- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 30, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

It’s budget recalibration time, especially if you’re a senior citizen and on a fixed income.

D.C. renters and millennials who have to pay condo fees, you should pay attention too. And if you own a business or are responsible for D.C. or federal government spending, read along.

Your water bill is going up.

Your gas bill is going up.

And, as if on cue, Pepco filed its request for an electricity rate increase on Thursday.

The Pepco proposal, filed with the D.C. Public Service Commission, calls for a 5.25 percent, across-the-board increase for most of D.C.’s 282,000 residential and nonresidential customers. If approved, it would likely take effect next summer — when HVAC and window-unit air conditioners are on full blast in your home, offices and recreation centers.

The rate proposal also comes amid a virtual green light given for Pepco Holdings Inc. to merge with Chicago-based Exelon, the nation’s largest operator of nuclear power plants. Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey already signed off on the merger. So unless lawsuits tie things up in court, don’t expect D.C. to squawk anymore.

Local elected officials are dancing and making merry like it’s Christmas because of a liberal staple they splayed on the merger table. The staple is called a community benefits agreement, and if you’re unfamiliar with them, they’re the agreements politicians and unions concoct when someone needs back-scratching.

For instance, in the case of the Washington Redskins’ stadium development, the agreement included building a sports and learning facility for, well, the Prince George’s County community.

In the case of Pepco-Exelon, the agreements give credits and other little goodies to customers for the approval of the $6.8 billion merger.

You be the judge of whether such agreements are benign or politically malignant.

In the meantime, here’s a key rub: People on fixed incomes, especially our seniors and aging veterans, are already struggling to make ends meet.

Take the rate increase proposed by Washington Gas, which has about 1.1 million customers in the area, about 157,000 of them in D.C. Well, its 9.6 percent rate increase is scheduled to hit D.C. customers in February — when thermostats are adjusted to stave off brutal winter weather.

Then there’s D.C. Water, which seemingly seeks a rate increase even when people don’t ask “is there lead in the spigot water?” And with people drinking more and more bottled water, it’s becoming curiouser and curiouser by the year why water-rate usage continues to rise — until you dissect the bill and learn it’s not so much your tap, tub or toilet water usage, it’s the cost of Mother Nature’s bountiful liquid and storm water, and trying to clean the Anacostia River. (So we can fish there again.)

There also are meter usage fees, sewage fees, impervious water fees, storm water fees, meter reading fees, etc., etc., etc. Higher residential and nonresidential rate increases take effect in October, and come fall 2017, they bump up again. In real dollars and cents, not even the water authority’s bill gives you the math.

And while seniors and other residents grapple with the higher costs of living in D.C., it’s time to wonder whether the D.C. government is looking at the costs by effectively budgeting and efficiently spending our public dollars.

Bet they’re also using our public dollars to buy government workers and themselves bottled and filtered water.

Time for a look-see.

Have a safe and happy July 4th!

Deborah Simmons can be reached at [email protected]

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