City to reconsider water rates

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In a discussion that lasted until midnight Monday, Pearland City Council reconsidered a new water and wastewater fee schedule that local businesses says heavily punished them.

Getting actual revenues to match the city’s costs are the main driver behind proposed water and sewer rate changes, city officials say, but business owners argue the new rates are particularly harsh on commercial properties.

Representatives from the Pearland Chamber of Commerce and a number of businesses attended to speak against the rates that would impact them in particular during the first reading of the new rate ordinance held Monday night. The proposed new fee schedule charges base rates by meter size.

One business owner referred to the changes as a “residential subsidy.” Several urged the council to consider other options.

“I know water is going to get more and more expensive as the years go by,” Chamber CEO Carol Artz Bucek told the council. “But I would like for you to come up with a more equitable way for you to increase your water rates for everyone.”

“I’m not opposed to seeing if there’s another scenario so we’re not necessarily having businesses subsidize the whole enchilada,” Councilman Greg Hill said.

Staff explained larger meter sizes of commercial properties mean more water must be always available at one time.

“If you have a hotel, you’re demanding more of the system at one time,” City Manager Clay said.

Regardless, other council members agreed the proposed rate structure was worth another look.

Monday’s postponement of a first reading means a revised version would get only one reading in order to be passed in time to be included in the budget, which must be adopted before the fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.

The next reading of a new rate schedule is Sept. 19.

“The big driver is operational costs,” assistant city manager Trent Epperson said during a feedback session on rates, “making sure we maintain the equipment we have today. In past years, there was a lot of maintaining through the day.”

The new rates are based on a cost study done in February, but some citizens say they are being hit with “astronomical” increases. One resident who spoke Monday compared her eventual water bill to “having another electric bill.”

“There’s not a whole lot of fluff in this budget,” Pearson told the council. “We’re trying to take in enough to maintain what we have.”

Also on Monday, Council held a first reading of its proposed city budget and tax rate Monday, with a second and final reading expected on Monday, Sept. 19.

The proposed tax rate of 68.12 cents per $100 of valuation – lower than the current rate but still 2 cents higher than the rollback rate – required two public hearings that drew mixed reviews from residents. The rate covers both city operations and maintenance, which pays for public safety, street and traffic engineering, and for debt, which is payments for capital improvements.

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Story by Nicole Jones

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