Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Community Meetings on Rate Setting Process

The Department of Public Utilities hosted a community meeting at the Operations Center at 400 Jefferson Davis Highway in December 2012. Twenty-eight citizens attended.

The city team began with a presentation on the rate setting process, and then presented ideason affordability. One was a customer assistance program. The existing program, MetroCare, provides assistance to qualifying customers for heating assistance and is funded through voluntary contributions and fundraising by DPU. A more comprehensive program would also provide assistance with water, wastewater, and stormwater bills to qualifying economically disadvantaged customers.

The program would work in tandem with the existing Virginia Department of Social Services' Energy Assistance Program for Richmond through an agreement with the Richmond Department of Social Services. Discussions on this are ongoing. A variety of subsidy options were presented and comparisons made to affordability programs in other cities.

Other ideas including reducing the base rate, but increasing the rate for the volume of water actually used, which would encourage conservation and allow each customer to have more control over the amount of their water bill through using less water.

The meeting was then opened to citizen comment. Deputy Director Bob Steidel told the group that the topics of highest priority to Richmond citizens, as determined during community meetings during the year, were schools, services for low income residents, maintaining and improving the city's infrastructure, and safety. Although at one time it was true that commercial customers' water rates were lower, that has been changed and currently residential and commercial accounts pay the same rate.

It was agreed that the current utility bill is difficult to comprehend and new bills would provide more comprehensive information.

The Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) the Department of Public Utilities is required by City Charter to pay into the city's general fund was discussed at length, and what is mandated by charter and what is determined by city ordinances.

For another view, read Michael Martz's report on the meeting in the Dec. 19 Richmond Times-Dispatch, which includes what is involved in changing the charter.

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