Water Rate Case at Washington
It will be remembered that the commissioners of the District of Columbia recently raised the rate to consumers of water in Washington from $4.80 to $5.30 and threatened to cut off the supply from one consumer who tendered the lower rate and refused to pay the higher on the ground that, since the law explicitly provides that the charge for water shall be large enough only to create a fund sufficient for the management, maintenance and repairing of the water works plant—as the order and lower rate sufficed to be, the commissioners acted illegally and arbitrarily m increasing the rate. The Washington Star in commenting editorially on the matter, is to the following effect:
By the nature of the pleading in the water rate test case just filed it will be possible for the public to obtain a clear understanding of the situation with regard to the imposition of this tax. The consumer who seeks for an injunction to prevent the stoppage of the water service asks the court to require the commissioners to disclose the amount of the surplus which has been derived from the water rates during the past five years over and above the sums expended. In this way it will be possible to ascertain the true relation between the water rate and the cost of maintaining the service. Upon this depends the reasonableness of the present increase of the rate. If it can be shown that the higher rate is necessary for the actual impounding and delivery of the water served to the consumers there can be no valid objection to its exaction. But if this surplus of income over the actual cost of impounding and delivery is applied to such an item of equipment and construction as the installation of water meters the case then reverts to the question of whether there is statutory authority for the expenditure. Are the commissioners warranted by law in spending the water rate surplus over and above the cost of maintenance upon water meter installation? The community has never heretofore understood this to be the case. Congress has made previous appropriations for water meters, and the prevailing belief in the District is that,this is the approved method of meter equipment. The water consumers of the District hold, with the petitioner now in court, that the new rates are excessive and that this excess is unjustified and unauthorized. A prompt disposal of the matter will prevent embarrassing complications.