Water bill decrease talk for elderly on tap in Port Arthur

Published 12:30 am Wednesday, September 13, 2023

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Weeks after city leaders adopted the Port Arthur 2023-24 fiscal year budget and increased water rates by 7 percent to help fund infrastructure repairs, talk intensified of possibly decreasing water rates by 7 percent for senior citizens.

Councilman Willie “Bae” Lewis suggested the decrease in water rates for seniors, hoping to give those either aged 62 and above or 65 and above a break on their bills.

The current 7 percent increase is impacting customers, and the hope is for the brunt of the increase to be borne by big industry; the biggest consumers.

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Councilman Harold Doucet said he liked the idea, but there’s a problem.

“You’re about two weeks too late,” Doucet said during Tuesday’s council meeting. “We just raised the rate 7 percent.”

The 7-percent increase to water and sewer bills was adopted to bring in funding to rehabilitate and repair infrastructure. The city, like some neighboring municipalities, is experiencing multiple water line breaks and outages.

Last month there was a line break and water pressure drop, leading Port Arthur Independent School District to cancel classes for a day at Thomas Jefferson Middle School.

While classes resumed the next day, there were water pressure issues and upstairs restrooms were closed. The water issue also impacted Memorial Stadium and temporarily shut down the press box restrooms.

“I want to make it very clear I am all for it, I think it’s a great idea but we are late with it,” Doucet said.

City Attorney Valecia Tizeno said the council cannot create different water rates for residents but can make exemptions on bills.

Some residents previously had a chance to get assistance with utility bills through a Community Block Development Grant for COVID-19 Emergency Utility Assistance Program. The City worked with a nonprofit agency previously that accepted and processed the applications.

The program came with specific stipulations, and because not enough people utilized it, the funding was appropriated and used for a different eligible project, according to City Manager Ron Burton.

Tizeno said should the City decide to offer the 7-percent discount for senior citizens, there would need to be a way to vet the applications so someone would not be able to use their elderly mother’s name to get a discount on their own bill.

Burton said he would work with staff to design a program for the decrease, along with criteria, and bring the proposal back to council in approximately 30 days.

Residents will be seeing the new increase on their bills soon.

A 7-percent rate increase for residents inside the city limits with usage under 10,000 gallons goes from $8.35 to $8.92 on water and $9.07 to $9.70 on sewer bills.

The total increase on a 5,000 gallon a month household would be an additional $5.16.