City Hall — Ready to Rumble


June 16, 2005

In lashing out at legislators who appear ready to change the makeup of the Birmingham Water Works Board, Mayor Bernard Kincaid may have kicked up more sand than rate-payers are prepared to swallow. Drawing lines in the regional sandbox that purchases water from the Birmingham system, Kincaid compared the plans of five Jefferson County state lawmakers to actions on par with “Jesse James.” The legislators—Jabbo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills; John Rogers, D-Birmingham; Eric Major, D-Fairfield; Jack Biddle, R-Gardendale; and Steve French, R-Mountain Brook—want to make the Water Works a regionally controlled entity. They insist that the board be expanded to include a more comprehensive representation of the area. Approximately 25 percent of the state uses Birmingham water.

The Mayor angrily dared surrounding municipalities to start their own systems if they didn’t want to purchase water from Birmingham. Apparently intent on taking jabs at every side, he then compared the contentious Water Works Board—whose outrageous salaries and unbridled rate increases have sparked outrage—to children. The Water Works Board voted unanimously on May 26 to increase rates by 6.5 percent, beginning July 1. Controversy has ensued, as the board claims rate increases are necessary because less water is being used. Several years ago, the board wanted to boost rates because too much water was consumed. Future rate increases are projected for January 2006 (8.75 percent) and January 2007 (7.75 percent).

“I think it’s absolutely ridiculous to have two executives making $186,000 . . . Board members who are supposed to be providing public service are being paid for telephone meetings. Or to go and cut a ribbon and be paid. That’s ridiculous!” Kincaid thundered at a press conference following the June 7 City Council meeting. “You might have a sick child, and because you have a sick child, that’s of benefit to a lot of the community, you can’t have outsiders just coming in taking that child. And so you have to discipline the child, if it’s yours, to the extent that you can. The discipline is the tether that the City Council holds with respect to board appointments.” (Kincaid couldn’t resist taking a shot at the Council, either. Referring to the appointment process as “a circus,” he criticized them for not being able to get behind one candidate to put on the board.) The Mayor added, “You don’t go to the Galleria and tell them that you’re going to take over because you don’t like what they are charging. You might negotiate with the owners and try to see if you can get some concessions made on what’s being charged. But you don’t Jesse James the enterprise.”

“Anyone who thinks that they can take the Birmingham Water Works from the control of the city of Birmingham is sadly mistaken if they think they can do it without one heck of a fight,” Kincaid told councilors. “If the Galleria is based in Hoover and the majority of people that come and purchase from the Galleria live outside the city of Hoover, do you think it’s right all of a sudden for the Galleria to be divvied up among the people who shop there? The same thing pertains with the Water Works of the city of Birmingham. It’s ours! If individual entities outside of the city decide that they want water, and they don’t want to get it from Birmingham, they can start their own systems. But when they purchase from us, they do it because we have some of the best water in the country . . . . We are a provider. Individuals who get water from us are consumers. But it gives them no right for management, it give them no right for ownership. It’s ours.” As Kincaid concluded his call-to-arms, Councilor Carole Smitherman practically shouted, “Let’s get ready to rumble! Let’s get it on!”

From his bully pulpit, Kincaid may view himself as simply kicking sand back in the faces of local state legislators who dare to challenge Birmingham’s control of water. But if he’s not able to wrestle the Water Works into submission as a city department, as he tried several years ago, the Mayor may find his constituents choking to death when the suburbs start their own water system. With fewer rate-payers, Birmingham water may eventually become a little too expensive to drink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>