IT is amusing to read the paragraphs that come to our notice week after week expressive of flippant opinion and judgment concerning the value of water-works franchises. One would think all that a town had to do after a difference of opinion regarding rules and regulations between the water company and the town council occurred that the company must at once sell out to the town. If one would stop to think for a few minutes what a franchise means, perhaps rational judgment would prevail. Does any man of common sense think that capital will be invested in an enterprise that at any time may be swept away by vote of the people? Not much.
This common law declares that the legislative power alone can only set aside a franchise, and they cannot do it until it is proven that the provisions of the franchise have been violated. A franchise from the State is valuable because it guarantees the protection of the State. No capital would be invested in railroads, telegraphs, banks, gas companies or water companies if it were possible that the franchises could be dissolved by the vote of the people. It is plain to be seen that a franchise in itself, in order to secure capital invested, must be backed up by legislative authority, which represents the power of the State through the vote of its people.
Under these conditions exclusively can protection be guaranteed. If the people of a community feel that the time has come in their experiences to acquire the franchise of a water-works company, and before the franchise expires, the best thing they can do is to seek to do it without prejudice of opinion. It only creates a cloud of misrepresentation and obscures the view of dispassionate judgment. Meanwhile do not force or attempt to force a water-works company to do what their charter does not compel them to do. It is enough for the municipal authority to be busy in the effort to keep the water company up to the line of its duty according to the provisions of their franchise.
A good many water-works companies need watching. The difficulty among quite a number of city councils is that their watchmen are poor hands at the business.