Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

WATER RATES; Involve Customers

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

WATER RATES; Involve Customers

Article excerpt

It's likely that JEA water and sewer customers will be seeing rate increases this fall.

In short, revenues are down and expenses are up.

It's not entirely due to existing customers using less water. Building permits have slowed to a trickle. And the expenses connected with complying with new pollution control regulations are piling up.

Therefore, it is essential that JEA handle this with as much sensitivity for its customers as possible.

It's never a good time for a rate increase, but in this troubling economy, it's even worse.

So here are some suggestions.

The routine: Hold a rate hearing, then immediately pass the proposed rates from staff. That gives the impression customer comments were not taken seriously. The tendency is to make a pronouncement from on high, then try to sell it to the customers.

Better idea: Look for ways to make customer suggestions part of the proposal. For instance, the Duval County public schools held a series of public forums that involved parents in the tough decisions of closing schools. Make customers your partner; make them feel empowered. Set up groups of customer advisory councils on a regional basis, much like the city government and Sheriff's Office has done.

The routine: Hold a single public hearing at the JEA building during the day.

Better idea: Hold a series of public hearings throughout the county - at least four - at night and in easily accessible places with lots of parking. They would not only be informational, but it should be clear that some suggestions will be taken seriously and efforts will be made to implement them.

The routine: Hire a firm to place vague, general messages about conservation.

Better idea: Make all of this information clear on the JEA Web site, which could use a lot more pizzazz and reader involvement. Inform customers by detailing where all the revenue shortfalls are and the major increases in expenses. …

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