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Costs drive Fort Worth water bills up, conservation driving sewer rates up

Conservation causes sewer rates to rise in Fort Worth, water department says

08/10/2012 11:45 PM

08/12/2012 12:29 PM

FORT WORTH -- Raw water from the Tarrant Regional Water District continues to cost more, and the cost has resulted in a proposed 3.26 percent increase in city water rates for the fiscal 2013 budget beginning in October, Fort Worth water officials said Friday.

Sewer rates will rise a proposed 2.06 percent, because sewer flows keep dropping while fixed costs remain the same, the water department said.

Better conservation by users, including more efficient toilets and shower heads, has led to a drop in sewage flows that's likely to continue, the department said. The rates are part of the water department's proposed fiscal 2013 budget.

Mayor Betsy Price expressed concern about the impact of rising water bills in recent years on large businesses.

"While this looks like a small increase, you get into the larger bills" and the increases add up, she said near the end of a two-day City Council budget retreat.

Council members are working on a proposed $583 million general fund budget that holds the line on taxes but includes many fee increases.

On sewer rates, Councilman Danny Scarth said, "we're almost a victim of our own success on conservation. We still have a set fixed cost, and so we've got to cover that."

The department, a self-sustaining fund apart from the city's general fund budget, could use its reserves to absorb the 2013 water rate increase, but that would likely lead to a 8 percent-plus rate increase in 2014, the department said.

The department projects annual water rate increases for the foreseeable future, given raw water costs and debt service connected to facilities.

Additionally, the department has been using its reserves in recent years to help balance the budget, and the surplus is $4 million above the city's minimum requirement.

The water budget would be in the black for 2013 with the increases, and the sewer budget would be in the red, but the two balance each other, the department estimates.

"On the water side, we can absorb the increase because it's so small, but on the sewer side, it's much more difficult to absorb," water department director Frank Crumb said in an interview Friday.

The $4 million reserve "can't go much lower," per city policy, he said.

The department estimates that a typical residential user's monthly water and sewer bill will rise $1.79, or 3.45 percent. That includes increases in the water service charge and the usage charge for water volume.

A large residential user's bill could rise $7.94 per month, or 3.54 percent, in one city example.

The water budget would balance at $225.4 million with the service charge increase, but not the increase for usage, the department estimated.

With the service charge and usage increases, revenue would be $230.18 million and the water budget would be in the black by $4.77 million, the department projected.

The sewer budget would generate $146.9 million with the increase and still be in the red by $4.77 million, the department estimated.

Because it can't calculate a specific user's sewer flow, the city bases a customer's sewer rates on winter water usage.

The City Council is holding a public hearing at 7 p.m. Sept. 11 on the water and sewer increases. The council is set to vote Sept. 18 on a final budget and rates.

Scott Nishimura,

817-390-7808

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