Austin City Council votes to cut water rates across the board


Austin leaders reached a deal with their largest water customers Thursday evening that will reduce water costs across rate classes — for residents and businesses alike.

Additionally, the utility will keep rates flat for the next two years, its staff said. It won’t be able to raise rates again without the input of an independent hearing examiner, after the City Council agreed to an amendment from Council Member Ellen Troxclair.

The average homeowner will see a $2.40 drop in the monthly water bill, Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros said. That will be effective May 1.

“This recommendation brings all of our customer classes to cost-of-service,” Meszaros said. “We haven’t always had that, so this is a positive step.”

City staffers said no one can remember a time Austin Water has lowered water rates in at least the last 30 years.

BACKGROUND: Watch for a fight as Austin reviews who’s paying too much for water

The move follows a rate study that found commercial businesses were “overpaying” about $4.4 million last year, based on what it costs to provide water service to them, while homes and apartments paid about $2.1 million less.

Samsung alone was paying $568,414 annually in water fees above the cost of its service, the review found. The University of Texas was overpaying by about $76,025.

While those large entities fought for reductions, the city, reluctant to lower rates just for the largest clients, opted to find reductions for everyone.

The council approved the rate reductions 9-0, with Council Members Delia Garza and Greg Casar away from the dais. Troxclair’s amendment to require a hearing examiner for any future rate increases passed 7-2, with Council Members Kathie Tovo and Sabino “Pio” Renteria opposed.

Meszaros added that the utility would also improve its customer assistance program to help low-income residents with service repairs, leak repairs and appliance modernization.

The city said it was able to find the savings through a management plan that uses developer connection fees to pay down the utility’s debt. Those fees have increased for builders connecting new projects to city pipes, and the revenue has grown from $8 million in 2013 to a projected $30 million this year.

ALSO READ: Austin utility to give refunds for fall water bill spikes

City Council members approved the rates Thursday after a lengthy discussion including, among other issues, concerns Tovo raised over whether Samsung was adequately charged for increasing ammonia-nitrogen levels in Walnut Creek since 2011. The city will be adding a surcharge to customers whose operations produce ammonia, mostly Samsung, which will even out the $3.2 million the city expects to spend next year removing those chemicals.

Todd Davey, a representative of NXP Semiconductors, thanked Austin Water for the process so far, but added that he’d still like to see a third-party review of the cost of service model. Austin’s rates are still significantly higher than many peer cities, he said.

But Bobby Levinski — an attorney, activist and candidate running against Troxclair for the council seat in Southwest Austin’s District 8 — urged the council to think twice about lowering the rates.

“I understand that it’s great to lower water rates,” he said, but added that unexpected droughts can quickly make rates volatile and keeping extra money in the utility could keep them stable.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Saudi air defenses intercept 2 missiles from Yemen, state media says
Saudi air defenses intercept 2 missiles from Yemen, state media says

Saudi Arabia’s state-run television station said Sunday that the country’s air defense intercepted two ballistic missiles launched over Riyadh, Reuters reported. >> Read more trending news The attack, which the station alleged was  launched by Yemen’s Houthi militia, is at least the sixth to target Riyadh since December...
Round Rock H-E-B diesel spill causes traffic delays
Round Rock H-E-B diesel spill causes traffic delays

A diesel spill at an H-E-B in Round Rock closed the westbound lane of Gattis School Road near Texas 130 Sunday afternoon. According to Williamson County authorities, the spill is affecting traffic on Gattis School Road from Texas 130 to Winterfield Lane. Williamson County’s hazardous materials response team has been dispatched to area. Residents...
Texas Digest: 2 charged in child abandonment case

COLLEGE STATION 2 charged after 5 kids found home alone Two 25-year-old women have been arrested on child abandonment charges after authorities say five children — the youngest 5 months old and the oldest 11 years of age — were found alone at a home in College Station. Police said in a statement that the home had “unsafe and unsanitary...
Sarah Huckabee Sanders' tweet about restaurant eviction violates law, ex-ethics chief says
Sarah Huckabee Sanders' tweet about restaurant eviction violates law, ex-ethics chief says

The former head of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics said that White House press secretary Sarah Sanders’ tweet Saturday about being kicked out of a Virginia restaurant violated federal ethics laws, The Slate reported. Walter Shaub, the federal government’s top ethics watchdog for five years until mid-2017, said the tweet was...
New Hampshire boy, 2, rescued after being trapped under rock pile
New Hampshire boy, 2, rescued after being trapped under rock pile

Police and fire officials in New Hampshire rescued a 2-year-old boy who was trapped under a pile of rocks Friday. >> Read more trending news  Portsmouth authorities responded to a call around 5:40 p.m. At the scene, officials found the boy pinned between large slabs of stone. Preliminary investigation showed the boy had been playing...
More Stories