Here’s an excerpt from an article that ought to be required reading for anyone who is involved or interested in the proposal to turn Winnipeg’s water and sewer services over to an independent regional water utility. It raises questions that require careful consideration. The complete article is available at http://strikeslip.blogspot.com/2008/11/wrong-regionalization-oneida-county.html
Thanks to Tom Christoffel for pointing this out to me.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Wrong Regionalization: The Oneida County Sewer District
[This article was originally published in the October 2008 “Utica Phoenix”:]
Over 40 years ago Oneida County made the first “regionalization” effort in Greater Utica by forming the Oneida County Sewer District to serve 12 area municipalities. The goal was noble: build a system of sanitary sewer interceptors, pumping stations and a treatment plant to clean up water pollution in the Mohawk River, and make it affordable by spreading the cost over all system users by charges attached to water bills. The goal was accomplished, but flaws in the scheme have produced harmful results.
Dilution of representation: One flaw is that sewer district residents ceded control of the system to many disinterested parties, specifically, the county legislators from places untouched by the sewer district. This meant that decisions would not necessarily be made from the perspective of the customers receiving the service and paying the bills, but rather by many people who would not be held accountable for their actions – people who could use their controlling position to advance other agendas.
Uncoordinated decision-making: Another flaw is that decisions over sewers are made by people with no responsibility for other municipal services, making it unlikely that decision makers will be aware of how their decisions could adversely affect the supply of other services.
Diluted representation and uncoordinated-decision making have contributed to urban sprawl, the county’s violation of water pollution laws, and the people of Utica subsidizing suburban growth.
Utica is geographically small, with most of its land previously developed. In an older age when people gravitated to cities for convenience, as structures aged and fell into disuse, they were replaced with something bigger and better. Utica was no different. With the automobile and improved highways, outlying areas also became convenient to reach. Since it usually is cheaper to build on undeveloped land (“green fields”) than tearing down an old structure and rebuilding, both people and businesses started to migrate to the suburban areas as city structures aged, paying to extend the city’s water and sewer services.
With the advent of the Part County Sewer District and its interceptor lines, far-flung localities were able to tap into the treatment plant located in Utica. These places could never have afforded on their own the level of service that they received. Since the vast bulk of the population lived in Utica, Utica residents paid for most of the cost of this system. In effect, Utica residents were financing suburban growth while encouraging the rotting of their city from within.
(Click here for the complete article from the Utica Phoenix.)