As Philly water department seeks major increase, Clarke proposes new oversight

Municipal water is a monopoly in Philadelphia. There’s just one provider, the city’s water department. Under Philadelphia’s current system, a rate hike is proposed by the water department. After public hearings, a decision on the rate request is made by the water commissioner, the head of the department that proposed the increase in the first place.

The month, after the department asked for a 28.5 percent hike, Philadelphia Council President Darrell Clarke proposed that an independent body review water and sewer rate rates. Clarke said he trusts the current commissioner, but the rate hike brought up questions.

“I think that, conceivably, we can reduce the operations of the water department,” Clarke said. “Therefore, being in a position to reduce the costs, I’m a little concerned that a significant part of the need to increase the rates is based on the conservation measures that we as citizens were asked to do.”

A department representative says the hikes are needed to meet environmental regulations.

Clarke says Philadelphia is the only large city in the country that has no elected or appointed authority reviewing the prices set for water.

“I think it would look better if you had an independent person making that determination,” Clarke says.

Clarke’s proposed change involves changing the City Charter.

Update, March 12, 2012 10:30 a.m.

The Mayor’s Press Secretary, Mark McDonald says the city will certainly take a look at Clarke’s proposal for a change in the current system, but doesn’t yet know the specifics of the council’s proposal consists of.

McDonald notes the proposed increase is over four years, adding that “[T]he proposed rate increases are the lowest among large systems; and PWD continues to have some of the lowest rates in the region for water, wastewater, and stormwater services.”

Clarke introduced legislation on Thursday to insert the following question on November’s ballot:

“Shall The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to allow for the establishment of an independent rate-making body for fixing and regulating water and sewer rates and charges and to prescribe open and transparent processes and procedures for fixing and regulating said rates and charges?”

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