An open letter to the City Council about the latest presumptuous use of our money

By Eleanore Wickersham

Members of the Columbia City Council:

Why is the City of Columbia Water and Light Department proposing to use $3 million in revenue from electric customers to purchase "shovel ready" land for a company or companies as yet unknown?

How many years will it take for said unknown company to pay back the $3 million to the city?  Will it go back into the pot for electrical funds? 

As you are aware, many companies move into communities, but leave before those communities have recouped their investments.   Apparently, however, $1 million from our electric fund has already been allocated, and $2 million more is requested.

"Deputy City Manager Tony St. Romaine said part of the decision to purchase the 100-acre site with Water and Light revenue was the department's relatively strong financial position.

The electric enterprise fund is expected to draw in $127 million in revenue during the current fiscal year."

'They have a very good fund balance,' St. Romaine told the Tribune.   The city and REDI have been looking to develop the site for more than 20 years, the Trib reported. 

I think the citizens should have a chance to vote on this.

Perhaps we could add it to the vote for the bond on new transmission lines. 

Water and Light -- a city department -- has been telling customers they have to undertake a "very expensive project" to put more electric transmission lines in the Southwestern part of the city.

They say our rates will be raised and we will have to fund this project with a bond, i.e. a large debt.

But at no time was the public told three million dollars the department collected from customers would be used for land purchases.

This calls the Water and Light department's credibility into question.    When I pay my electric bill, I expect I am being charged what it costs to provide service.   This is a fee for service, not a tax going into a general fund. 

By the looks of things, $1 million a year more is collected than actual costs require.  Either use those excess funds to improve our electrical system or reduce our fees!

Don't use the funds to "prospect" for new businesses.

[Ed. Note: This issue is shaping up to be the latest outrage from REDI, the city department that doubles as a business lobby and brought us Blight/EEZ last year. The primary motivator seems simple: the money is there to tap!]