SAWS bills could drop for most homeowners, while rising for businesses and apartment complexes

Proposed rate restructuring would drop SAWS bills for 83% of residential customers, but “general class” customers would be charged more

SAN ANTONIO – Four of five residential San Antonio Water System customers could see their monthly bills drop under a new, proposed rate structure, though it would also mean higher bills for nearly all business and apartment complexes.

The proposed restructuring is the result of work conducted by a national consultant and the community members of the utility’s Rate Advisory Committee. Though customers would end up paying different amounts, the SAWS executive who presented the recommendations to a city council committee on Tuesday said they were designed to bring in the same amount of revenue.

“So the Rate Advisory Committee, which looked at this, said their number one priority was affordability. And they wanted to make sure that the water bill is affordable for customers -- not just low-income but all customers -- for what it takes to live their lives, day-to-day in their homes,” SAWS Vice President of Customer Experience and Strategic Initiatives Mary Bailey told KSAT.

That meant lowering the rates for the lower levels of water usage. As a result, 83% of residential customers using less than 9,000 gallons of water a month would see their bills fall under the proposed changes. Every residential customer would pay less for the wastewater portion of their bill.

“The average customer uses quite a bit less than 9,000 -- about 6,300 gallons a month, and those folks’ (bills) are going to go down by almost 9%,” Bailey said.

To customers like Ashley Vera, any bill savings would be “great.”

“Bills have been a little bit higher than normal, so anything reducing our monthly expenses would be wonderful,” she said.

EXTRA: SAWS has an online calculator for residential bills so you can compare your bill under the current and proposed rate structure. You can try it HERE.

However, the savings for residential customers had to come from somewhere. Beyond the residential customers using more than 9,000 gallons a month, the changes would also include higher rates for recycled water users and nearly all “general class” customers, which includes businesses, industrial use, and multi-family homes.

“We did a cost of service analysis ... a national rate consultant that said those customers were not paying enough, that their cost to provide the service to them was higher than the rates that were being charged,” Bailey said of the general class customers. “So their rates are going to go up on average about 7%.”

That’s not welcome news to Mary Lou Gomez, whose mother’s restaurant, the Little Taco Factory, requires water for everything from ice, to cooking, to dishwashing. Gomez says a higher water bill would have an effect when combined with other rising costs.

“So when you add, you know, the increase in this, the increase in that -- I mean, it totally adds up. Now the water’s going up. Now, what else is going to go up?” she said.

Bailey said SAWS asked the RAC to consider whether apartment complexes should be separated into a separate class.

Ultimately, she said it would end up costing apartment complexes more if they were in their own class, but SAWS would look at developing rates in the future that could be tied to the number of units in a complex.

The increases for recycled water customers, who typically use it for irrigation, are even sharper than the general class. The recommended changes -- meant to cover more of the cost for providing the water while still keeping the rates below potable water -- include a 15% increase in the first year, followed by annual 10% bumps for the four years after.

The proposed changes would also include larger savings for most customers in the utility’s Affordability Discount Program. Bailey said the increased cost would be paid for with a pass-through charge on other customers’ bills -- less than $2 for an average customer.

The SAWS Board of Trustees is expected to vote on the recommendations on Nov. 1 and the city council on Nov. 10. If approved, the new rate structure would take effect on Jan. 1 and show up in most customers’ February bills.

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About the Authors:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.

Before starting at KSAT in August 2011, Ken was a news photographer at KENS. Before that he was a news photographer at KVDA TV in San Antonio. Ken graduated from San Antonio College with an associate's degree in Radio, TV and Film. Ken has won a Sun Coast Emmy and four Lone Star Emmys. Ken has been in the TV industry since 1994.