May 21, 2024

Letter to the Editor: Consumers didn’t have a say

Families and businesses living in rural and other smaller communities across Jasper, Marshall, Story, Grundy, Black Hawk, Buchanan and 12 other counties in central Iowa might be surprised to learn that their water rates will soon increase by up to 800 percent.

What might be even more surprising is how this increase came about in the first place. Recently, the Newton City Council approved the rate increase and even went so far as to waive the standard second and third readings, which prevents anyone from providing additional feedback According to the Newton Daily News, the Newton City Council defended the motion to waive the readings because “it (the rate increase) doesn’t affect Newton citizens as much.” I suppose those facing this rate increase who are neighbors of Newton and would undoubtedly want an opportunity to participate in this process are simply out of luck. For me personally, access to reliable and affordable water is absolutely vital to my cattle and hog operation and an 800 percent rate increase will have a devastating impact not only on me but other local farmers across the region.

In short, the customers who will now be forced to pay significantly higher rates for water services 1) did not have an opportunity to participate in the elections of the council men and women who made this decision; 2) were denied the opportunity to provide feedback on the proposal to increase rates; 3) were not given an opportunity to review the studies the city commissioned on this topic; and 4) the rate increase disproportionately impacts Iowans across 18 other counties. That’s wrong on all counts.

Moreover, there are other options available to the community. Recently, Iowa lawmakers updated the process where a municipality like Newton can sell their water and/or wastewater infrastructure to a regulated company. In this case, Newton could sell their water system and use the funds for other community priorities such as the local police and fire departments, investments in streets and local infrastructure, or tax relief for Newton residents.

Maybe more importantly, this type of move would provide a number of other benefits. First, if a regulated company purchased the local water system, rates can only be adjusted if the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) approves it after a lengthy regulatory process where they evaluate testimony and feedback from consumers, stakeholders the Office of Consumer Advocate, and more. Within this process, there are multiple opportunities for people to express their opinion, including customer comment meetings and submitting comments into the IUB docket. This type of process provides full transparency to all the facts and information related to a proposed rate increase.

Second, when evaluating a request to increase rates, the IUB looks at whether the proposed increase is reasonable. It is hard to imagine any regulatory body concluding that the 800 percent increase the Newton City Council just approved is in any way reasonable.

Third, regulated companies generally have access to far more capital than a typical government run utility. That means these types of companies have a greater ability to make the type of investments that are critical to our water and wastewater systems, particularly those necessary to ensure long-term water quality.

For the people and businesses facing this unprecedented 800 percent increase in their water rates, I suggest visiting and contacting Newton’s mayor and the members of the Newton City Council to encourage them to reconsider this unfortunate decision.

Thad Nearmyer