government largess or reckless spending, which is likely why opponents focus on process and percentage and not service and actual cost.

Nonetheless, the liberty group is entitled to challenge the council's decision on the ballot, where voters will be asked  whether they support the city's decision to approve with a resolution rather than an ordinance.

In taking this approach, Citizens for Liberty is challenging the role of the city council in a bid to raise its own profile as spending hawks or government watchdogs — ironically at a cost of $60,000 to taxpayers.

So, it is up to Rapid City residents to decide if they will take the time to vote, which can be a problem when a special election is held — especially in February when it can be cold, windy and slippery outdoors. Now is not the time, however, to shirk one's duty as a citizen, taxpayer and customer of the city's water service. Do you support the city's management of the water system or not? It's an opportunity to weigh in in a meaningful way.

City staff has done its due diligence in studying the need for a rate increase that will allow for upgrades to infrastructure and maintain the water service that is vital to a community while sending the clear message that Rapid City will continue to be a reliable provider to residents and businesses. The council and mayor have studied the issue and given their approval. If residents are unhappy with their decision, they can vote them out of office in a future election.

Early voting is now ongoing at the Pennington County Auditor's Office in Rapid City. Election Day is Tuesday, Feb. 20. A "yes" vote endorses the city's process and its commitment to providing affordable and clean water. A "no" vote means the process starts over and likely lays the groundwork for more special elections that will tie the hands of the city council and drive up the costs of future infrastructure needs that are sure to come.

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