After facing public pressure from Republican leaders about absences, the two Democrats on the bipartisan Board of Waterworks showed up Tuesday for a meeting where they approved several million dollars in water projects.
But Tuesday's meeting left one big matter unresolved: The board didn't reach a consensus on the $1.9 billion sale of the city's water and sewer utilities.
That will leave City-County Council Republicans to ponder whether to move forward with a proposal introduced this week to eliminate the board.
Council Republicans said they introduced the ordinance because Democratic board members had failed to show up to meetings and were holding up votes on water projects and the utilities' sale to Citizens Energy Group.
The city has said the board, which oversees the Department of Waterworks, should sign off on the sale along with the Board of Public Works, the City-County Council and the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission. The Board of Public Works has approved the sale, but votes from the other bodies are pending.
On Tuesday, three waterworks board members -- including Democrat Jack Bayt -- voted for the sale, while Democrat Frank Short voted against it and Republican Dan DeMars abstained because he wanted more time for discussion. The board must get four votes to pass a proposal.
The Republicans cry foul every time someone calls this proposal a tax increase, but that's exactly what it is. They insist it will lower, not raise utility rates over the long haul but that is simply not the case. The fact is that the transaction requires the borrowing of hundreds of millions of dollars to fund street and sidewalk improvements that have a short life span with 30 year bonds. In order to pay off the bonds, higher utility rates will be passed on to Indianapolis ratepayers, who are already facing 300% and 100% increases in their sewer and water rates, respectively, regardless of whether this proposal goes through. Ratepayers have already seen double-digit rate increases in recent years. The plan also assumes Citizens Energy will achieve savings from the combined operation of the utilities; however, it will be straddled with the current costly and inefficient operating agreements the City entered into with United Water and Veolia to operate the utilities, continuing the two management team approaches to their operation.
If the Republicans were truly concerned about keeping utility rates down, they would have come up with a proposal that didn't make ratepayers pay for these pork barrel projects they want to get under way before next year's election, which have absolutely no connection to the utilities. The Ballard administration has already said it plans to fund at least $140 million of those projects with PILOT revenues from the utilities even if the deal is not approved. We're seeing our local Republican leaders taking the same approach to governing as the policies of President Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress with their reckless federal stimulus spending that Republicans nationally have criticized. We thought we voted for change when we elected a Republican mayor and city council in 2007. Instead, we've gotten the biggest tax and spend administration in city history. The Republican-led council approved a host of fee increases on businesses this week, a move that will raise about $2 million. Yes, that's a tax increase. Or at least that's what Republicans called it when Mayor Bart Peterson and the Democrats were in charge.