Cleburne Times-Review, Cleburne, TX

Cleburne

August 14, 2011

Cleburne water rate increases proposed at budget meeting

Redistricting public hearing scheduled for Wednesday

As they have in recent years, and almost certainly will in future years, Cleburne city staff members proposed an increase in the city’s water and wastewater rates. The proposal calls for increasing both rates by 6 percent. Staff and council members discussed the situation during a Thursday budget workshop.

Council members have not yet approved either proposal as they and city staff members are still working through the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

Approval of the proposed increases appears almost certain, however, given the rising costs of service and major water projects planned in the coming years.

This year’s increases, if approved, would increase the monthly bill of customer using 5,000 gallons of water per month by $4.01. A customer using 2,000 gallons per month would see an increase of $2.61 per month.

Although the new fiscal begins Oct. 1, customers would not see the increases reflected in their bills until November, Finance Director Kim Galvin said.

Gradual increases each year are preferable to holding off for several years then hitting residents with a huge increase, as some cities have done, Galvin said.

The increases are necessary in part thanks to expected population growth projections going forward and increases in the cost of maintenance and delivery, city officials said.

“The cost of chemicals [used at the water plant] is unbelievable every year,” Galvin said. “A lot of those are petroleum based and I’m always shocked by how much they change from year to year.”

City officials, several years ago, commissioned a study into the costs and necessary steps to ensure an ample water supply for Cleburne for the next 50 years.

Assistant City Manager David Esquivel updated council members on the projected time lines of those projects during Thursday’s workshop.

Several of the projects, including a five million gallon capacity increase to the water plant, are under way. Additional projects, estimated at about $79.6 million, to increase water rights and capacity are also planned over the next 20 to 30 years.

The rate increases will also help pay debt on bonds issued or planned to be issued to cover the cost of current and upcoming water projects, Galvin said.

“I know how politically sensitive this is, to request rate increases,” City Manager Rick Holden said. “But we have to understand what goes into developing these rates. To provide water for Cleburne through 2020 and going forward is going to cost the city a lot of money. The numbers are very accurate when you push them through the system. That’s where these rates come from.”

Water revenues surpassed budget expectations this year, because of heat and drought conditions, Galvin said.

City staff members said they plan to use those excess revenues to fund future necessary water projects in part or whole as opposed to issuing bonds. They plan to do the same in future years when revenues exceed expectations. Something Galvin said is almost impossible to predict. Water revenues dropped several summers ago thanks to heavy rains, for instance.

“We average out two wet years and two dry years [to reach projected budget revenue numbers],” Galvin said.

Thursday marked the second of three planned budget workshops. The first involved the city’s general fund and property tax rate. The next workshop takes place at 5 p.m. Wednesday in Cleburne City Hall at 10 N. Robinson St.

In other water news, Esquivel reported that Lake Pat Cleburne water levels are four feet below pool elevation. That, despite the heat and lack of rain, is not unusual, Esquivel said.

The city recently called on residents to institute voluntary water conservation measures. Past that, no additional prohibitions on water usage are foreseen at this time, Esquivel said.

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