Natalia City Council restructures utility rates, receives good audit

The Natalia City Council passed an ordinance raising utility rates, discussed needed capital improvements, and received a positive audit in the Regular meeting held Monday, March 20.
Council members Chip Bluemel, Mike Fernandez, Ruben Juarez, Tommy Ortiz, Mayor Pro Tem Sam Smith, and City Administrator/City Secretary Lisa Hernandez were all present.
Utility rate restructuring
In order to help pay for planned capital improvements, the City adopted a five-year utility rate structure plan that applies to all residential and commercial customers.
Residential, commercial, and commercial two-inch meter or larger will be charged base rates of $25.00, $27.50, and $55.00, respectively, up to 1,000 gallons of water, for all five years, from Fiscal Year 2017-2018 through FY 2021-22. A 1.2% tiered-volume increase will be applied for usage over 1,000 gallons every year after FY 2017-2018.
Residential customers will be charged $20.50 up to 1,000 gallons, while commercial will be charged $22.50. The 1.2% tiered-volume increase applies to sewer as well.
The rate changes will go into effect for the Sept. 15-Oct. 15 billing cycle, which will be billed on Nov. 1.
A Fernandez-Ortiz motion to accept the rate increases as presented passed 5-0.
For a more in-depth look at the rate increases, see next week’s edition of The Devine News.
Capital improvements program
Hernandez explained that when Council approved a master plan in 1996, they also approved a capital improvements plan, but that there were no procedures in place to actually handle the projects that needed to be done.
“I’ve gotten those projects as well as what the USDA has listed, and essentially our projects are about nine million dollars worth,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez said that the USDA grant and loan the City had received would handle about $1.7M of the cost associated with the projects, leaving over $7M to be funded, not counting the increase in prices from 1996 to today.
Hernandez added that the money from the increased utility rates would help but would not cover everything.
“These are significantly long-term projects,” Hernandez said. “This procedure will put in place what we want to see happen first.”
Bluemel asked if it would be feasible to do projects piecemeal rather than all at once.
“We would have to do section by section,” Hernandez replied. “There is no way that this city, with the revenue of taxes and user fees that actually come in, can afford to do major projects at one time, because then we would be exceeding our debt ratio.”
A Bluemel-Ortiz motion to accept the capital improvements program passed 5-0.
FY 2015-2016 audit
Wayne Beyer, Auditor/Owner of Beyer & Co., presented Council with findings of the FY 2015-2016 audit.
Beyer said the City had received an unmodified opinion, “which is the highest opinion that we give,” explaining that it meant that nothing untoward came to the firm’s attention during the audit, and that they were provided with all the information that they asked to examine.
Council voted 5-0 to accept the audit.
More details on the audit will be in a future edition of The Devine News.
City Administrator’s report
Hernandez briefed Council on the status of the TxCDBG wastewater improvement contract.
“They’ve already sent equipment to the wastewater treatment plant, and more parts are supposed to be coming in the next week,” Hernandez said.
Utility Director Art Smith said the first thing to be done was installing a bypass pump for the lift station.
Construction is on schedule to start in April and should be completed in July, well before the October close-out date.
In order to meet the conditions for the USDA water/sewer improvements project, the City must put together a rate study cover letter, executive summary, and certificate of completion for the utility rate plan to be provided to USDA; host a site visit for a security vulnerability assessment and emergency response plan; and review guidelines needed to establish a city management/operating plan.
M&S Engineers was given a notice to proceed, and the firm will begin the final design process.
Bluebonnet Festival Court
Natalia Veterans Memorial Librarian Amy Edge introduced the 2017 Bluebonnet Festival Court to Council: King Christian Contreras, Queen Natalie Rodriguez, and Princess Juliana Sanchez. The three children raised $2,300 for the library.
Edge also informed Council that soda and water donations are still needed for the festival. Donations can be delivered to City Hall.
Consent Agenda
Council unanimously approved the items on the Consent Agenda, which included minutes of the Feb. 27 and March 9 Council meetings; and the Feb. 2017 financial, police department, municipal court, code compliance, and utility department activity reports.
Executive Session
Council entered Executive Session to discuss Hernandez’s annual evaluation at 7:15 PM, and reconvened in Open Session at 7:35 PM. While details of the evaluation weren’t shared, Smith said Hernandez, “got a great rating.”
The meeting adjourned at 7:51 PM.

By Marly Davis
Staff Writer