PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

September 3, 2013

PA manager recommends added fee for water, sewer bill

Sherry Koonce
The Port Arthur News

PORT ARTHUR — Port Arthur residents may see an additional charge on their water bills as the city grapples with ways to whittle down a $4.4 million projected loss in water and sewer revenue this coming fiscal year.

During a budget workshop session Tuesday City Manager Floyd Johnson recommended assessing a monthly $5 Readiness to Serve charge on water and sewer bills.

Finance Director Deborah Echols said the charge would be assessed to those customers with smaller meters. Customers with larger meters are already charged $6 for service.

The city’s water fund has been losing money for some time, Echols said.

In fiscal year 2012-2013, the city anticipates a $4.8 million loss in its water and sewer fund, which is down from the previous $5 million loss recorded in 2011- 2012.  

The city has about 17,000 meters in the ground, Echols said.

Aging infrastructure, which results in excessive water leaks, combined with a decrease in water customers, are major contributors to the revenue loss, Echols said.

Port Arthur water and sewer customers have not seen a raise in their rate for some time, Echols said.

The last time rates were changed was in 2011 when the minimum use charge was eliminated for customers not using the minimum amount of water.

Even if customers don’t use much water, the city still has to pay to provide the service, and get water to that location, and to send someone to read the meter.

To offset those expenses, Johnson suggested the Readiness to Serve charge.

“This is not something I look for to recommending, but think it is away to continue to provide services,” Johnson said. “It is untenable for us to continue on this path.”

A $5.00 charge for each water account would generate about $1 million, Johnson said.

To expect a city with a 25 percent poverty rate, and double digit unemployment to pay the extra charge is not something that Mayor Deloris “Bobbie” Prince is willing to do.

“I know we need to fix this, but I would hate to fix it on the backs of our citizens,” Prince said. “This is not going to set well with the citizens.”

If the charge is passed on to water customers, it will be cheaper than a rate increase tied to usage, Echols said.

Also on Tuesday, City Council held the first of two required public hearing to consider approval of a proposal to increase total tax revenues from properties on the tax roll by 1.37 percent.

To fund the proposed $62 million budget, the owner of a $100,000 home would pay $790 before any allowable exemptions are applied.

The average taxable value of a Port Arthur residence homestead last year was $52,079. Based on last year’s tax rate, .792000 per $100 valuation, the amount of taxes due on an average home was $412.47.

With the same tax rate assessed each $100 valuation of an average home, valued at $52,549 this year, the amount of taxes imposed would be $410.57, resulting in an increase of $1.90.

The city has one more budget workshop scheduled for next Tuesday. For the past two consecutive Tuesdays, City Council has met with department heads to hear budget requests.

Though state statutes mandate the budget must be adopted by Oct. 1., Johnson has set a Sept. 17 target date to adopt the budget.

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