I’m not going to say it was unexpected, but the complete turn around by the Montesano City Council last week concerning the water leak controversy was astounding.
With the exception of Councilman Pat Harrington, it was a nearly unanimous vote to get rid of the poorly thought out resolution. Harrington was still holding out to keep it in place.
To recap, on a 4-3 vote last month, the council was set to start charging you, the homeowner, for a leak on your side of the meter that you didn’t know about. It was a reversal in policy that has stood for years. Only when you, the homeowner, got the bill were you going to be aware. That process could take two months or more depending on when the leak started.
Now, everyone agrees that people that abuse the system of the city forgiving a water leak problem should be held accountable. Leaks should be fixed and quickly. That isn’t in dispute. What was in dispute was looking at the city residents as a revenue resource instead of the water itself.
As explained in numerous public comments to the council and a whole host of comments against the idea on The Vidette’s Facebook page, it simply didn’t sit well with the residents and the council corrected itself. They’ll be coming back in January with a policy to forgive leaks once every three years. That sounds reasonable and will protect our elderly residents.
The star of the hour is Councilman Chris Hutchings. Under direct pointed questioning by Chris to both Public Works Director Rocky Howard as well as City Administrator Kristy Powell, he was able to cut through the spin and bring to light a couple of interesting facts.
First, the city has no earthly idea where the majority of wasted water is going. It could be on the city side. It might be on the customer side. Who knows? All they really know is that the city is wasting about 13 percent of it’s available water. Second, it is the state that is putting pressure on the city to cut waste. The state wants it cut back to the 10 percent range. But who is wasting the water? Residents, or the city itself? They don’t know.
Way to go Hutchings! I might offer up the following advice. Prior to throwing the city into chaos, perhaps the city should find out where the problem is first? I know what you are thinking — that’s just crazy talk.
I also want to commend Councilwoman Pam McElliott for her “re-thinking” of the mess and ill will toward the council this resolution caused. Several of the council members related that the issue was put through too fast.
We are living in 2013, we have things available now that weren’t available in the recent past. It’s called the internet. Pretty much everyone has it now. On the internet you can put things called Web pages on it — places where you can inform the public in clear language what you are about to do and why. The city might want to look into it. The city’s website looks like it could be updated pretty easily with information to let folks know what’s happening in the city. For instance, they posted the Festival of Lights program and sent a notification out to everyone who signed up to get notifications. Surely it would be just as easy for something like proposed resolutions, ordinances and anything else just as important.
It is far past time that the residents of this city were better informed of what’s going on up in that council chamber — and here is the important part — before it happens. Maybe they could call up The Vidette before the next week’s paper and get an advance in to warn people what might be coming?
While The Vidette does a good job of informing the public after the fact, we most often have to read about it a week later and sometimes it’s only in the legals, which not everyone can understand.
The community outpour of anger over this water issue could have been completely avoided had it been brought up to the public and a discussion ensued. The anger and shaking voices of those standing in opposition during the council meeting attest to the personal nature of such actions. The council would have realized this was never going to sit well with the public and corrected the policy before it left the back room.
The public, us that pay the bills, deserve to be better informed. It will make life easier for the council members as well.
Tom Frederiksen grew up in Montesano and lives here today with an active blog at montesanotoday.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.