SAWS customers will be receiving a notice in the mail this week about the coming 6.8% rate increase for 2017.
In 2015, City Council approved a rate increase of 7.9% for next year, but SAWS staff was able to “scrub” the budget for efficiencies and refinance debt to reduce the rate increase, said Mary Bailey, vice president of SAWS business planning and controller.
Because of SAWS’ updated rate structure, which was also approved in 2015, customers pay more for water after a certain threshold. About 60% of customers will see their monthly bill increase by $3 or less starting on Jan. 1, 2017, Bailey told SAWS trustees Tuesday during the first official public hearing on the public utility’s 2017 budget.
(Read More: Council Approves New Water Rates, Structure)
SAWS has scheduled five public meetings to discuss the budget:
- Oct. 13 at Julia Yates Semmes Library, 15060 Judson Rd., 6-7:30 p.m.
- Oct. 17 at Hardberger Park Ecology Center, 8400 NW Military Hwy., 6-7:30 p.m.
- Oct. 18 at Mission Library, 3134 Roosevelt Ave., 6-7:30 p.m.
- Oct. 19 at Forest Hills Library, 5245 Ingram Rd., 6-7:30 p.m.
- Oct. 25 at SAWS Headquarters, 2800 U.S. Hwy. 281 North, 6-7:30 p.m. (livestream available at www.saws.org)
Because City Council already approved a rate higher than the proposed increase, its approval is not required again, but Council members will review the rate increase at a Wednesday, Nov. 9 briefing session.
Two-thirds of new revenue from the rate increase will be used to support capital improvement programs including $171 million for sewer main and lift station replacements, $6 million for treatment plant improvements, $112 million for the integration of the Vista Ridge water pipeline, $5.8 million for new water supplies such as the Brackish Water Desalination Plant, and $75 million in main replacements and production upgrades.
“We actually are doing more capital improvements than we anticipated for less money,” Bailey said.
The controversial Vista Ridge project was approved by City Council in 2014 and is expected to come to a financial close by the end of 2016, said SAWS Vice President of Governmental Relations and Water Resources Donovan Burton.
Customer growth and average use per bill – combining residential and commercial – is expected to remain almost flat from 2016 to 2017. After a $32 million shortfall in operating revenues in 2015, SAWS “lowered the expectation” for 2016 and 2017 to take into account the possibility of increased rainfall. That plan seems to have paid off.
“We’re not seeing that revenue shortfall,” Bailey told the Rivard Report after the board meeting. “Water sales were about the same as 2015 without the dramatic negative financial impact.”
While conservation policies and programs are beginning to slowly move the needle in average consumption, SAWS officials attribute the decline in average water use almost entirely to wetter than normal summers.
“What will be interesting is as we come out of the rainy period, (with) the progressive rate structure that we put in this year, people are going to get those price signals much sooner,” Bailey said. With the exception of July, “there’s just been so much rain that people haven’t really gotten that message yet.”
Top image: SAWS President and CEO Robert R. Puente. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.