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Agua SUD board approves higher water, sewer rates

This article was updated Wednesday, April 3, 2019 to include comments from Agua SUD Director Homer Tijerina.

Agua Special Utility District customers will pay more for water and sewer under a plan approved Monday.

During a meeting on Monday night, the utility board approved a five-year plan to gradually increase base rates — the monthly minimum customers pay for water and sewer service — and per-gallon rates.

“At the end of the day, we’re elected to make these tough decisions,” said board Director Lloyd Loya, who represents Peñitas. “And that’s what we’re doing.”

The utility board voted 5-2 to adopt the plan. Loya, though, added a last-minute caveat.

After two years, the utility district will conduct a study and re-evaluate rates, Loya said. Depending on the number of new customers, the utility district could reduce or cancel planned rate increases.

Director Homer Tijerina, who represents rural Hidalgo County customers, and Director Ivan Sandoval, who represents Sullivan City customers, voted against the plan.

“I don’t think we should have raised rates because some of our customers are having a tough time paying their bills,” Tijerina said.

The utility board should reduce costs before considering higher rates, Tijerina said, adding that the district employs unnecessary consultants and high-priced engineers.

“But the rest of the board didn’t think the same way I did,” Tijerina said.

A study conducted by Frisco-based Capex Consulting Group convinced the remaining board members they needed to slowly increase rates.

Without modest rate increases, the utility district would run a budget deficit by 2023, according to the study. The utility district must also make larger debt payments during the next few years.

“It was something we had to do,” said board Director Adolfo Arriaga, who represents La Joya.

Under the plan, a typical water customer will pay about 80 cents more per month, said General Manager J.E. “Eddie” Saenz. That amount will increase slightly every year.

Residential customers with standard water meters currently pay $16.53 per month plus the cost of water. The base rate will increase to $17.75 per month by 2023.

Customers will pay higher per-gallon rates too.

Residential customers who use between 6,001 and 8,000 gallons of water per month currently pay $2.36 per thousand gallons. That rate will increase to $2.65 per thousand gallons by 2023.

The utility board also changed how the district will calculate sewer usage.

Under the current system, the utility district bills residential sewer customers based on the lowest three months of water usage during the previous year. Under the plan approved Monday, the utility district will bill residential customers based on average water usage during December, January and February instead.

The switch may increase sewer bills by $1 to $1.25 per month.

Along with adjusting sewer rates for existing customers, the utility board approved sewer rates for Palmview customers.

Sullivan City customers pay a minimum of $8.19 per month for sewer service. That rate will increase to $11.60 per month by 2023, according to the plan approved Monday.

Initially, Palmview customers will pay the same base rate. By 2023, however, the base rate for Palmview customers will increase to $13.92 per month.

Palmview customers will pay 20 percent more than Sullivan City customers to cover the cost of building the new sewer system.

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