New utility rates clarified, water agreement adopted
By SHELLY WILKISON
City Manager Greg Boatright said Monday that some residents are being misinformed about the increase in water and wastewater rates, and clarified to City Council members that the ordinance they adopted in October raised rates by 5 percent and 7 percent, respectively.
“Rates are not going up 60 percent, as some have reported,” Boatright said. “The average (water) bill is $41 and the average customer will see a $3 (per month) increase.”
Wastewater rates are also increasing as the City moves to implement a flat monthly rate of $44.35 for residential customers and $54.35 for commercial customers. Currently, customers pay a base rate of $28.25 per month plus additional fees per usage.
The new rates, which take effect Dec. 1, were determined by a utility rate study that showed current rates were not sufficient to cover the city’s cost of providing the services in anticipation of population growth.
Boatright said low-use customers — those who use only 1,200 gallons per month — will see a noticeable difference on their bill. He said rates were determined based on an average of the lowest usage months of the year — winter.
According to the ordinance adopted Oct. 27, the minimum charge for water for residential customers will increase from $29.75 per month to $31.24. The volume rate for usage up to 10,000 gallons increases from $3.90 to $4.10. Additional rates apply for larger water meters and higher monthly usage, and customers outside the city limits will pay more.
“Y’all have been fielding a lot of questions in public, and there is a lot of miscommunication out there,” Boatright said. “If feelings are strong enough, we can add a future agenda item to discuss it, or we can let it (the rate increase) happen on its own.”
Mayor Connie Fuller said she would like to see the issue posted for a future meeting. The information provided by Boatright on Monday was part of his administrative update to the Council and not posted for possible action.
Councilmember Liz Rundzieher, who continues to raise the question about the impact of the fee increase on Liberty Hill’s low and fixed-income residents, asked Boatright Monday if information was available showing the number of residents in that category, and whether they were the ones unable to pay sewer connection fees.
He said the information is not available without conducting a survey of resident, but offered to research the possible impact of a discount for those over age 65.
“At the time (the sewer was installed), one-fourth of the city was on a fixed income or income distributed by the government in the form of social security,” Boatright said. “Many met the low income criteria for a grant (to connect to sewer). It’s possible we can look at a rate reduction for 65 and older, which it (a rate increase) will have the biggest impact on.”
Boatright said there is additional concern in the community that the City will “make everyone hook up (to sewer). We are still looking at that.”
He explained that the city sewer should be paying for itself with usage fees. Instead, ad valorem tax revenue is subsidizing payment of bonds issued years ago to finance it.
Of the 560 water customers, only 180 are connected to the sewer system and 140 others have grinder pump equipment in the ground that is not connected while the remainder are eligible to connect to a gravity flow system.
“We see the discrepancy of what we could have. The ad valorem taxpayers are subsidizing it, but it should carry its own burden of the debt. We need to try to get it to where it stands on its own,” he said.
Boatright said this year, 50 percent of ad valorem revenue will go toward payment of sewer debt — an improvement over previous years.
“We’re not here to make money, but we’re not here to lose it either,” he said. “There are so many things we could be using ad valorem tax revenue on. It’s a quandary that each council has struggled with.”
Boatright added that those considering a sewer connection are not required to collapse their septic systems.
In other business Monday, the Council voted unanimously to approve an agreement with the City of Georgetown Utilities to purchase water for Liberty Hill at a discounted wholesale rate.
The five-year agreement allows the City of Liberty Hill to use up to 350,000 gallons of water per day under a “pay as you take system,” Boatright said. The City will pay a monthly base rate of $916.50 plus a usage rate of $2.40 per 1,000 gallons. He said the new agreement is expected to save the City about $500 per month in usage fees.
The current agreement allows up to 100,000 gallons per day at a rate of $4.33 per 1,000 gallons. Boatright said the City currently pays between $2,300 to $2,500 per month for usage under the present agreement.
“We are expecting in two years to be getting water up Bagdad Road, which will do away with the necessity for this water,” Boatright said.
The City is expecting an additional 500 LUEs with the development of Liberty Parke, Liberty Manor and Liberty Trails. With those developments, the City anticipates an increase in water use by 100,000 to 125,000 gallons per day.
Without the agreement with Georgetown for increased access, the City of Liberty Hill would have been hard-pressed to deliver water while waiting for the Bagdad water lines to be constructed.
“We were getting to the point where we were running out of capacity,” Boatright said. “We were right on top of a marginal issue of being able to supply water. This is a good agreement. I’m tickled that they worked with us.”
Also Monday, the Council voted unanimously to approve the final plat for Phase One of Liberty Parke subdivision — a proposed development of 300 single family homes on State Highway 29 inside the city boundaries.
The Council also approved a re-plat of Lot 35 in Riverbend Oaks subdivision, enabling Garland Insulating to break into two lots using a shared driveway onto SH 29.
Another re-plat was approved for Lot 1 at Copper Ridge outside the city limits on SH 29. The lot will be divided sharing access to the highway.
Following a 40-minute closed session, Mayor Fuller announced that Boatright and Planning Director Jim Bechtol will be contacting property owners about availability of office space for lease or purchase. The City of Liberty Hill is looking to relocate its offices.
The City submitted a bid earlier this month for the purchase of the Liberty Hill ISD Administration Building, but it’s $850,000 offer fell well below the market value of $1.024 million and school trustees rejected it. State law prohibits school districts from selling property below market value, but the district left open the possibility of negotiating a more fair price.
During a council workshop last week, Boatright discussed the option of purchasing property downtown for city offices.