We have no doubt that the newly-appointed Southern Water & Sewer District Commission has been thoroughly working to address a list of problems that has left the district financially struggling.
We have no doubt that these commissioners are trying to think outside the box to fix its problems and that the commissioners have spent a lot of time learning state laws that govern utilities and learning the ins and outs of how this Floyd County water district operates.
It was built decades ago with the convergence of three water districts, and some of the lines that serve Southern customers today were installed 50 or 60 years ago by those other water companies.
In addition to that aging infrastructure, the district is out of compliance with its meters. The state requires testing every 10 years, and some of Southern’s meters have not been tested in two decades.
On top of that, and other issues, the group now managing the district, Utilities Management Group, has located more than 700 meters that are reading zero — meaning, regardless of how much water those customers have been using, they were only paying the minimum bill.
With time, it’s highly likely that this board of commissioners will get Southern Water back on its feet. It’s probable that they’ll be able to correct most, if not all, of the mistakes and missteps that have left this ailing district dangling by a thread for years.
While their work, to date, marks a positive step in the right direction, the actions this board have discussed and approved, however, will require that Southern Water customers pay more.
The district approved submitting an application to the Kentucky Public Service Commission last week to seek a 32.3 percent increase in its rates.
At the same time, the commissioners approved seeking PSC approval to provide a 30-day amnesty period to give folks who are knowingly stealing water a chance to turn themselves in so they don’t face criminal charges or have to back-pay the district for the water that was stolen.
They also agreed to give a similar amnesty to residential and business customers with zero-read meters, who somehow were charged a minimum bill, regardless of how much water they used.
With these plans, Southern is saying to customers who physically manipulated water meters to get free water, “You have 30 days to fix it, without a penalty. After that, you’ll pay.”
To the 700 or so zero-read customers who paid minimum bills when they should have paid more, Southern is saying, “We’re going to wipe the slate clean. Start over.”
Our only question is this: With these actions, what is Southern saying to the customers who have paid what they owed, when they owed it, all of this time?
Commissioners talked about the importance of being “fair, just and reasonable” to all customers when they made these decisions last week.
Seems to us like some honest customers got the short end of the stick.
What we would prefer to see happen is that the people who did what they were supposed to do, not be essentially penalized for the bad or negligent actions of others, while still ensuring that the district is able to garner the finances it needs.
And those who actively engaged in criminal activity to gain water service should be punished for their actions or at least made to pay for what they received illegally.
That’s only fair.