Copperas Cove city council discusses tiered water rates, will revisit in March 2022
By BRITTANY FHOLER
The Copperas Cove city council continued a discussion of tiered water rates during a workshop meeting Tuesday evening.
The city council had previously discussed and then tabled discussion regarding tiered water rates back in March, following changes made to the base rates and volumetric rates for water and sewer and the elimination of the senior discount.
The base rates for water and sewer increased while the volumetric rates decreased.
Councilmember Joann Courtland requested the discussion during the previous meeting and shared why she wanted to discuss the topic again.
“To me, it is an important discussion for the fact that while we are sitting pretty today- our lakes are full and everybody seems to think we have an endless amount of water- I really believe that this could turn on a dime,” Courtland said. “It’s happened in Utah; it’s happened in California. Their lakes are drying up, and they’re trying to find other sources of water. There’s two big points for this tiered water rate. One is water conservation to make sure that we are going to be able to have this resource for our citizens. The second is I really believe this, along with another program that Ryan will talk about later, will do more for our citizens that are in need than the donation program will. This will set us up for success and allow those citizens who are either on fixed income or actually doing their part to conserve water, this should allow others to realize that if we try to conserve those resources, they will be a lot more abundant later on.”
City Manager Ryan Haverlah explained that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) goes by an assumption rate of water usage that a city must have available to its customers. According to the TCEQ, Copperas Cove was determined to have 0.6 gallons per customer per day as its assumption rate. With this assumption rate, the city is at 89 percent usage of its water supply.
“Once you reach 85 percent, not only should you be in the planning, but you should be in the process of acquiring additional water rights for our customers,” Haverlah said.
Haverlah said that Public Works Director Scott Osburn and city staff did work with TCEQ to have an alternate rate of consumption for the community that is more aligned with actual usage, and they were able to get temporary approval from TCEQ to reduce the rate from 0.6 to 0.38, bringing that usage number down to approximately 56 percent use of the city’s water stores or water supply.
“With a tiered rate system, it would encourage customers to continue to use water in a wise manner, thereby keeping our usage on the lower end or below what TCEQ assumes all utility customers use, and so that helps us to move out or push to the future the need or requirement to purchase additional water supply which right now in this region would be extremely difficult,” Haverlah said.
Haverlah added that the city, which currently gets its water from Bell County Water Supply WCID #1, has actually been asked to sell some of its water supply back to another customer, which definitely shows that the water source is not as infinite.
Haverlah also shared that there was a potential idea form city staff about changing the way the sewer rate is calculated and charged, which would be by taking the winter average for all residential customers and applying that winter average in a way to where all customers pay their winter average all year long, instead of having to pay a higher amount in the summer because they’re using more water.
“It is more realistic that the winter average is actually the amount of wastewater or sewer that is being treated in our system,” Haverlah said.
This is something that needs to be further analyzed and looked into, he added.
Haverlah later walked the council members through a spreadsheet with the different rates (volumetric and base) to see the impact on the customers’ bills.
“Most of our utility system is a fixed rate system, and so if we look strictly at water and see what the impact on water would be, and everybody paid the same essentially for the same amount of usage, we’ll make an assumption that the amount of usage is only 2,000 gallons a month,” Haverlah said about one example. “Roughly, the utility rate that would have to be paid on a monthly basis is $44.85.”
According to the presentation, approximately 1,200 customers use between 0 and 1,000 gallons, while another 1,600 customers use 2,000 to 3,000 gallons. Customers that use 0 to 8,000 gallons make up 80 percent of the city’s utility customer base.
The city council was in consensus leaning toward tiered rates, but not in favor of implementing the rate system this fall.
Courtland said she knew that it wouldn’t be possible to implement the program immediately, but she wanted it to be set in motion with the discussion.
“We had a lot of rain this year - great- but that’s not going to be that way every year, and I’d just hate to see us thinking we’re golden, and we’ve got all this resource, and we’re going to turn around and spend more money to buy more water,” Courtland said. “That’s not what we need to be doing.”
City staff will continue analysis and bring back the topic when pre-budget sessions start again in March 2022, to potentially implement in October 2022.