The city’s water and sewer system isn’t exactly the most thrilling thing to talk about at city council. But it does affect every single resident of Houston.
That’s why it was the subject of the mayor’s report to councilmembers. Mayor Bill White says operations and maintenance costs for the water system are higher than expected. Added to that is the fact that the system’s debt
service has gone up.
“Between, I want to say, ’93 and 2002 rates weren’t raised and maintenance was cut back and we incurred a whole lot of debt within the system. So in 2004 the system was — basically without a restructuring it would have been in a severe financial crisis.”
The city restructured the debt and authorized a rate increase in 2004.
Nevertheless, the mayor says the consolidated utility system is still losing tens of millions of dollars because of inefficiencies.
“I think it’s a pretty well-run water utility, but some of its practices are not what I would expect. We have a lot of things done manually that could be done on an automated basis. We produce more water than we bill for and the water goes somewhere, we don’t know where it goes.”
The mayor wants to hire an outside consulting firm and pay it more than a million dollars to find those inefficiencies and overhaul the system.
One of the options under consideration is a rate increase and changes to the overall pay structure.
“One of the things that the rate consultant is going to look at is also the cost for the various categories of services. We sell water to a bunch of people and how much should be borne by the people we sell water to that are not our residents and not our citizens.”
Houston councilmembers delayed voting on the consultant contract. They’ll take it up again next week, when it will likely pass.
As for that rate increase, be on the lookout for further discussions on it in the spring.
Laurie Johnson. KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.