A San Antonio City Councilman is proposing a 6.5 percent rate increase for the city’s water utility instead of the 8.4 percent the San Antonio Water System is requesting.
District 10 City Councilman Carlton Soules will present his plan to the council Thursday and said a 6.5 percent increase would fully fund the sewer cleaning program that is needed without adding the extras Soules said SAWS is trying to pay for.
“What I'm not going to be supportive of is any increases in salary, benefits and overhead,” Soules said.
SAWS Vice President of Public Affairs Greg Flores confirmed that the increase is needed to fund the cleaning of sewer pipes all over San Antonio.
Two months ago, a 15-inch sewer main broke beneath Wurzbach Parkway, spilling 63,000 gallons of raw sewage.
Flores said breaks like that are the reason San Antonio is being scrutinized by the Environmental Protection Agency.
"The most important thing is we need to stop sewer spills from occurring in our sewer system," Flores said.
In addition to using money from the rate increase for cleaning the sewer pipes, Flores said SAWS would build a desalination plant and provide a raise for employees.
Flores said SAWS cut $8 million from the operating budget to bring down the rate increase request.
"We cut things like legal expenses, advertising expenses (and) the purchase of new fleet vehicles," Flores said.
But Soules said SAWS is hiding millions of dollars of excess spending and that ratepayers should not have to foot the bill for that.
The KSAT 12 Defenders found that in the latest completed budget year, SAWS spent $3.3 million on outside legal work and $1.3 million on advertising and sponsorships. The Defenders also found that SAWS has 15 employees making more than $150,000 a year.
The utility’s last rate increase of 7.9 percent went into effect at the end of 2011.
Soules does not disagree with the need for sewer work.
"We're going to have to fix the sewer system," Soules said.
He said the problem he has is with the extras that SAWS wants to pay for with the rate increase.
"Really, before they come looking for increases off the backs of people that are struggling, they need to do their own work inside," Soules said.
He said pay raises, outside experts and attorneys and advertising have to be cut.
"The savings that they are presenting are superficial at best," Soules said.
He said the 6.5 percent increase he will propose Thursday will cover the sewers but not the extras.