Excellent local water service

Excellent local water service

June 9th, 2012 in Opinion Free Press

Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield has renewed his call for a city takeover of Tennessee American Water. And the same thing should come of it as has come from similar efforts in the past: nothing.

Area customers pay less than a penny for a gallon of good, clean water. Perhaps the fact that water is such a bargain is why those who want Tennessee American to sell to the city routinely cite the percentages -- rather than the actual dollars -- when the utility seeks a rate increase.

Tennessee American now is asking regulators for a 23-percent rate increase. Sounds shocking, right?

Not really. Even if the full increase were approved -- which is highly unlikely -- it would add only around $6 per month to the typical Chattanooga ratepayer's bill. The average bill would be about $25 per month.

Most people with cell phones pay far more than that per month for service.

So the mayor's likening of the water company to "a bad tooth" just doesn't particularly resonate with customers, and there hasn't been any apparent public groundswell of support for the takeover of Tennessee American.

Nor should there be.

It's important to note the nearly $130 million that Tennessee American has pumped into local infrastructure over the past decade and a half and the anticipated need for work on pumps, pipelines and water treatment facilities in coming years. The need for work on the water system would not suddenly disappear if the city were in control, and there is no special reason to think that government can manage the provision of water better.

The Tennessee Regulatory Authority plans to decide on Tennessee American's rate increase request at the end of this year. Whether the full increase is justified is a matter of reasonable debate.

But it would be better to have that debate out from under the cloud of a possible takeover of the utility by the city.