FLETCHER: Mrs. Marshall speaks out against utility fees

Opinion column

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

I got little in this world. I give honestly without regret.

— Simon and Garfunkel

Mrs. Louie A. Moore Marshall may not be able to dance the way she and her beloved late husband John used to — she is, after all, 87 now — but no one can question the sharpness of her mind.

So when we meet at her lovely Southwest Albany home to talk about the new stormwater utility fee that’s coming to the city soon, I get the program right away.

“I don’t want you to use my name because I don’t like publicity,” the former educator and Albany State University employee told me. “But if you say you have to, be sure and spell my name right: That’s Louie, like the man’s name. I was named for my uncle. A lot of people will see that I’m a lady and try to make it Louise. And that’s capital ‘A’ period, with my maiden name, Moore, and my married name, Marshall. No hyphen. And I expect the correct courtesy title in front of it: That’s Mrs. — M-R-S period — not Ms.”

I start to tell Mrs. Marshall that we don’t use courtesy titles at The Herald, but after spending an hour or so talking with this fascinating treasure of a woman, there’s no way I’m going to contradict her.

As evidence of her organizational skills, which become vital when we start talking about the fee that will be used to create a federally-mandated stormwater program in Albany starting next year, Mrs. Marshall shows me some of the files she’s meticulously kept over the years. And while you may think you’ve done a pretty good job of keeping up with the minutiae that marks your life, I’d be willing to bet a month of paychecks (don’t get excited, that’s not much) that you can’t hold a candle to Mrs. Marshall.

“Here’s every check I’ve written since 1944,” she says, opening a drawer to a filing cabinet. “I know people say keep them three years and shred them, but I’m not shredding anything. And in these drawers I have all the income tax forms I’ve ever filed.”

There’s more, plenty more. Mrs. Marshall’s various collections, which are neatly arranged for easy access, include recipes, scrapbooks for individual family members, record albums, insurance records, books she’s read and papers she’s written over the years. There’s also a neatly stacked collection of canned goods that she donates to various food banks.

So when we get down to discussing the pending stormwater fee, I’m all ears.

“Look right here,” she says, opening a notebook that has a record of every Water, Gas & Light Commission bill she’s paid since she moved into her home in 1974. “Right here, on May 28, 1976, Water, Gas & Light started charging a $3.60 sewer fee. They told us that was going to be for three years, to help pay for the work they were doing, and here it is 2013 and we’re still paying that fee, only it’s much larger now.

“And you said in your article (about the stormwater program) that they’re going to start charging us another fee? They’re just raising all these bills we have to pay to pay for those big salary raises they’re getting. That’s well and good for them, but what about us folks who are on fixed income? Don’t they consider us?”

Mrs. Marshall’s not through.

“I want you to look right here,” she says, pointing out charges on recent WG&L bills for sewer and security lighting. “In May of 2013, the cost for security lights went up from $12 to $16. And in April of 2013, our sewer charge went from $15.82 to $20.33. Now they think they can sneak something like that by folks, but they’re not getting it by me.”

Oh, and any official thinking of challenging Mrs. Marshall’s record-keeping, be forewarned: She keeps a spread sheet that includes the number of the check she wrote to pay her bill, the number of days in the billing cycle, past month’s and most recent meter readings, water charges, taxes, garbage charges, security light charges, sewer charges and electrical charges.

All the way back to Aug. 23, 1974.

As she airs her concerns on behalf of elderly WG&L customers living on fixed incomes, Mrs. Marshall’s dander gets up.

“I look at that picture there in The Herald of all them folks sitting in there eating that fancy meal that we paid for,” she said, indicating a lunch served Tuesday to Albany City Commissioners and members of the area’s state legislative delegation. “What does that say to all those folks out there who can’t even afford to eat? These people are supposed to be serving us.”

I take my leave after a visit that, while serving its purpose of drawing attention to one person’s concerns about city utility fees, ends up being a whole lot more. I drive away feeling an admiration that I reserve for very special people. And I laugh to myself as I remember Mrs. Louie A. Moore Marshall’s words after she shows me her records:

“Now, you tell them whippersnappers down their to try and dispute me,” she said defiantly. “There it is, right there in writing.”

And it is, right down to the tiniest detail.