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TACOMA: Resist putting utilities under council control

Letter by Mike Crowley, Tacoma on Feb. 19, 2014 at 1:28 pm | No Comments »
February 19, 2014 1:31 pm

John Ladenburg (letter, 2-13) and Bill Baarsma (letter, 2-13) raised different criticisms of The News Tribune’s editorial, “Coming soon: Raid on Tacoma utilities” (2-11).

Ladenburg suggested that an autonomous utility is dangerous due to its history of expansionist policies and hiding issues from the Tacoma City Council.

During the energy crisis of 2000-2001, Tacoma Public Utilities needed to significantly raise rates to prevent insolvency. Under the city charter, rate increases proposed by the utility board need the approval of the City Council.

As a member of the City Council during that period, approving the 50 percent increase was one of the hardest votes I had to take. I knew it would be not only unpopular but devastating to some ratepayers. But it was the prudent decision, sparing ratepayers in the long run.

For political reasons, I don’t think our council or any council would have made such a drastic proposal on its own.

Baarsma suggested that it may be early to take a stand. On the contrary. I predict there will indeed be a reckless recommendation from the Charter Review Committee to bring the utilities under total control of general government and the City Council “as surely as the tide rises on the shores of Commencement Bay.” I also predict there will be a recommendation for a strong-mayor form of government — another bad idea with grave implications.

The current system works fine, but it appears the Charter Review Committee already has a strong mayor, which may lead to disastrous results for the utility and the city.

(Crowley is a former Tacoma mayor.)

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