David Cox Declares a Water War

By Brent Woodcox

Recently, a controversy has developed over a plan to increase water rates in the city of Raleigh.

Never one to waste a good crisis, Raleigh District B City Councilor David Cox jumped on the opportunity to blame "growth" for the need to increase water rates.

First off, I think it is actually good that Councilor Cox is thinking about the effects of five straight years of water rate increases and property tax increases on working class families living in Raleigh. Of course, all of the previous annual increases to the monthly bills of Raleigh citizens have been supported by Cox, but better late than never when considering the pocket book issues that define day to day to life for most of the people that live in our city. Still, I feel this post deserves a thorough fact check because it's a just a little too convenient for him to suddenly care about water rate increases when he has done anything but that in the past.

The main reason for these rate increases has been and continues to be funding replacement of existing pipes with pipes of better material and larger diameters. These better pipes allow developers to build larger buildings that place greater demands on water and sewer.

Here's where the councilor first goes off the rails. Do larger buildings really place greater demands on water and sewer? I guess the answers depends on the alternative. In other words, I ask, "Compared to what?" Does a 200 unit apartment complex demand more water infrastructure than one single family home? Of course it does. But does one 200 unit apartment complex demand more water infrastructure than a new single family neighborhood with 100 homes built on the edge of city limits? No, it does not.

To place the blame on large buildings for water infrastructure needs is to ignore policy choices made by Councilor Cox and some of his colleagues on city council that shape the current patterns of development taking place in Raleigh which encourage and subsidize sprawl while discouraging and devaluing density. This choice costs taxpayers and water rate payers more each month, exacerbates our problems when it comes to housing affordability and degrades our environment. These are not the values shared by a majority of Raleigh residents.

This isn't just my opinion. Previous studies have shown this to be true.

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In effect, you are paying in large part for Raleigh’s growth benefiting developers. In my view, it is not fair for current residents to be footing so much of the bill for growth.

Again, this is just flatly untrue. Current residents don't pay for growth. We pay for infrastructure. Once new rate payers are added, they foot the bill alongside current rate payers. If we build more dense development, we can achieve cost savings. If we encourage sprawl, it costs us more. 

63 people are being added to Wake County's population everyday. They have to live somewhere. Many of them have to work somewhere. Many of them have children who have to go to school somewhere. We can either develop the city in a smart, efficient way that will save our citizens money and have a lighter environmental footprint or we can go the other way. 

It's clear that Councilor Cox has another idea. If we don't build needed infrastructure to allow the city to grow then it will discourage and ultimately slow growth. I don't want to short change this point.

This idea is immoral.

To refuse to build the infrastructure that will allow new residents moving here from someplace more expensive to have access to housing opportunity in our community is immoral. To fall short on our responsibility to encourage the infrastructure needed to lead to job creation when there are so many in our community still in need of work is immoral. To shirk our duty to our children to build the systems needed to put them in a quality learning environment is immoral.

Raleigh should be a city of opportunity. A city that is welcoming to all. David Cox doesn't want that. His philosophy is essentially, "I've got mine and I don't care about anyone who is coming behind me." We should reject this philosophy as inadequate for the Raleigh that we want to build for current and future residents.

So, for the 2019 budget, I am asking that the pace of pipe replacement be held to current levels in order to avoid a rate increase. What exactly does this mean? Prior to 2018 the City replaced about 14 miles of pipes per year. In 2018 the rate of replacement was increased to 17 miles of pipes per year (a 21% increase)

But the proposed rate of replacement for 2019 is proposed to grow to 24 miles of pipes per year. My request is to keep the level of pipe replacement to 2018 levels and take the next year to evaluate our cost structure and how how costs are shared between residential and non-residential consumers.

I don't know any other way to express this. This is hare-brained. Instead of listening to experts in the field, engineers, and just generally people who know a lot more about infrastructure building than David Cox, he wants to set an arbitrary level of pipe replacement to suit his preferences. Councilor Cox is not an engineer. He does not have formal training on what it takes to build infrastructure to serve the needs of a city. He's just a guy with an opinion.

We're supporting too much dumb government in the city of Raleigh. We're propping up anti-intellectualism. We're enabling political opportunism to win out over legitimate expertise.

Ignoring our infrastructure won't save us money. But it will cost us more down the line when over strained pipes and aging infrastructure crumbles and fails leading to water and sewer problems in our neighborhoods and on our roads. An event that is far too common even at current replacement levels.

Would I like to save a few bucks on my water bill every month? Sure, I would. But setting an arbitrary policy to ignore infrastructure needs in a misguided effort to stifle growth in Raleigh is not the way to do it.

The call to refuse to build the infrastructure that Raleigh will need to take us into the future is immoral. The reasoning for placing the blame on growth for water rate increases is dishonest. The close minded philosophy of trying to shelter Raleigh from the change that accompanies success and growth is wrong.

We should grow wisely and well. That means rejecting David Cox's ideas.

Brent Woodcox