Proposed Water and Wastewater Rate Increase
This Wednesday City Council is going to vote on a proposed water and wastewater rate increase. I plan to vote no. The proposal comes at a very difficult time for many Houstonians who are struggling with unemployment, decreased hours at work, and many other hardships due to COVID-19.
The proposed increase comes after a rate study that looked at whether the existing rates could meet the cost of service and to comply with requirements from state and federal law. The rate also includes the Consent Decree costs, which includes wastewater improvements that the City is required to make over the next 15 years. Additionally, there are many necessary upgrades to the water system that will cost a significant amount of money. This is the result of many years of deferred maintenance to the system.
While this problem was created years ago, we have to deal with it now, but I cannot support increasing rates without first determining if there are areas we can cut or streamline. The water and wastewater system is different from the general fund since it is paid for through usage rates. Cutting in another department would not result in more money to be spent on this; however there could be waste within the department that could be used on resiliency instead. Unlike other departments, there may not be much money that we could reinvest into the system, but every dollar we find would result in less money for everyone to pay each month. While the initial increase would be about $5 per home each month, this is just a starting point, and that number will go up significantly with incremental increases over 5 years. This does not even include the additional annual automatic rate increases that will continue as well.
The City recently received over $600 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds due to COVID-19. After spending the money on the budget shortfall and other necessary items, there will still be a significant amount of money left over. I would like to see some of this money spent on the water and wastewater infrastructure so that we can, at the very least, lower the amount of the increase or stagger the increase to start in a couple of years when the economy recovers from COVID-19.
I spend hours reviewing the budget each year to fight to avoid these increases. I will continue to do everything I can to lower the amount of the increase and to offset the costs especially during these difficult times.