Mayor Parker proposed an increase in your water bills by 12.5%, a little less than the 14% she discussed last month (see the blog I wrote about it here). 12.5% made Houstonians quite mad. So what does Houston City Council do? It raises water rates by nearly 30%!! “The increases for single-family homeowners will be phased in over three years, bringing the bill of an average single-family household using 6,000 gallons of water a month from $47 to $60 after the rate hike is fully implemented” (Houston Chronicle article).
According to Michael Marcotte, the director of the Department of Public Works and Engineering, “’If we do nothing, then we will find ourselves unable to meet the basic regulatory requirements’ for water and sewer systems” (Houston Chronicle). I agree, but until we have a long-term plan for our water system, I think it is irresponsible to increase taxes. Find a solution first and then see how much this solution is really going to cost. I wouldn’t mind paying a little more for my water if I knew that there was a plan and that the rates wouldn’t increase more than inflation for the foreseeable future; however, there does not appear to be any plan in place.
Maybe we should put something about this increase in our city charter… oh wait, we already did! Council Members Mike Sullivan, Oliver Pennington and C.O. Bradford voted against the plan, saying that this increase does go against our city charter. The charter says that water rates “shall not be increased, without voter approval, in any fiscal year by an amount greater than the combined rates of inflation and population growth in the city” (see it here).
City Attorney Arturo Michel and Mayor Parker said the increases would not violate charter provisions because it allows for increases to exceed these limits when they are “required by bond covenants and rates established by contract”. So the charter says that voters can decide whether or not to increase rates unless City Council votes for higher costs in a new contract?? Something about that doesn’t seem right.
Council Member Pennington said, and I agree, that the courts will probably have to decide this issue because it is likely that there will be a lawsuit. With the court costs associated with a lawsuit, I guess the rate increase won’t really help get us out of debt after all.
Thanks for your efforts Council Members Sullivan, Pennington, and Bradford.