Packages will occasionally appear on my front porch (addressed to my lovely girlfriend) from various clothing and shoe companies that sell goods online. When I ask my girlfriend about the costs of these apparently important pieces of merchandise, she will give a tortured explanation of how much money the household has saved because of a sale, a special or some magical event that resulted in a markdown. So, instead of having me worry about money actually being spent, she tries to trick me into focusing on perceived savings instead.

During the city’s budgeting process, local politicians tried this same trick on voters while explaining the need to raise utility rates. What customers who live paycheck-to-paycheck actually spend on these utilities, and where that extra cash is supposed to come from, wasn’t prominently featured in these discussions. Instead, the focus was put on how this would allow the city to continue to provide utility services and cut property taxes. The prospect of low taxes and government efficiency was supposed to trick the community, so no specific questions would be asked about how a raise in utility rates might affect poor people in Chanute. The budget ended up passing with little outright protest, so apparently this worked.

Chanute is not the only community in our state trying this kind of economic trick that wives have been playing on husbands for centuries. Other nearby cities like Moran and Parsons have approved a hike in utility costs as part of their budgets, with similar rationale. Even big energy companies like Atmos Energy are leaving higher gas rates on the front porches of their 130,000 customers, trying to distract them with tales of all of the capital improvements this will allow that corporation to make. It may comfort local residents who are going to be struggling to pay their utility bills that they won’t be the only people in this state who are facing such an issue.

Costs that consumers have to pay for such services are going to have to go up occasionally, and many of the reasons for those increases are beyond the city’s control. There are new federal environmental regulations that will apparently stop the climate from changing, save all the polar bears, and make Al Gore seem relevant. While those are all seemingly worthy causes, the cost increases that happen as a result ultimately get passed on to consumers.

Since utilities are not a discretionary expense, plenty of Chanute residents end up paying an outsized portion of their limited budgets to have heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer. Many people in this situation have fewer dollars to pay for these necessities than they used to, and many of the resources that have been set up to help them in this state have been slashed by our current Governor.

This should have been taken into consideration by anyone advocating an increase in the utility rates paid by consumers who are already struggling to survive financially. Many utility customers in this community are single parents and senior citizens on fixed incomes, who are already barely able to keep food on the table. If we have a particularly bitter winter season, how are these residents supposed to keep their homes warm?

Since the hike in utility rates has already been approved as part of the city’s budget, it is too late for anyone in a position of power in this city to explore these kinds of issues. My suggestion would be that if individuals and groups in this community are looking for a good philanthropic cause to which they could donate money, maybe they could help people pay these higher utility bills. It seems like such an effort would be a good way to help the city and its residents.

Either that, or some charitable individual or group could generously offer to pay for my girlfriend’s shopping.

Please send all questions, comments, hate mail, marriage proposals, and offers to help people pay their utility bills to brian@chanute.com.

Recommended for you

Load comments