FIXING A SCHEDULE OF WATER RATES

FIXING A SCHEDULE OF WATER RATES

The waterworks manager, superintendent or engineer in charge who is responsible for the successful financiering of the plant has not found it an easy task, and one of the difficult problems for solution is the matter of fixing an equitable scale of rates for the sale of water for all purposes. A waterworks plant that is the property of a private corporation expects to cover its interest-charges on its mortgage bonds from the receipts derived from the rental of fire hydrants to the city, and cover its current expenses from water sold for domestic and manufacturing purposes, with the expectation that by careful management a surplus may accrue for dividends and a sinking fund. In recent years, however, the growth of American cities and towns has been so rapid that extensions and other imperative dedands for improvements have kept the best financiers guessing how to provide for these contingent expenses on water rates already fixed by a franchise contract with the municipality. A constant fight in the courts in many cases to maintain their legal rights, which has entailed additional cost for attorney fees, court fees, etc., frequently follows. It is a common practice throughout the country, when a private waterworks corporation is taken over by a municipality, to request other municipal plants to mail them a schedule of their rates. This information, however, as a rule, does not prove of any special value, except, perhaps, to make up from it a rate-sheet with a general average schedule that may he considered reasonable by comparison with other cities. In fixing a schedule of rates either for a private corporation or a municipal plant the subject should he considered seriously as a business proposition and strictly in accordance with local costs and conditions at the city where the rate is to he applied, because it is rarely the case, where they exist practically upon the same basis, therefore, a rate made for one city will not answer as a substitute for another city. Water is supposed to he as free as the air when it is running on its way to the sea from its source or following a subterranean course; but the minute a dollar is spent to convert it to the use of man it becomes a commodity, and at that initial point the cost must be considered and brought down to date in making a charge for this commodity. It must not he forgotten that physical depreciation is coincident with the completion of construction, because destructive elements begin to work just as soon as the mains are laid in the earth and the pumping machinery is put in operation. I hen the repairaccount sits up and takes notice and is ever after a fixed charge to provide for during the existence of the waterworks system. The repair-account is necessarily a fluctuating proposition, because accidents and breaks occur that cannot always he foreseen and prevented. And this item is mentioned as among many others that must he considered in connection with salaries, labor, fuel, waste, oil. supplies and office expenses. I here are very few waterworks plants having an ample water supply, which, when the original surveys and designs were adopted, have been able to maintain a maximum of efficiency without recurrent enlargement of reservoirs, mains, pumping machinery, etc., creating increased bonded indebtedness that the earning capacity of the plant is called upon to carry in the interest-account and sinking fund. Unless errors in engineering call for these changes, then it may he safely assumed that the increased consumption of water indicates a healthy growth in th business of the water department and a corr ponding prosperous development of the busim . community wherever the waterworks may be located; but, if a reckless waste of water by consumers is the cause of these extraordinary expenses, then the business barometer would show either had management or an unsound public policy. Wasted water is money thrown away; the private corporation is compelled to stop it for its own protection; and a municipal plant cannot sell water at a low rate, when it costs equally as much to provide for the water that is wasted, as for the same quantity that may be used for legitimate purposes. A few cities of this country are specially favored with gravity systems, saving a large item in current expenses of pumpage and repairs, and this leads many citizens to think there cannot be any possible harm in allowing the water to run constantly to prevent waterpipes from freezing. This fallacy should be wiped out of their minds, because any great number of such wilful wastes may cause the destruction of life and property by the decreased pressure on the water mains caused by this waste and not permitting the fire department to render an efficient service. If the waste is caused by allowing water to run in winter to prevent freezing, it is a well-understood proposition that a drain-cock can eliminate this trouble. A city with a gravity system should conserve its water supply for fire orotcction and the universal sanitary benefit of the community, for flushing sewers, washing pavement, gutters and streetsprinkling; and, if the original cost of such a plant is not excessive, a very low water-rate would be the natural sequence. In some cities both a fiat rate per fixture and a meter rate are in use, and where such a method is in vogue, ,a strict and constant inspection of the premises of the consumer is necessary to prevent water-waste from leaky closets, faucets and other fixtures. In making a flat-rate schedule this enormous waste is not generally considered; but an assumed amount of water per capita per day is the factor used. Every waterworks manager knows that, when cheap valves are used in closet-tanks, or leaks occur from any cause, the (low, however small, is then continuous and more water runs to waste in one residence than would be required to supply several families. l ake, for instance, one closet that may be assessed at a vaning rate —say, from $5 to $10 per annum. It is a matter of record that, where meters wire attached, they have been known to waste as much as $20 per month on a twenty-cent per i,ooo gal. rate; but, immediately upon the leak being repaired, this waste is checked, and normal requirements are re-established. Some citizens imagine this slow waste is a sanitary bemfit; but such is not true, otherwise, why should sanitary engineers design the quick-discharge of a heavy volume of water to flush the closet and sewer-pipes? The reason is obvious to all practical men. 1 he prevention of water-waste is imperative ft r the public setvice, low cost of operation for economic management and the maintenance of low water rates. In some cities, plumbers are required by ordi nance and, under penalty, to keep a leak record, showing defective fixtures repaired by them, and make monthly reports to the water department. When it may appear that an excessive meter hill has been rendered to the consumer, this record, in connection with the water inspection department, locates the trouble at once, and the consumer who wilfully or thoughtlessly permits his fixtures to leak must pay for this neglect. The water meter is si mettmes profaned by the fellow who has had to pay for this neglect and says this mechanical measuring device is wrong. In some instances, this may be true; but there is a test-rule in every department to satisfy the consumer on that point. The water meter has grown in the confidence of the conservative consumer, and a firm conviction is now fixed that water sold by meter-measurement is really the only equitable method to adopt in selling water, and. with all features of receipts and expenditures thoroughly considered, a scale of meter rates established that makes each consumer pay for what he gets is the fair and reasonable way to look at the matter. Because the watch stops and occasionally has to he taken to the watchmaker for repairs, does the owner cast it aside and look up at the sun or down at shadows on the ground to tell the time of day? No; and the intelligent public has learned that the water meter is their mechanical friend and a just arbiter for deciding more accurately the quantity of water used than the old way of guessing. Large amoun’s of capi tal are now invested by several reputable firms who manufacture high-class meters, and the pros perous condition of their business is the strongest kind of testimonial that the public at large throughout the world recognises in the water meter a safe gauge to use as a standard measuring device. Municipal administrations everywhere have passed ordinances making their use compulscrv, and the universal installation of meters becomes more popular .and satisfactory as the general public learns more about their usefulness and accuracy.

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