Harlingen planning to ease burden of water rate hikedfwnewsa | January 11, 2024 | 0 | East Texas News , South Texas News
HARLINGEN — City officials are planning to lessen the burden of higher water rates aimed at helping fund a sewer system overhaul carrying a price tag of more than $100 million.
As part of the project, city commissioners and WaterWorks System board members are applying to the Texas Water Development Board for $2.1 million to fund a survey and inventory of water line material.
During a meeting, officials also appointed a committee charged with proposing water rate hikes.
The committee includes Planning and Zoning Commissioners Nick Consiglio, Jesse Gamez, Adele Clinton-Solis, Wandy Cruz-Velasquez, Sergio Perez, Carlos Sanchez and Luis Villarreal along with contractor Armando Casas.
In a presentation, Dan Jackson with Willdan consulting outlined water rate plans including those charging customers based on their water usage.
“Looking toward the future, I think that most communities are looking toward conservation,” Mayor Norma Sepulveda said during Monday’s meeting, referring to water rate plans which charge customers based on their water usage.
In his presentation, Jackson proposed five years of water rate hikes which would boost residents’ average monthly charge of $41.51, based on 5,000-gallons of water and sewer on a three-fourths-inch meter, by about 11%.
During discussion, Sepulveda suggested the city fund much of the sewer system overhaul to lessen residents’ burden.
“I have a lot of our residents concerned about what’s going to happen and what the future’s going to look like in terms of their water bills,” she told officials. “I would like to find that spot where we could fund as much as possible, as quick as possible, as responsible as possible, with the least impact to the residents.”
Jackson described the city’s water rates as the third lowest in the Rio Grande Valley, coming out to about half of the state average.
“You have done a remarkable job of keeping your rates very low over the last 10 to 20 years,” he told officials.
Now, the city’s current monthly water rate stands at $7.93 on a three-quarter meter, plus $1.65 for an additional 1,000 gallons, while the sewer rate is set at $6.18 on a three-fourths meter, plus $3.66 for an additional 1,000 gallons, with average utility bills charging residents about $644 a year.
Sepulveda said the city’s past officials’ management of the sewer system was forcing the city to take on the project.
“There’s no hiding the fact that we need to do it,” she said, referring to the project. “I wish things would have been done differently in the past so we wouldn’t be where we are. We’ve got to figure out a way to move forward, but how can we do it with the least amount of impact to the residents.”
For years, Tim Skoglund, the WaterWorks System’s general manager, has been planning one of the city’s biggest projects aimed at overhauling the city’s aging sewer system to make room for growth.
To help fund the project, officials are requesting the Water Development Board grant $24 million under the state’s Economically Distressed Areas Program.
In November, Skoglund unveiled a $107 million project aimed at upgrading the sewer system in which pipes are overloading, spurring some sewage overflows.
The project includes the construction of a main “interceptor” pipeline while building a deeper lift station and installing gravity lines to eliminate old lift stations, he said.
While the Water Development Board granted WaterWorks a $10 million low-interest loan in September, the agency’s planning to apply for further funding, Skoglund said.
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