With Increases Approved, Average SAWS Bill Will Go Up $6.39 Over 2 Years

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Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

SAWS rates have increased every year since at least 2011.

City Council on Thursday voted 8-3 on water rate increases for the next two years: 5.8 percent in 2018 and 4.7 percent in 2019.

Along with other increased fees not controlled by the San Antonio Water System, the average customer will pay $3.45 more in 2018 and another $2.94 in 2019 for a combined $6.39 average increase.

“This is an infrastructure budget … a back-to-basics budget,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said. About half of the increases are tied to a mandate from the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce sewer spills, he added.

The revenue generated will help pay for necessary water supply, delivery, and wastewater projects, officials and most Council members said.

SAWS CEO Robert Puente said the public utility is increasing its outreach and awareness initiatives associated with its affordability programs. Staff will be sending targeted mail-outs and hosting affordability fairs and senior events to get the word out about available assistance to lower bills, he added. SAWS has identified 19 zip codes – “pockets of poverty” – to focus on. Its budget includes a $2 million increase in assistance for a total of $5.7 million.

But the influx of people enrolling in these programs and the increased budget should not be celebrated, Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) said. “That means that more and more people in our city can’t afford utilities.”

Puente said increased enrollment is not evidence that fewer people can afford water; rather SAWS’ outreach has effectively informed low-income customers that these programs exist.

Some said SAWS is asking for more than it needs and should focus on conservation and efficiency instead of expensive water supply projects like the Vista Ridge pipeline. Water rates are expected to increase by 12.4 percent in 2020 to start paying for water from the 142-mile pipeline from Burleson County.

Councilmen Brockhouse, Clayton Perry (D10), and John Courage (D9) voted against the rate increase.

“I have both conservatives and liberals asking me to vote against the increase,” Courage said, referring to his council colleagues and activists in the audience. “I’m very concerned … because I’m afraid we may overburden our ratepayers.”

Brockhouse said he wanted to know what a bare minimum increase would be, and that City Council shouldn’t make these decisions until a clearer picture has been painted of what is necessary and what is possibly superfluous.

Some citizens suggested voting on yearly rate increases separately. Brockhouse’s motion to do so was rejected by the rest of council, save for Courage and Perry.

SAWS is constantly starting, stopping, and in the middle of large infrastructure projects, Puente said, many of which require at least two years of planned funding.

Perry proposed that SAWS “forgo” its payment to the City as a sign of solidarity with ratepayers. Brockhouse and Courage voted with him.

Some raised questions about Puente’s compensation, which could exceed $468,194 in 2018. A task force is looking into performance metrics and salary, and Nirenberg expects a report by the end of the year.

Other line items on water bills include “pass-through” fees from the Edwards Aquifer Authority and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which are based on what SAWS pays those entities. The Storm Water Utility Fee, which varies depending on the pipe size and amount of impervious cover a property has, was increased slightly by City Council this year with the fiscal year 2018 budget.

5 thoughts on “With Increases Approved, Average SAWS Bill Will Go Up $6.39 Over 2 Years

  1. Hold on: is that right? A TWO MILLION increase in the affordability program this year? $5.7M?

    Wow! Just yesterday the mayor said it was only one million in his commentary here. https://therivardreport.com/nirenberg-fiscal-responsibility-water-security-require-investment-in-saws/

    And on Monday, SAWS took credit for a $1M bump, but the official 2018 Budget says it was only $4.028, up from $3.548 in 2017. https://therivardreport.com/saws-affordability-outreach-touches-record-number-of-families/ (SAWS said $3.3 in the article, but SAWS is kind of impaired when it comes to reading their own budgets, so I’ll cut them some slack).

    I really want to know which Council Members held out for the extra Mill. I want to live in their districts. They play hard ball.

    • When Robert Puente briefed $5.7 million on December 7th, that number was not official and was not in the budget. THAT is why it came as such as surprise.

      On January 9th, 2018, SAWS’ Board amended the budget one month after his presentation to the Council, the public and the media, to allocate an additional million dollars.

      The 2018 “back-to-basics” budget that is supposed to be about repairing infrastructure was reduced by one million, so that’s a million in repairs not getting done. SAWS assesses no impact.

      But if you want to see the actual SAWS budget for 2018, you know, the Budget that SAWS’ Board ostensibly approved in November 2017, but was withheld from the public and modified in January 2018, you’ll have to wait until the end of February 2018.

      Nothing says openness and transparency like not saying anything at all.

  2. If no one paid their water bill, collectively, it would make a point and SAWS AND CITY COUNCIL MIGHT TAKE a more conservative approach. Thank you Clayton Perry, John Courage, and Greg Brockhouse for your voice. We the people of San Antonio need to “dump” ALL the other City Council representatives. And to think we pay them a salary! Before a salary was voted in and it was a voluntary position, there was never a lack of folks running for the position. Pay attention people to where your tax dollars are REALLY going; decisions made on your behalf by people collecting money from YOUR pocket as a City of San Antonio citizen. I also loved the comments from the lady residing in Shavano Park who is a victim of SAWS high rates, but yet she can’t even vote for City of San Antonio elections, including the liberal mayor, who elects to take down monuments in the middle of the night! I wonder if Robert Trevino would be a councilman, or the Alamo boondoggle, and the removal of history would have occurred if Alamo Heights and surrounding municipalities were able to have a voice in a San Antonio elections.

    • Wow, that’s a lot of Tea Party-inspired whining packed into one comment on an article about a public utility rate hike. Bringing in the removal of Confederate monuments was an especially nice touch. And throwing in that the Hispanic councilman Roberto Trevino couldn’t get elected if the whiter, more conservative Alamo Heights had their say? Genius, pure genius.

      There is a way to have a conversation about the necessity of these rate hikes without turning the conversation into a partisan/racial shouting match. This is not it. Do better, Ann.

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