Some community members question, oppose new proposed SAWS rate hikes

SAWS leaders answer questions at first public meeting about increases

By Courtney Friedman - VJ, Reporter

SAN ANTONIO - Last week's proposed San Antonio Water System rate hike affects everyone in San Antonio, so naturally, there was a long list of questions and comments for SAWS leaders at the first public meeting Tuesday night. 

Many people who showed up said they will ask their council members to vote no on the increases.

In addition to a five-year adjustment for the Vista Ridge Project, SAWS has raised rates for the past two years. Now it's asking for another hike in 2018 and 2019. 

If the hike is approved, the average monthly bill would go from $62.24 this year to $65.69 in 2018. In 2019, it would go up to $68.83. That equals a 5.8 percent increase for 2018 and a 4.7 percent increase for 2019.  

"2018, it's entirely to pay for infrastructure improvements," said Mary Bailey, vice president of accounting and business planning for SAWS.

Bailey said the wastewater pipes need the majority of the work, which will cost SAWS $287 million in 2018 and 2019. That maintenance is required by the Environmental Protection Agency. 

She said with an aging infrastructure, water system repairs are also crucial.

"I think everybody wants reliable, dependable water service, so you want to be able to turn on the faucet and water comes out," Bailey said.

Most of the 2019 rate increases would pay for the same water and wastewater improvements, but they will also go towards the installation of smart meters across the city.

Bailey said years ago, SAWS deferred maintenance in an effort to keep rates low.

"That does sort of catch up to you after time and so we are basically trying to play a little bit of catch up on the wastewater side. We’re trying to make sure we don’t get into that bind on the water side as well," she said.

Still, the idea for increases hasn't gone over well with everyone.

"We want City Council to simply say, 'SAWS you've done the rate structuring wrong. We'll put a hold on the rate. The city needs the extra money, but it shouldn't be coming out of the residential ratepayers,'" said Meredith McGuire, a community member.

Community members such as McGuire rejected the hikes at Tuesday's public meeting at SAWS.

"Are you guys boiling us slowly like a frog?" said another community member. "It's affecting all of us, but it's adversely affecting the poor."

In response, Bailey said families 25,000 families are taking advantage of programs for low-income customers or customers that use very little water. SAWS is trying to get more on board. 

To find out more about these discount and affordability programs, visit this website. 

City Council is set to vote on the rate hike Nov. 9.

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