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Heart of the Matter
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Contestants, the answer is: Water fodder

What is the Consumer Confidence Report 2003?

Right! You win a copy of the home game. (Not really)

There is an excellent probability though you did recently receive a very slick, professional-looking brochure from Pinellas County Utilities. It has a nice photograph on the cover of a woman and young girl glancing at a big glass of water – presumably a glass of crystal clear, good tasting H2O – the kind we hope comes out when we turn on the tap.

There also is a pretty good chance if you took the time to flip through the colorful publication you asked the same question I did, or at least it crossed your mind.

“How much did this thing cost?”

Actually, from there, my thought process went to, “What a waste of money. For what? So that we can feel confident that in the midst of all the fluoride brouhaha, our tap water is a ‘clean, quality product?’”

So, I picked up the phone to get some answers. Carla Mitchell, senior public relations specialist for Pinellas County Utilities, answered. It was not all that surprising to find she was prepared. The utility must have been prepared to hear from their customers who get more than a little fed up with rate increases, and view a fancy-schmancy brochure as just adding insult to injury.

Other customers had been calling, Mitchell told me.

Back to the cost.

Pinellas County Utilities printed 115,000 copies of the report and mailed out 104,415 of them. The cost per piece, including mailing, was 65 cents. The overall bill we, as customers, footed for the project was $71,290 plus change.

Eleven printing companies bid on the project. A company called Pride got the job for low bid of $39,686.

Turns out the federal Environmental Protection Agency and Florida Department of Environmental Protection require water suppliers to let their customers know about the quality of the water they provide.

That’s fine. In fact, it’s good to know – well, except for the part on page 7 revealing that twice last year Pinellas County Utilities experienced maximum contaminant level violations for fecal coliforms and E-coli bacteria, which “may be” blamed on human or animal waste.

Yuk! My consumer confidence took a big hit.

But, not to worry, stuff like a polyphosphate inhibitor, chloramines and sodium hydroxide are added to enhance the groundwater with which we eventually quench our thirst. Bottoms up!

Parts of the brochure are sort of interesting, but the fact remains that not all of the stuff included in this $71,290 project was required – nor necessary.

For instance, on page 17 (under the vellum transparent paper) is a list of all the awards the water company’s public relations department has won. Maybe they’ll win another one for this project. I propose a toast!

I suppose Mitchell and the other PR folks are only doing what is expected of them by putting this brochure together every year. Still, it sure would be refreshing if saving customers money was a similarly high company priority. That would go a long way toward building consumer confidence.

The information could just as easily have been tucked into our bill.

Nothing fancy. Just the facts. Clean and clear.

The way we like our water to be.
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