WSSC already spent $360,000 on consultants who led marketing focus groups, bringing the total amount spent or budgeted to $501,000.
However, utility officials appear to have backed off plans to spend an additional $350,000 on signage after The Washington Post reported last month that WSSC’s board had approved what would become an $850,000 rebranding effort to boost the utility’s “visual identity.” Critics said a public utility with a monopoly should not have to spend money on marketing, particularly as it, like other utilities, continues to raise customers’ rates to replace its aging pipes, pumps and other decaying infrastructure.
At a monthly board meeting Wednesday, WSSC officials said that, as a “clarification,” they never intended to spend $350,000 to install new building signs. Instead, they said, they will replace signs with the new name and logo only as they wear out.
Carla A. Reid, the utility’s general manager, said new signs have always been the “least important” part of the utility’s rebranding plan. She said stationery, uniforms and other items will be replaced only as needed.
“Everything is when we run out,” Reid said. “It’s not buying anything new.”
Board member Howard A. Denis, who represents Montgomery, said he heard criticism from council members in both counties after the July 17 vote to approve the new name and logo. Denis, who was among the four commissioners present who unanimously approved the rebranding plan, said he also found it “very troubling” to read in the Post report that some WSSC employees questioned the spending amid the need to replace failing infrastructure.
“I think it’s important we take a substantial look at this,” Denis said, “and do what we can to reconsider.”
State Del. Marc A. Korman (D-Montgomery), who had written to WSSC to object to the rebranding plan, said he finds it “a little silly” that WSSC officials now say they never planned to install all new signs, after they sought approval for that money last month.
“I welcome the fact that they’re not going to spend any unnecessary money on a useless change,” Korman said. “I just hope they’ve learned they should focus on things their ratepayers care about, which is reliable service, regular billing and non-leaky infrastructure.”