Friday, October 13, 2006

Under Joe Preston's Leadership City Water Rates Rise (Third and Fourth Consecutive Years)


That is, on February 11, 2006, Rich Lord of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported the following:

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority board voted to raise rates this year and next, in moves it said would hike the average household's monthly water and sewer bill by $5.

Authority Executive Director Greg Tutsock said the increases would allow the authority to weather jumps in chemical, utilities and labor costs, and continue working on improvements demanded by federal and state regulators. They may also help it reduce its reliance on debt, which devours half its revenue.

The authority's minimum monthly rate, for the first 1,000 gallons of water use, will rise from $13.88 to $14.42 on March 1, and to $14.67 on Jan. 1. Rates for each additional 1,000 gallons will rise from $6.46 to $6.99 in March, and to $7.50 next year.

For a typical household, using 5,000 gallons, that's a 12.5 percent hike by next year. That comes on top of rate increases of 19 percent in 2004 and 17 percent last year.

The increase affects around 65,000 city households that get their water from the authority. Another 30,000 households in the city's southern neighborhoods, which are served by Pennsylvania American Water Co., will also see their rates rise, because those rates are pegged to the authority's.

The hikes also hit commercial and industrial users, who pay less than households, and health and educational institutions, which pay more.

Top private sector water users include Del Monte Food, the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and the West Penn Allegheny Health System. None responded to requests for comment.
To minimize the impact on households, the authority board raised some fees on businesses. It will now charge when it helps to design piping for new buildings larger than a duplex; make contractors pay for temporary meters for construction projects; and bill more for special water lines for fire sprinklers.

"We wanted to really make the increases as minimal as possible," Mr. Tutsock said.

The hikes will bring $4.6 million to the authority this year and $4.7 million next year, he said. That should allow it to reduce its dependence on borrowing, he said. It owes $622 million, a burden called "not healthy" by a consultant.

The authority is under orders from federal and state environmental regulators to improve sewer lines to stop sewage from flowing into the rivers when it rains. It expects to spend $300 million on those improvements over coming years.

Yesterday the board approved two contracts, totalling $4.9 million, with consultants on that effort.

In a submission to regulators in May, the authority indicated that its water rates were the second-highest among a dozen large public water suppliers in the area.

That analysis did not include sewer rates, which are included in water bills.

City households will still pay less than residents of some suburbs served by Pennsylvania American. Mt. Lebanon residents, for instance, pay a total of $8.18 per thousand gallons.

The Allegheny County Sanitary Authority, which levies a separate charge based on water usage, increased rates 10 percent effective Jan. 1.

Water authority board Chairman Joe Preston, a state representative from East Liberty, led the charge for the increase, which passed on a voice vote. He wished staff and consultants in attendance a "Merry Christmas" at the meeting's end.

Note: On March 13, 1999, John Bull wrote the following for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority will spend $550,000 to build sewer lines for the new Steelers stadium and surrounding area on the North Side.

"I'm sure the ratepayers are in strong, adamant opposition," complained city Councilman Gene Ricciardi, a board member who voted against the plan. "This is a raid on the ratepayer."

Ricciardi, a staunch foe of new stadiums, said he is against the sewer expenditure because voters shot down a referendum to build two new stadiums but officials proceeded with the plan anyway.

The authority routinely pays for sewer and water line construction and relocation as an incentive for city economic development and housing developments, but Ricciardi insisted that it shouldn't in this case because it would benefit "million dollar athletes."

But supporters contended new sewers will benefit the entire 25-acre parcel that will house new stadiums for the Steelers and Pirates, and the expected construction of stores, restaurants and businesses that will accompany the stadiums.

"This will benefit not just the Steelers, not just the Pirates, but the entire city of Pittsburgh," said John Hanna, the authority's acting executive director.

The board voted 2-1 for the plan. Members Ann Davis and Joe Preston voted yes.


In addition, on June 8, 2004, David M. Brown, Pittsburgh Tribune-review, wrote:

You might think that a government agency with a monopoly wouldn't have to pamper its customers with a pricey lunch at the exclusive Duquesne Club.

The people who run the Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority don't agree. They're paying Adam Filippo & Associates $90,750 to learn how customers feel about water and sewer service.

At least $500 of that money was spent to treat the authority's business customers to lunch at the Duquesne Club, Downtown, during a February focus-group session. Seventeen people dined at the club.

Jim Roddey, a member of the state oversight board looking into the city's finances, questioned the study.

Finally, two former Authority employees were paid $210,000 to settle whistle-blower lawsuits. Former executive director John Hanna claimed in his federal lawsuit that he had been fired for testifying before a federal grand jury that was investigating authority operations and for refusing to approve payments for a faulty sewer project at PNC Park. Dr. Michael Stallard's lawsuit claimed he was pressured to approve work that was not completed properly and fired after he protested payments.