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Trib editorial: PWSA board hikes rates, conflict remains

| Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review

It's business as usual for the board of the deeply indebted, profoundly troubled Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority. It just imposed hikes totaling 56 percent over the next three years on blameless ratepayers but did nothing to resolve its fundamental conflict of interest.

That conflict stems from four board members being on the city payroll and all seven having “direct or indirect ties to the city,” as state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale noted regarding his recent PWSA performance audit. Yet the board unanimously OK'd those rate hikes without acting to resolve that conflict, even with the PWSA's consulting firm recommending — later the same day — that the PWSA be restructured as a nonprofit public trust independent of politics and city government.

The board also did nothing about that conflict's most glaring manifestation: the gusher of free water that benefits 400 city-owned properties under a 1995 agreement — up to 600 million gallons annually, worth at least $6 million a year. Or about the PWSA's continuing inability to enforce a provision allowing it to offset that water's cost if the city uses more than 600 million gallons in a year. That inability stems from PWSA's lack of a complete list of city-owned properties getting free water, 90 percent of which lack water meters.

When more money's needed to fix decades of neglect, the board is quick to soak ratepayers. But ratepayers' interests are far down the list when it comes to correcting the board's obvious conflict. Sadly, that's PWSA business as usual.

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