Faced with an uprising of angry citizens, the city council on Tuesday tabled a proposed increase in water and wastewater rates, effectively scuttling a hike that would have started Oct. 1.
The proposed five percent increase would have increased the average in-city customers’ bill from $92.68 to $97.68, a $4.61 increase, and the average out-of-city customer’s bill from $115.88 to $121.66, a $5.79 increase. The proposal followed 10 percent increases in both 2004 and 2005 and a 15 percent increase in 2003.
“It’s not that we don’t have a good long-range plan — we have one that I think is probably the envy of many cities — but what I’m looking at right now as we’re going into very difficult times is that we should defer part of this, pull it a little further back into the horizon,” said resident Darrell Piersol in some of the evening’s more restrained remarks from utility customers.
Council members voted 5-1 to table the rate ordinance with lone dissenter John Thomaides saying he wanted to vote it down outright. Council member Daniel Guerrero was absent.
In putting the proposed increase on ice, council members deferred significant issues about the utility’s direction, specifically whether to use savings to replace revenue that would have been realized from the increase or to pare down $61 million in capital improvement projects and a regional partnership that seeks to secure future water supplies from the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer to the east.
Even without the increase, the city’s water and wastewater rates are higher than most other Texas cities in part because San Marcos gets the majority of its supply from Canyon Lake, not the Edwards Aquifer like its neighbors.
“We didn’t get to this point overnight,” City Manager Rick Menchaca said.
The council is already committed to buying 5,000 additional acre-feet of water from the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority starting in April 2009 and to taking a lead role in the Hays-Caldwell Public Utility Agency. Those expenses drove the proposed increase this time as well as yearly projected increases averaging 3.4 percent for water and 6.7 percent for wastewater through fiscal year 2015.
The public outcry over proposed increases presents an opportunity to evaluate factors that contribute to steep rates, Mayor Susan Narvaiz said.
“There is a 20 year history of these policies that have put us on this path. We happen to be the ones that deal with it today but it’s a chance for us to see what has changed in 20 years and what the future may bring and decide where we go from there,” Narvaiz said.