We live in a divided world, in a community parceled by city borders and intersected by a river, but there’s one thing I think we can all agree upon.
We all pretty much hate Mediacom.
The absurdly high rates, the service outages, and the fact that most of us have little to no choice but to pay for them churns up a particularly virulent disgust towards the company.
But, again, we have no choice, because they’re basically a monopoly, and until another viable alternative arrives, we’re pretty much screwed in dealing with them.
That’s especially annoying because they’re delivering Internet service, which is, in our modern world, a necessity. We need it to work, to communicate, for our kids’ schooling. And so we have to pay for it. And, in fact, we’ve been paying for it, and dealing with paying for it for so long that we all seem to forget that the Internet SHOULD be a public utility. It SHOULD be something that we get at a much more discounted rate, with service and price being dictated by elected representatives, because it should belong to the public. The Internet’s creation and expansion was something we all paid for with our tax dollars prior to it being privatized and sold to soulless corporate demons.
I want you to think of that, Rock Island residents, think of your hatred of Mediacom, think of your annoyance with their service, think about your frustration with their absurdly high rates, and then remember that that’s only for Internet and cable.
Now imagine that same frustration, those same constantly chucked up rates, that same inconsistent service, but for something you really need, that you really, literally, cannot live without — water.
Would you really want Mediacom running your water and sewer?
Would you really want your water and sewer to be treated like that?
Would you really want to have to deal with that?
If the answer is no, then you should definitely let all the City of Rock Island officials, Mayor Mike Thoms and the city’s alderpeople, know that you don’t want them to sell off YOUR water, that YOUR tax dollars paid for, to American Water, a private, for-profit company.
They’re going to be talking about that at tomorrow’s city council meeting. Prior to public comments, American Water is going to be making a presentation pitch to the council which they’ll study beginning at 5:30, after which, at 6:45, the public is allowed to have their say during the council meeting.
Now, before you think I’m some dirty, commie, anti-capitalist hippie about this, let me just say that I would be perfectly fine if the city or another government entity decided to make money by selling off something which didn’t impact our lives in a negative way by its sale. The county courthouse, for example. I’ve definitely been in favor of the sale of that to a private individual or company and I’ve written in favor of it a number of times. Make some money off it, let them create a business for the downtown. Or, if say, Modern Woodmen wanted to buy the naming rights to Schwiebert Park right next door to them, and call it Modern Woodmen Outdoor Park or whatever, fine with me. That’s reasonable, and it doesn’t impact a vital human service, particularly one as crucial as water.
But selling the water utility? It’s a horrible idea, short-sighted and slack-brained.
Why? Well, let’s look at some of the various reasons why that would be a bad idea.
For one thing, once it’s sold, it’s gone, and while that big chunk of money up front might look enticing to the city, it’s not worth it in the big picture considering that the cost of that is going to mean that city residents are going to get screwed with higher costs to a necessary service. Whatever American Water pays, they’re going to want to get back, and who’s going to end up paying for them to recoup their costs? Not the city, but YOU! Want to keep looking at your water bill every six months, every year, and seeing the rates keep going up, up, up, up? I don’t.
You see, as long as the city controls the water system, your bill will be much lower. That’s because the city is not a for-profit entity that constantly needs to goose its rates to satisfy shareholders. It’s run by elected officials who have to answer to YOU. You elect them as your representatives, which means they are supposed to represent your wishes. I know it’s an archaic idea that politicians are actually supposed to represent the wishes of the people that vote them in, but it’s one which is much more easily enforced on a local level, where it’s easier to vote out people who don’t do that. If politicians keep needlessly raising your costs, you can elect in other politicians who won’t. If a company keeps raising your bill, can you elect in another company? No, you cannot, if they have a monopoly, which American Water will have.
If the water and sewer is sold to American Water, you know who you’re going to be complaining to? That’s right, a robot you’ll have to go through by pressing one or two or eight or whatever, until you get frustrated and hang up, and go back to just complaining and paying whatever they want you to pay anyway. Which is why they do that, not just to save costs of manning the phones with actual human beings, but to frustrate you into not doing anything and just complying. Do you want to deal with that kind of customer disservice for your water and sewer? Neither do I.
An abundance of data from across the United States shows that privatization of public utilities has been a horror show for consumers. Private citizens are constantly getting screwed when their utilities are bought up by monolithic corporations which don’t care about you, and only care about squeezing money out of you. You end up with bigger bills, horrible customer service, fewer jobs, and poorer quality of water because unlike government entities, they’re not held to the same accountability, nor the same transparency, which means they can cover it up.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is the largest trade union of public employees in the United States. AFSCME 31 represents Rock Island, and helpfully presents the following data on their website:
“According to one study of ten Illinois communities which sold their water systems to American Water’s Illinois subsidiary, water rates more than doubled on average over a ten-year period. This corresponds to an extra $405 on the typical annual water bill of a household using 72,000 gallons of water a year. In comparison, national surveys have found that water and sewer bills typically increase by about 5 percent a year. That means that customers of these privatized systems are seeing their water rates grow 260 percent faster than usual.
“In many cases private control of water systems has resulted in worse drinking water quality. For example, Pittsburgh’s water quality violations followed a chemical treatment change that occurred after the city hired a large multinational firm to provide management and consulting services to the city.
“Private operators’ profits are directly tied to cutting jobs and reducing benefits to employees. Water privatization results in the loss of 1 in 3 jobs, according to Food and Water Watch, and will jeopardize retirement security for Rock Island workers as employees lose access to the public pension system.”
Sounds terrific, huh?
In fact, sounds like the same kind of horrible crap we have to deal with regarding other monopolies in the area, like the aforementioned Mediacom.
Again, do you want to deal with that in regard to your WATER?
So let’s let the Mayor and the Alderpeople voting on this know that we don’t want them to sell our water.
Here’s the Mayor’s number: (309) 732-2012, and his Fax: (309) 732-2055, and his e-mail, [email protected]
First Ward Alderman, Moses Robinson Jr. can be contacted at (309) 737-1081, or via e-mail at [email protected]
Second Ward Alderman, Randy Hurt, can be called at (309) 737-3178, or e-mailed at [email protected]
Third Ward Alderwoman Judith Higgins Gilbert can be reached at (309) 429-0914, or e-mailed at Gilbert. [email protected]
Fourth Ward Alderwoman Jenni Swanson, can be reached at (309) 781-4877, and [email protected]
Fifth Ward Alderman Dylan Parker, can be reached at (563) 940-6073, and [email protected]
Sixth Ward Alderman Mark Poulos can be reached at (309) 737-9883, and [email protected]
Seventh Ward Alderman David Geenen can be reached at (309) 912-6925, and [email protected]
If you want to show up for the City Council meeting, get there by 6:30 or so Monday night, as they open the doors to the public at 6:45, and it’s at 1528 Third Ave., Rock Island.
The general number to the city if you want to leave them a message or send a fax is Phone: (309) 732-2000, Fax: (309) 732-2055.
Let them know you don’t want the city to sell YOUR water.
Let them know you don’t want your water and sewer service to turn into a mess of a monopoly, with your bills constantly rising and your service constantly declining.
Let them know you want them to do the right thing, and to keep Rock Island water and sewer owned by the people of Rock Island.
Sean Leary is an author, director, artist, musician, producer and entrepreneur who has been writing professionally since debuting at age 11 in the pages of the Comics Buyers Guide. An honors graduate of the University of Southern California masters program, he has written over 50 books including the best-sellers The Arimathean, Every Number is Lucky to Someone and We Are All Characters.