After months of debate, hand-wringing and dire warnings, the parish council approved a water rate increase that will substantially tax heavy users.
By a vote of 8-1, the council passed a $25 million upgrade to water system on the east and west bank. Councilman Ganesier "Ram" Ramchandran was the lone hold out against the measure.
Consumers using between 6,000 to 10,000 gallons a month will pay $4 per 1000 gallons, and users over 10,000 gallons will pay $4.30 per 1000 gallons. The original base for these users was $2.22 per 1000 gallons. Residents using 6,000 gallons a month will see no increase to their bill. Over 60 percent of parish users fall into 6,000 or less category.
Footing the bill will be large consumers of water such as business and industry.
It was exactly this notion that upset one member: "Let us not tax the industry and drive them out of the parish," said Ramchandran, warning that industry should not shoulder the increase alone. He added that small business owners -- not just large industry -- will also be greatly affected by the increase.
Although industry stands to pay thousands more in water bills, the largest users of the parish, such as Valero and Entergy, have remained silent on the water rate increase.
Speaking on behalf of business and industry, Chair of Public Policy for the River Region Chamber of Commerce Henry Friloux supported the overall upgrade, saying that St. Charles Parish needs the upgrade to grow properly. However, he felt that a rate increase should be spread evenly over all consumers, not just the heavy users.
"Fear is ruling the day," said Ramchandran, commenting on the dire projections by the Department of Waterworks that the east bank C Plant's failure is imminent. Instead of the large upgrade, Ramchandran proposed only doing the $2.5 million emergency connection of the east and west bank underneath the Mississippi River, using the money from the general fund to pay for the project. Ramchandran said that the council was taking the easy way out by putting the rate increase on the backs of industry.
Councilman Lance Marino retorted to Ramchandran: "The best way to do it is in this manner," adding, "I think it is fear, or being part of an unpopular decision, on your part. So it's easier to let us do the heavy lifting, and then you can say you didn't support it.”
The most pressing parts of the upgrade are the Mississippi River crossing -- which would sustain the east bank if C Plant were to fail -- and east bank water treatment plant. Projected completion for the crossing is this July, and the east bank treatment plant is projected to finish in May 2008.