City customers will pay more for water

Most Liberty Hill water customers will see a $6-$11 per month increase on their water bills starting next month.

The City Council voted 3-2 during a special meeting Tuesday to adopt an ordinance that included a water rate hike.

City Manager Manuel De La Rosa said the new rate structure is needed because the 40-year-old system that the City acquired from the Liberty Hill Water Supply Corp. “is not paying for itself.

“We need this rate increase just to maintain operations,” De La Rosa said. “We aren’t collecting enough fees to maintain the system and it is operating at a loss.”

Under the new rate structure, the monthly minimum rates will increase by 19 percent. Customers will be billed based on their meter size plus the amount of water used.

For residential and commercial customers with a 5/8 x 3/4-inch meter, which is the most common size, the monthly minimum charge increases from $25 to $29.75.

For water usage, customers will pay $3.90 per 1,000 gallons for 1-10,000 gallons — a 20 percent increase over the current $3.25. Usage in the 10,001-20,000 gallon range will cost $6.50 per 1,000 gallons — a 30 percent increase over the current price of $5. Customers who use 20,000 gallons or more will pay $8.40 per 1,000 gallons — a 40 percent increase over the current $6 per 1,000 gallons.

City officials say most customers use less than 10,000 gallons of water per month and have the smallest meter, increasing the average bill by less than $11 per month.

Voting for the rate increase were Council members Jack Harkrider, Charles Canady and Lisa Kirk. Voting no were Mike Crane and Byron Tippie.

Mrs. Kirk first attempted to abstain from voting, but De La Rosa said she had reported no conflict of interest, therefore she should cast a vote. Her vote prevented a tie.

Tippie told The Independent that the rate hike would mean his water bills would increase by about 16 percent. He said a typical water bill cost him about $110 per month.

“That (percentage increase) isn’t all that much, but neither is my salary,” he said.

Prior to Tuesday’s vote, De La

Rosa told The Independent that the Council knew for some time that he would be recommending a rate increase because the water system is operating at a loss, and is in need of improvements. The system does not have the water supply to attract new and larger businesses to the community, he said.

“This system is 40 years old. And in that 40 years, only repairs were made,” he said. “It’s been 10 years since a well was drilled, and there was not a lot of investment in maintaining or upgrading the system. We have infrastructure that’s aged, and we have to upgrade and expand (water supply).”

He said the proposed increase will place Liberty Hill rates slightly above those paid by customers of Chisholm Trail Special Utility District. He said the rate increase will move Liberty Hill from the 40th percentile to the 60th.

He said Chisholm Trail and nearby cities that run their own water utilities have slightly lower rates because they are “long established. They’ve had many years to be able to take on a water system and manage it where it starts paying for itself. That’s what makes us different from other communities (rates).”

The ordinance gives the city the ability to turn over accounts that are 90 days past due to a collection agency. A late charge of 10 percent of the amount of the bill may be added for each billing date that the amount is delinquent.

Water service may be discontinued to a customer with a delinquent bill that is late by 15 days. The City will provide written notice of the impending disconnection. If the customer contacts the City within seven days of the scheduled disconnection, the City may allow the customer to make payment arrangements and continue the service.

The ordinance also contains provisions for dealing with customers who pay with dishonored checks and gives the City the ability to bring a lawsuit for the purpose of collecting unpaid bills.