published Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

Chattanooga mayor's regional sewer idea stinks

  • photo
    Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield
    Photo by Lido Vizzutti

Tomorrow Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield will take another step in his wrongheaded effort to consolidate the region's water and sewer utilities into one huge, bumbling, expensive, socialist-style mess.

The mayor is planning to pitch his scheme to create a regional wastewater (and, ultimately, water) authority at 6 p.m. on Wednesday in the City Council building. The thought that the Chattanooga government, which has failed monumentally in running its own sewer system, could be in a position to dictate to successful wastewater departments how to operate has already sent surrounding utilities running from the idea.

"We don't plan on joining them," Don Stafford, general manager of Eastside Utility District, told Times Free Press reporter Cliff Hightower. And for good reason.

Eastside and the half-dozen other water and wastewater utilities in the Hamilton County area have been able to manage their water and sewer services without massive rate increases or running afoul of federal regulators. The same can't be said for the city's sewer system.

Over the past decade, the average monthly city sewer bill has nearly doubled -- increasing from $12.82 to $22.99. Despite this outrageous price hike, the city government's sewer department has failed to perform adequate maintenance and make needed repairs to Chattanooga's sewer system. As a result, the federal government slapped the city's sewer system with a $250 million consent decree, which will further increase Chattanoogans' sewer bills.

It's no wonder the other area water and wastewater departments aren't chomping at the bit to let the bungling city government lead them down the path of consolidation.

Littlefield claims that he wants to pattern the new authority after other Chattanooga government authorities -- namely, the Airport Authority and EPB. That fact alone should cause Chattanoogans to riot in the streets.

Under Littlefield's watch, the Airport Authority has wasted more than $10 million of tax money on a government-owned storage and service facility for private planes -- despite the fact that there was already a private business providing those services at Lovell Field. The Airport Authority's welfare project to ensure private jets have a nice place to spend the night loses so much money that taxpayers' will spend a projected $1.1 million by the end of the year in bailouts to the facility.

EPB is an even more costly experiment in socialism. Under the guise of saving electricity, preventing theft and reducing outage times, EPB used $552 million of federal and local taxpayers' and electric customers' money -- including principle and interest -- to build a "Smart Grid." In truth, the Smart Grid was built as it was in order to get the government electric company into the Internet, cable and phone business. The results have been underwhelming. EPB is relying on electric customers to subsidize the infrastructure for the city's cable and Internet scheme -- and it'll be 23 years before it is paid off.

If this new water authority is a boondoggle like the Airport Authority and EPB have been, it wouldn't be a surprise if water taps run dry and raw sewage streams through the streets.

Why does the mayor want to concoct a regional wastewater authority to trample the sovereignty of the surrounding successful water and sewer systems? There are three reasons, each as bad as the next.

First, it gives the outgoing mayor a legacy -- something he doesn't have now.

Second, it would ultimately force the successful water and sewer providers to subsidize a portion of the city's $250 million sewer repair bill -- even though they had no responsibility for the city's crumbling sewer lines.

Finally, and most importantly for Littlefield, the authority could ultimately take over Tennessee American Water -- the private company that provides water to 80,000 Chattanooga-area customers. Even though Tennessee American maintains a customer satisfaction rating of 94 percent, provides some of the cleanest, safest water in the United States and charges customers only about a half-cent per gallon of water, Littlefield thinks that the government should own the business.

That's because there's no business that Littlefield doesn't want the government to run, be it a water system, a private airplane service facility or an Internet and cable company.

Chattanooga has already proven inept at managing its own sewer system. The last things the area's surrounding water and wastewater utilities need is the city getting its grubby paws on their successful water and sewer departments.

Littlefield's attempt to force other sewer and water providers to pay for the city's sewer fiasco, while attempting to take over a beloved private water provider, is a laughable, last-ditch effort of a man who will never understand that more government isn't always the answer.

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Riot? Try celebrate. Especially if we can keep the bankers at "capitalist" JP Morgan away from it.

You know why the city's sewer system needs work? Because of decades of people who thought like you, that spending is the enemy, that government investment is wrong.

Now the price for such inaction will come due.

December 11, 2012 at 12:11 a.m.
aae1049 said...

The citizens of Hamilton County and Chattanooga have voted down Metropolitan form of government by referendum. The City seems intent in forcing consolidation measures on its citizens, whether they want it or not. That is the problem, elected leadership that attempts to circumvent the will of the people, and backdoors actions.

Consolidation of major services is a precursor to merging governments, let's tell the truth here. The City needs to be honest with the people, and put Consolidation on the ballot as a referendum. This dictatorship mentality is why over 10,000 registered voters signed a measure to recall the Mayor.

December 11, 2012 at 12:14 a.m.
librul said...

Yessiree - nobody wants any Marxist, socialist regional sewer system. We like the developer's getting every swatch of undeveloped land thay ask for, whether there's rhyme or reason for destroying more land for more strip malls and condos or not.

We like paying taxes so our kabuki theatre commissions can dole them out to private developers and pave the way for private developments that won't pay for themselves in this millenium while suckng funds away from services and infrastructure needs of the wider community.

Why would we want our money used for PUBLIC infrastructure or anything that would contribute to regional sustainability when there's good, capitalist PROFIT to be made by the same tired, good 'ol boys club that seemingly refuses to die out.

I'd like to give all these "rugged individualists" around here some woolen underwear, a corn cob and a shovel so they can go out in their backyards, dig a hole and poop in it. They can sit and count their green stamps while they're at it.

December 11, 2012 at 12:49 a.m.
BigRidgeGOP said...

Well said Drew! How many times have we heard our government leaders say consolidating government will help streamline its services and make it more effective. Yet, after all is said and done, our government has grown in size and continues to be ineffective and waste taxpayer funds.

This is nothing but a smokescreen for Mayor Littlefield's true intention to condemn and takeover TN American Water. Then, the city will subsidize the costs to fix the sewer system with funds from the water utility.

December 11, 2012 at 9:12 a.m.

Turns out the people who use that water are also the people generating sewage.

Unthinkable!

December 11, 2012 at 10:26 a.m.
MasterChefLen said...

Is mayor Littlefield's true intention to fix the problem or find a position for himself when his term is up. He seems to have used up his political goodwill in 8 years. Whatever happens to solve the sewer problem, hopefully Chattanooga will have the good sense not to make the same financial mistakes Birmingham made in attempting to fix theirs.

December 11, 2012 at 10:59 a.m.
GameOn said...

Littlefield wants to takeover the water companies and run a pipeline to Atlanta in exchange for a high speed train. Chattanooga residents want water. We don't need a train. If we rode a train to Atlanta, we would need a car upon arrival.

December 11, 2012 at 2:55 p.m.
daytonsdarwin said...

Littlefield's legacy is secure as his name, administration, and sewage will be forever linked in the minds of Chattanoogans.

December 11, 2012 at 4:19 p.m.

MasterChefLen, you've got that right. Keep JP Morgan far far away from the whole business.

As far as I know, the construction company was fine though.

December 11, 2012 at 7:46 p.m.
Gidget said...

Thank you TFP for bringing to light the socialist ways of those in power in Chattanooga. It's infuriating to live in a city where the government and all of their cronies think they can do better than private industry.

December 12, 2012 at 10:45 a.m.
joneses said...

If Littlefield takes over these systems he will more than likely sell it for pennies on the dollar to one of his friends to make millions. Remember the corrupt property transaction?

December 13, 2012 at 9:09 a.m.
SirMichaelb said...

Same story, except replace the word sewer with police and fire departments.

December 13, 2012 at 12:01 p.m.
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