Water director talks how to climb out of the hole

Published 5:34 pm Tuesday, February 13, 2018

A presentation by Hani Tohme, interim water utilities director, drew the most attention from the Port Arthur City Council at their regular meeting Tuesday morning.

Tohme spoke about water and sewer rates, 2018 budgeted revenues and expenditures and pipe-bursting sanitary sewer pipe using city crews:

  • The utility department has 113 positions with 19 current vacancies.
  • The actual revenue projections for the Cheniere plant in Cameron with five trains is 337 gallons per minute/per train, 885,636,000 total volume for the year and $4,295,334 total revenue for the year.
  • Revenue for Fiscal Year 2015-2018- The budget is $16,177,950 for FY 2015-2016, $22,381,100 for FY 2016-2017 and $24,015,200 for FY 2017-2018. The actual number is $19,609,254 for FY 2015-2016, $20,302,241 for FY 2016-2017 and a projected $20,777,775 for FY 2017-2018.
  • Expenditures for Fiscal Year 2015-2018- The budget is $23,710,322 for FY 2015-2016, $24,820,852 for FY 2016-2017 and $25,670,498 for FY 2017-2018. The actual number is $23,159,268 for FY 2015-2016, $24,993,258 for FY 2016-2017 and TBD for FY 2017-2018.
  • Water Utilities Fund Revenue versus Expenditures- 2015 actual is $19,609,254, 2018 projection is $20,777,775 with a 5.96 percent increase under revenue. 2015 actual $23,159,268 and TBD for 2018 projection under expenditures.

Tohme suggested some solutions to balance Water Utilities Budget are expenditure savings, minimum usage fees for apartments, mobile homes, hotels and RV parks, capturing unaccounted for revenue, industrial rates and water and sewer rate increase.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

He did a study of minimum usage fee for the first 1,000 gallons of other local cities and discovered Port Arthur water rate was 52.41 percent less than others, sewer rate was 147.49 percent less and 80.99 percent less for total water and sewer.

Likewise, Port Arthur’s cost of 1,000 gallons of water and sewer was 19.89 percent higher for water, 8.57 percent higher for sewer and 14.1 percent higher for total water and sewer.

For a comparison of cities in the state of similar size, Port Arthur’s total water and sewer was 23.35 percent less than average.

Port Arthur’s water and sewer rate history for 1992 – 2018 showed a mark increase until the mid-2000s and then a drastic drop.

Tohme introduced the phrase Sanitary Sewer Overflow Initiative to the Council. He said the benefits of participating in SSOI is protection from Texas Commission On Environmental Quality enforcement action from most SSOs, compliance history not affected, no penalties with the SSO agreement and corrective action based on timeline to fit the city’s needs and capabilities.

The city may also save money by doing in-house construction crews projects instead of using a contractor. With a contractor cost of $3,060,000 and a city cost of $1,141,138 would be a cost savings of $1,918,861.

Lastly, Tohme said some capital improvement needs include the main wastewater treatment plant, rehabilitation of 57 sanitary sewer lift stations, rehabilitation of elevated storage tanks, water pipe replacement and sanitary sewer pipe replacement.

Harold Doucet Sr., District 4 Councilman, asked why are there vacancies with a high unemployment rate in the city and money in the budget.

Harvey Robinson, interim city manager, said there were more than 30 vacancies when he started working for the city in November.

“We’re moving forward as quickly as we can,” Robinson said.

Tohme added working in the sewer department is a dirty business and not many want to work there.

Doucet asked if residents were being correctly charged in their water bills or if something was wrong with the city’s system.

Tohme said he hasn’t had enough time on the job yet to look at it and he would report back in a few weeks.

To get the city’s water and sewer department out of the red would take from $4 million to $5 million.

“I’m not a magician,” he said. “It’s up to the City Council too and for cuts to be fair to everyone,” he said. “We need to make enough money so we can borrow money.”

Kaprina Frank said the city needs to know the past so it won’t repeat it.

Osman Swati, District 6 Councilman, asked if Tohme has consulted business owners about the minimum usage fees since it’s a partnership between the city and businesses.

He responded he has done this when he was employed with the city of Beaumont and he asked businesses for their input.

“I will sit down with them and accommodate with what they request,” he said.

Willie “Bae” Lewis Jr., District 5 Councilman, said the city’s taxpayers will thank he and Doucet for recruiting Tohme as utility director last month.