Utility rate increases on the horizon

The revenue from increased utility rates will be used to pay back two 30-year loans the City received to replace water pipes throughout Devine. 

Devine residents can expect to see their water and sewer bills rise after the Devine City Council passed an Ordinance amendment raising rates at the meeting held last Tuesday, June 19.
Base monthly water rates for customers with 3/4-inch meters will rise to $38.14, while one-inch meter rates will be $48.01, and two-inch meter rates will be $102.30.
Additionally, the monthly rate for the city’s single four-inch turbine will be $319.44, while the rate for the sole six-inch turbine will be $640.21.
The rate per 1,000 gallons of water used also received a bump.
The rate from 1,000 gallons to 130,000 gallons increased to $5.06 per thousand gallons, while the rate from 130,001 gallons to 180,000 gallons increased to $5.31, and the rate for 180,001 gallons and up increased to $5.47.
“It’s my understanding that we charge everyone right now for three-quarter inch hook-up,” Mayor Bill Herring said. “So we’re going now to different tiers, as well as different rates.”
Sewer rates are also seeing a rise. The minimum monthly rate for all users jumped to $23.57 for the first 1,000 gallons, with an increased charge of $3.25 per thousand gallons over that.
The new rates will not go into effect until the first full billing cycle that occurs 30 days after the Ordinance’s passage.
The rate increases are a condition of over $9 million in grants and loans that the City received from the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) to replace asbestos cement and cast iron water pipes throughout Devine.
The funds from the TWDB include a $500,000 grant, a $6.6 million loan at zero percent interest, and a $2.7 million loan at a subsidized interest rate to be determined.
Because the loans were issued as a 30-year revenue bond, they must be repaid solely through revenue generated by the utility system.
Though work on replacing the water pipes isn’t projected to start before the summer of 2019, the first loan payment is scheduled for February 2019.
“The water board wanted us to pass this rate increase as soon as we could,” City Attorney Tom Cate said, “just to show that we’re going to have the revenue to service that debt.”
Specifics of the higher rates were decided upon in May, when Council was presented with two rate plans for raising the revenue necessary to repay the loans. Council opted for the plan with the smallest rate increases, which is projected to only cover what is necessary for loan repayment.
The rejected plan called for a higher rate hike, but also would have allowed the City to set aside money for future capital repairs and replacements.
Both rate plans were the product of a TWDB-mandated study of the City’s utility rates, which was carried out by Refugio Rodriguez, Jr., of the Texas Rural Water Association (TWRA).
Before replacement of the pipes can begin, the City has to complete easement and right-of-way agreements with a number of other entities, including the East Medina Special Utility District, Benton City Water, BMA, AEP, and TxDot, among others. Paperwork regarding the loans and grant must also be completed before City Engineer Raul Garcia of Garcia & Wright Consulting Engineers, Inc., can begin planning the project.
Herring called for a roll call vote on amending the Ordinance to increase utility rates. District 1 Councilman David Valdez, District 2 Councilman Steve Lopez, District 3 Councilman David Espinosa, District 4 Councilwoman Jennifer Schott, and District 5 Councilman Cory Thompson each voted to raise the rates.
By Marly Davis
Staff Writer