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Single bill is better.

Byline: The Register-Guard

The Eugene Water & Electric Board is feeling a bit like a prospector's mule: It carries the load, while the miner gets the gold. The utility board voted unanimously Tuesday to refuse to collect the city of Eugene's new transportation fee, complaining that EWEB would be the target of public ill-will while the city would replenish its road fund. The board should not lose sight of the fact that it and the city serve the same people.

EWEB is understandably reluctant to do anything that would result in its customers writing bigger checks each month. Electric rates have climbed steeply over the past two years, and further increases may be on the way. EWEB already collects sewer and stormwater fees for the city of Eugene, adding to the apparent cost of the water and power services that the utility provides. The board's concerns that some customers would blame EWEB for the transportation fee, or would think that their power rates had gone up again, are well-grounded.

Yet EWEB is uniquely well-positioned to do the type of billing that the city needs. It sends a monthly bill to every household in its service territory - which includes every household in Eugene. By piggybacking on those mailings to bill city residents for per-household charges, the city can save the cost of printing and postage.

EWEB is not performing an act of charity for the city. Eugene pays the utility $750,000 a year for billing, collecting and processing the sewer and stormwater fees. After Tuesday's vote, the city may investigate the possibility of taking its billing business elsewhere. Utility board members indicated that such a parting would cause no sorrow at EWEB headquarters.

But EWEB ought to help the city, and vice versa, whenever efficiencies and savings can be achieved - even if the result creates public relations problems for one entity or the other. Though EWEB has a high degree of independence - including, apparently, the right to decline to act as the billing agent for the city transportation fee - the jurisdictional lines between the municipal government and the municipal utility should not prevent either from putting the public interest first.

Utility board members may doubt that the transportation fee is in the public interest. But deciding that question is the City Council's job. Now that the council has made its decision, EWEB should be ready to do what it can to make fee collection simple and efficient. Certainly the utility should not act in a way that would threaten to obstruct the council, or result in increased costs to city residents.

EWEB has a well-staffed communications department that should be capable of explaining to ratepayers the difference between utility charges and other fees. The separate purposes of each line item on a utility bill can be clearly spelled out in a way that leaves no doubt about which government authority is responsible for each. But there's no reason for two or more separate mailings when one can do the job.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:EWEB balks at collecting city road fee; Editorials
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jan 25, 2003
Words:499
Previous Article:Letters in the Editor's Mailbag.
Next Article:In defense of diversity.


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