The City of San Antonio’s new budget year started Oct. 1, and with it came some serious business: City Council members are putting a significant water and wastewater rate increase vote on hold until November when they will get the final version of a much debated water management report. They also are considering contentious annexation plans, also being slowed to allow for more public input.
If that’s not enough, Council will reallocate $3.6 million in funds reserved for police union signing bonuses for fiscal year 2016. Without a new collective bargaining agreement, those funds will now be used to address other pressing concerns.
The near-term future decision-making process became a bit clearer at City Council’s B Session on Wednesday when City Manager Sheryl Sculley outlined a new timeline for the SAWS rate increase vote, originally scheduled for Oct. 29. Instead, Council consideration of the public utility’s increase has been pushed back to Nov. 19 when a report commissioned by the City on San Antonio’s future water policies is finalized by researchers at Texas A&M University’s Institute of Renewable Natural Resources (IRNR).
The move was recommended by City Council’s Transportation, Technology and Utilities Committee last week and gained traction on Wednesday. The report is expected to be complete in early November and “vetted by City Council and the public,” Sculley said. Only then will Council vote on SAWS proposed rate increases.
To that end, SAWS is hosting four more public meetings – two already have taken place – to address questions about new rate structures and the water study. All meetings begin at 6 p.m.:
- Monday, Oct. 19 at Alicia Treviño Lopez Senior Center, 8353 Culebra Rd.
- Wednesday, Oct. 21 at SAWS Headquarters, Tower 2, 800 U.S. Highway 281 North.
- Monday, Oct. 26 at Port San Antonio Conference Center, 102 Mabry St.
The study also will be discussed during three City Council meetings, also open to the public:
- 9 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 12, City Council A Session: water policy study briefing by IRNR.
- 6 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 12, City Council A Session: citizens to be heard (public comment).
- 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 18, City Council B Session: citizens to be heard (public comment).
The SAWS rate increase is inextricably linked to the water policy study, Councilmember Ron Nirenberg (D8) said, because the report was commissioned to inform Council decisions about water projects, security, long-term planning, and, of course, public policy. The City-owned water utility is asking ratepayers to pay for the $3.4 billion Vista Ridge water pipeline, operate the new desalinization plant, and meet a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency mandate to improve sewer lines.
Customers are looking at a projected average monthly rate hike of 7.5% in 2016, and 7.9% in 2017. The rate adjustments also assumes integration of rates and infrastructure in 2017 from the former Bexar Metropolitan Water District, which SAWS acquired in 2012.
The draft report, which was leaked to the media last month, rate the Vista Ridge project as “high risk,” although supporters challenge the accuracy of the metrics used to gauge the project’s risk and said the report contains critical errors. Vista Ridge was unanimously approved by City Council last October, but the report has re-opened the debate over the 142-mile pipeline project, the sustainability of drawing water from Burleson County, and the financial stability of Abengoa, the Spain-based engineering and construction company that’s leading the Vista Ridge consortium.
City Council hopes to schedule consideration of both the SAWS rate increase and area annexations on different days to avoid distraction from either issue and unreasonably long meetings. It’s likely that all council members will want to have their say on both matters on the day of their vote.
Two weeks after contract negotiations broke down between the police union and the City, the San Antonio Police Officer’s Association stated its official disapproval of annexation, citing resource scarcity and uniformed employee job position vacancies.
Bexar County Emergency Services Districts 4 and 8 are hosting a town hall meeting about what annexation would mean for the I-10 West area this Thursday, 6 p.m. at the Crown Ridge Banquet Hall, 6909 Camp Bullis Rd. Police union members are expected to attend the meeting to protest annexation.
The I-10 West annexation area, which has already gone through rounds of public discussion, will still be considered on Thursday, Oct. 29.
Consideration of I-10 East and Highway 281 annexation areas previously scheduled for November and December have been pushed back until after the Council’s holiday break. I-10 East is scheduled for a vote during A Session on Thursday, Jan. 14 and Highway 281 on Feb. 11. A session starts at 9 a.m.
Public meetings for I-10 East area at 6 p.m in the B Room in Municipal Plaza Building:
- Dec. 2
- Dec. 9
Public meetings for Highway 281 area (also in the B Room):
- Jan. 13
- Jan. 20
The annexation hearing schedule is subject to change and will soon be updated on the City’s website here.
*Top image: San Antonio City Council Chambers. Photo by Scott Ball.