Not too long ago, Mayor Ron Littlefield said he wanted to revive the drive -- initiated but deferred by former mayor Jon Kinsey -- to take over Tennessee American Water Co.'s operation by eminent domain. Unfortunately, he never got the idea off the ground. TAWC, however, plowed ahead with its biggest proposed rate increase ever -- 23 percent -- and ended up a few days ago with approval for a 12.72 rate increase.
Not to put too fine a point on it, the increase -- more than quadruple the general rate of inflation -- is a thumb in the eye to ratepayers here. It precisely conveys the company's arrogant attitude: Kneel, and pay up. Of course, you have to mail the company a check; it doesn't offer a walk-in office open to its customers like it used to downtown, and hasn't for several years.
It's out-of-state American Water Co. corporate headquarters drains its profits out of here to pay dividends and lavish executive pay. That doesn't happen in Tennessee's other large cities, and most of its smaller towns. Most own their public utilities --not just electricity, but water and, often, natural gas. Their local utilities issue low-rate, tax-rate free municipal bonds to finance infrastructure improvements, offer lower rates and timely infrastructure improvements, and keep their sales revenue churning in the local economy.
Chattanoogans have yet to learn or embrace the value of that nonprofit model for our TAWC zone and natural gas. Hence we regularly get socked in the jaw with huge rate increases, and we keep sending the TAWC's corporate profits skimmed off our citizens and businesses out of the city. If the city's and county's leaders had the courage, and public support, to change that model, we would save money, protect ratepayers, and enjoy local control of water and gas utilities.