Independent board needed for CSU

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A critical vote is coming on the $1.2 billion Southern Delivery System, and I’m hoping it passes.

Actually, I can hardly imagine it failing.

As a result, Colorado Springs water rates will be going up in the next two years, climbing from an average of $36.86 to $46.24. Additional votes will be needed for additional rate hikes through 2016, but those will come at a later date. In total, we’re talking about rates going up around 70 percent.

None of us like paying more for anything, but I don’t have any serious reservations about the project. In fact, I’m thoroughly convinced SDS will help ensure uninterrupted water supplies to this region in the decades ahead, years that many of us hope will bring new levels of growth and prosperity. (See Colorado Springs Utilities CEO Jerry Forte’s commentary below).

My problem is that the authority that will approve these rate increases will do so quickly, with little muss or fuss, and too little critical thought.

Sure, somebody might wonder whether low-income families or struggling businesses can afford it all, but then the votes will be cast and Colorado Springs Utilities will get the money it needs.

How do I know this?

Because CSU’s board is none other than the Colorado Springs City Council, which, like most such bodies, is preoccupied with growing the city’s tax base.

That’s not a bad concern, per se. But it doesn’t always correspond with protecting the interests of, say, those on fixed incomes or small businesses barely keeping their heads above you know what.

We’re at the start of an interesting civic debate about whether to adopt a strong-mayor form of government. I’d say this would be a good time to also start talking about establishing an independent utility board for Colorado Springs.

Our current set-up lacks adequate checks and balances. It’s too much to expect the council to properly balance the interests of the utility and the ratepayers it serves.

It’s too much to expect the council to intelligently tackle the many municipal issues before it, while also mastering utility issues.

The council doesn’t have the resources nor the time to do both jobs well. A lot of folks would say it can’t do its primary job well, either, but that’s another matter.

Some on the council understand this. That’s why CSU was invited by the council to make a presentation May 19 on its options on this question.

There are about 25 municipal utilities in the U.S. today that, like CSU, provide water, gas, electricity and wasterwater services. The vast majority are overseen by an independent board. CSU should be, too.

Allen Greenberg is the editor of the Colorado Springs Business Journal. Reach him at 719-329-5206 or allen.greenberg@csbj.com