Water rates for the typical Fort Worth resident could rise by $2.11 a month and sewer by $1.20 in the upcoming fiscal year under the proposed city budget, officials said today.
The increase continues a five-year effort by the city to make the Water Department less dependent on residents’ water usage for its revenue. This is the second year of that plan, city officials said at today’s fiscal 2015 budget workshop.
“A lot of customers complain that, ‘Well, you are restricting how much water I use, you are telling me to use less and now you are charging me more for it,’” said Fort Worth Water Director Frank Crumb. “One of the things we try to do in this budget presentation is really put that in perspective.”
To become less reliant on the volatile nature of consumption, the city began a plan in fiscal year 2014 to shift more revenue to the fixed fee. In fiscal 2013, 83 percent of overall revenue was based on the amount of water used and 17 percent was based on fixed fees, depending on the size of the meter. The goal is to get the fixed revenue to 25 percent.
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For residents with water meters that are 5/8 inch or 3/4 inch, the rate is increasing from $9 to $10 a month. For residents with a 1-inch meter, the rate is going up from $14.75 to $18.15 a month.
Residents who use more water will get higher increases as part of an effort to encourage conservation. An efficient water user’s bill could increase as little as $1.40 a month, while the bill for one who uses a lot of water could go up by $7.52 a month.
Using less water will also keep the city from having to rush to do costly water system improvements that could raise costs even more, Crumb said.
“If our citizens can just be patient and understand they aren’t being penalized for using less water, that they really are going realize some savings, especially in the future, for all their conservation efforts,” said Councilman Danny Scarth.
Raw water costs
The primary driver of increased costs is the dramatic rise in the cost of raw water from the Tarrant Regional Water District, Crumb said, though lower water use always makes a difference.
In 2014, the cost to buy water from the district went up 9.5 percent. It is expected to increase 12 percent in 2015. City officials expect the cost of raw water to nearly double within 10 years, costing about $130 million by 2024 compared with the $71.5 million the city spent on water in 2014.
Because of reduced water usage — watering restrictions were made permanent in April — the city is planning to cut how much water it buys from the district by about 3.5 billion gallons.
Crumb said customers were already starting to use less water even before the restrictions, in part because of more efficient appliances. The water consumption for both residential and commercial users dropped an average of 30 percent per account from 1998 to 2012.
“People have come to realize it is pretty much the next oil and a commodity we have to think about — how do we preserve it?” said Mayor Betsy Price. “Because the city will have no growth without adequate water supplies, nor will we be able to maintain what we have.”
The water budget is expected to increase from $235 million in 2014 to $243 million in 2015, a 3.44 percent increase. The sewer budget is expected to increase 5.11 percent, from $150 million to $158 million.
Street funding needs
Thursday’s briefing also highlighted an unfunded $1.3 billion gap in rehabilitating and adding streets.
Streets in fair condition, which totaled 1,666 lane miles across the city, need $499.4 million for rehab work, while streets in poor condition, totaling 488 lane miles, need $224 million, said Doug Wiersig, director of transportation and public works.
The city also needs about $600 million to fund additional arterials and street miles as the city continues to grow.
“That is kind of like the low-laying fruit, that gap. I could go on,” Wiersig said.
Councilman Sal Espino called transportation one of the city’s “top challenges” and recommended considering new funding sources, such as adding a transportation utility fee, similar to the storm water fee, which is tacked onto water bills.
“I don’t think we just going to get there with debt service programs,” Espino said, adding that a new fee would be a community process in the future.
“I don’t see how we ever close the gap if we don’t look at a dedicated lockbox for transportation. ... I just don’t see us getting there without a sort of revenue stream strictly dedicated to streets and transportation.”
Part of the problem, Wiersig said, is that the city continues to add new infrastructure, such as lane miles, traffic lights and street lighting, but has cut funding for street maintenance in the last several budgets, despite the additional inventory to maintain.
The city peaked on street maintenance spending in fiscal 2011, at $31.3 million, while the proposed budget for fiscal 2015 is $27.5 million.
A similar gap was identified on the storm water side. There are 83 unfunded storm water projects, for a total of $325 million.
“Strategically, you have to think — how do we move forward in the future to address the $1.3 billion in street needs and the capital?” Wiersig said.
Wiersig said some strategies to bridge that gap include getting away from using street lights by replacing intersections with roundabouts, which require less maintenance, and using transportation impact fees.