Victoria City Council considers increases in water, sewer fees

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

June 5, 2014 at 1:05 a.m.

Victoria residents could see an increase in their water and sewer bills if the Victoria City Council approves a hike in fees.

The two increases - 25 cents on the base rate for water and sewer and 25 cents per 1,000 gallons - would cost the average residential user $36.05 a month, an increase of $4.25.

It would also result in about $1.1 million for the public works department, said Public Works Director Lynn Short.

Short presented his recommendation Tuesday during the first round of budget workshops.

The second meeting is set for 1 p.m. Friday.

"It's to cover increased maintenance and operations, the standard cost of operating and maintaining the system," Short said.

The increase in fees would cover a budget shortfall of about $1.7 million for his department.

Short said he needs $26.4 million to run the department and maintain the city's street, water and sewer infrastructure.

Fees for water and sewer have not increased since 2012, he said.

Councilman Jeff Bauknight questioned whether the rate increase was necessary or whether some projects can be trimmed.

The proposed rate would leave the department with about a $574,000 cushion.

While the rate could be adjusted to hit the mark exactly, Finance Director Gilbert Reyna said that could present a risk when it comes to outstanding bonds and debt. Water and sewer revenues fluctuate depending on weather. In hot, dry conditions, people use more water, resulting in more water sales.

City Manager Charmelle Garrett said as the public works infrastructure ages, maintenance costs are increasing. The surface water treatment plant came online in 2001.

"We didn't take care of maintenance when we should have on our streets, and we're trying to avoid getting into that situation with our water and sewer lines," she said.

Some council members pushed back, questioning whether a year would cause an interruption.

With increases in property appraisals resulting in higher tax bills for residents, the city is "hitting the taxpayers hard," said Councilwoman Josephine Soliz.

However, Councilman Tom Halepaska said delaying maintenance projects, such as the annual $100,000 sewer line cleaning project, can make things worse.

"You save some money now; that's correct," he said. "But I believe it doesn't save you money in the long run."

Councilman David Hagan said he wants to better understand the consequences of delaying water and sewer maintenance before picking sides.

"We owe it to the public to investigate this very carefully," he said. "How critical are the projects and the consequences of putting them off a year or two?"

Short said that over time, deferring projects such as pipe cleaning can create big problems, including interrupting service or causing overflows where untreated water backs up through manholes. If that were to happen, it could become a state or federal issue involving the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality or the Environmental Protection Agency, he said.

The City Council will decide on this issue before the start of the next fiscal year, Oct. 1.

Environmental Services Director Darryl Lesak also presented his proposed budget, which does not recommend a fee increase for solid waste services.



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