"We hose down every part of her body and inspect every part of her body," said
With elephants, hippos and other animals to bathe and care for, the zoo is a major consumer of water. But until last year, it and other city facilities, as well as
Under policies dating back more than a century, and eventually mandated in the 1939 city charter, MLGW was giving away up to
The little-known practice, which became an issue during talks leading to the merger of
A state law requires that utilities charge municipalities "at the rate applicable to other customers taking service under similar conditions." A utility cannot use revenues from some customers to subsidize others.
"Basically, as a result of this, everybody pays their fair share, and no customer subsidizes another," said
After Collins notified the utility board and other officials, the city, its agencies and MCS began getting water bills after
Actual consumption figures, in terms of millions of gallons, were not available.
The cash-strapped city has been able to more than balance the budget hit by arranging for higher payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOTs) from MLGW. The utility had been paying the city a "fairly modest" PILOT payment for its water division, said
PILOTs are intended to compensate local governments for lost taxes on property owned by public entities, such as a municipal utility.
Under the new arrangement, the water division's annual PILOT payment rose from
Collins said MLGW officials, upon notifying city officials about the loss of free water, suggested the higher PILOT as a means of avoiding a budget loss.
"At the same time we brought them the problem, we brought them a solution," Collins said.
But the loss of free water has more of an impact for the newly consolidated
SCS, which began paying for water when it was launched
"We knew this was coming, and we planned accordingly," Everson said.
Another agency feeling budgetary strains from the loss of free water is RDC, which manages riverfront parks and amenities under a contract with the city. The nonprofit agency now must spend
Other factors in the shortfall -- which the
The free water arrangement had dated to at least 1905, Collins said. More than 30 years later, it was written into the city charter.
"The Light, Gas and Water Commissioners shall furnish to the
MLGW officials re-examined the practice after school officials asked whether the consolidated county school system also would be entitled to free water. The utility's attorneys determined that, because the system would no longer oversee just city schools, the answer was no.
The legal staff then discovered the state law, which prohibited the city from getting free water, as well.
"State statute overrules the city charter," Collins said.
The practice had prompted other institutions, including
In recent years, the water division has had "the most challenging" budget issues of MLGW's three divisions, Collins said. For two of the past four years, the division wound up with deficits, including one of
Even with the rate increase,
The free-water policy was not halted to enhance MLGW's budget, Collins said.
"It was done because it was the right and proper thing to do."
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