SKALKO: Don’t make the MWA board the fall guy

Special to The TelegraphJune 19, 2014 

In the May 30 edition of The Telegraph there were two items published in different parts of the newspaper that caught my attention and hopefully the attention of my fellow residents of Bibb County. Both involved suggesting our newly consolidated government use the Macon Water Authority as a funding source. While the idea may make for good sound bites, I suggest it is shortsighted and potentially detrimental to the long-term soundness of our excellent water and sewer system. Let me explain.

Within the article reporting on the difficult times our Macon-Bibb County Commission is having finalizing the budget, it was reported that Mayor Robert Reichert stated “it’s possible the General Assembly will legalize imposing a franchise fee on Macon Water Authority customers.”

While I appreciate the difficult task our commissioners face in balancing expenditures with revenue, pursuing a franchise fee from MWA customers is simply a convenient way to raise taxes on the residents of Bibb County without the burden of raising the ire of the voters. Instead the water authority board will take the fall.

As the old adage says, nothing in life is free, so to pay the franchise fee the MWA board will surely have to consider raising water and sewer rates.

Requiring the MWA to pay a franchise fee raises another question: Why should they pay one? Commonly franchise fees are charged by local governments to private companies such as Georgia Power, Atlanta Gas and Cox Communication as “rent” to use the public rights-of-way to distribute their utilities to the customer. While the MWA system is certainly similar to these private entities as a utility, it is not a private for-profit entity. The residents of Macon and Bibb County paid for these public rights-of-way and paid for the installation of the water and sewer systems located within them. Why should we have to pay ourselves to use our own property?

I encourage the commission to solve its budget problems themselves. Cut expenditures and/or raise taxes as they see fit and then explain to the citizenry directly the basis for their actions. Don’t make the MWA board the heavy.

The second newspaper item regarding the MWA as a funding source was a letter to the editor by Joe Hubbard. He suggests we should complete the consolidation of our local government entities by folding the MWA into the commission.

Though it sounds logical based on duplication of functions such as “accounting and vehicle maintenance” (Hubbard’s words), there are potential negative ramifications.

The very first sentence in his next paragraph points to the biggest one. He refers to the MWA as a “cash cow.” My concern is the commission would also view the water and sewer fees collected as a readily available source of revenue to fund other local governmental services instead of reinvesting the revenue back into the system to maintain and upgrade it where needed.

Bibb County has a nationally recognized water system that other communities are jealous of. If you look at the MWA organization leadership and its employees and their track record you will see for quite a few years they have been doing a very good job providing us this quality system.

Another old adage applies here -- if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. I submit it is not broke and keeping the MWA intact and letting it managing its own resources far outweigh any benefit of combining it into the commission for nominal savings of duplicated functions or a source of revenue.

Stephen V. Skalko is a resident of Macon.

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