Copperas Cove city council propose lowering senior citizen water discount, discusses rate increases for all
By BRITTANY FHOLER
The Copperas Cove City Council discussed lowering the senior citizen discount applied to residents’ utility bills during a workshop meeting held Thursday evening.
The workshop was held to discuss rate increases of 5 percent for all utility customers, for the base water and sewer rates, the solid waste collection fee, and the monthly drainage fee.
Council member Fred Chavez asked about the senior citizen discount, which has been called unconstitutional and illegal in past council meetings and other years’ budget discussions by Manning and other past council members.
Chavez said that the discount needs to be phased out and asked for Budget Director Ariana Beckman to calculate what it would look like if the discount was changed to 10 percent.
Giving a 10 percent discount to senior citizens, the city would receive an additional $133,634 in revenue for the Water and Sewer Fund and $39,166 in revenue for Solid Waste. The discount change would see senior citizens’ bills increase by 18 percent, when looking at a usage of 5,000 gallons.
After further discussion, the council came to the consensus to change the discount from 20 percent to 15 percent, which saw an increase to senior citizens’ bills by 12 percent.
Manning proposed that the city also change the cap for senior citizens from 5,000 gallons to 4,000 gallons, but Haverlah explained this would have to be worked on by staff outside of the meeting because the spreadsheet was not capable of showing that change.
Currently, a senior citizen using 5,000 gallons, which is the cap for the discount, with no sprinklers, pays $86.86 a month for their utility bill. The initial proposed rate and stormwater (drainage) fee increases would have increased the bill to $91.92.
With the reduction in the senior discount, that senior citizen’s bill will end up increasing a total of 12 percent, to $97.28.
Currently, senior citizens over the age of 65 can receive a 20 percent discount with a 5,000-gallon cap for the discount.
The proposed water/sewer fund and solid waste fund budgets for the 2020-2021 fiscal year includes a five percent increase in the base and volumetric rates for water and sewer and solid waste, as well as an increase of $1 for the stormwater (drainage) fee.
“We talked about a five percent increase in rates to not only be able to provide the necessary operations but to complete the necessary capital projects to ensure that the water and sewer infrastructure and the solid waste infrastructure is sufficient to serve our community, and as we grow as a city, that infrastructure increases, but on the opposite end of that, as we grow, the infrastructure that was already there becomes older, and we need to begin looking at replacing that infrastructure,” Haverlah said.
He added that he felt this is something that has not been properly addressed in the last 20 years.
During Thursday’s discussion, Haverlah said that the last utility rates study, performed by a third-party, indicated that the rates being charged for sewer were “well below what the calculations indicated should be charged.”
“I believe the volumetric charge for sewer alone they were recommending at $7.50 per thousand gallons, so that’s a significant increase from the proposed $6.04,” Haverlah said.
It was also noted that the city’s rate for purchasing water from the Bell County Water Improvement Control District No. 1 is increasing by 7.5 percent.
Council member Jay Manning asked about the need for the drainage fee increase, which at $1 comes in at a 16 percent increase.
“The drainage fee has been $6 since its inception and since city council has implemented it,” Haverlah said. He added that he believed the fee was implemented well before the 1990s.
“The drainage master plan has indicated that there are a number of drainage improvements that are needed throughout our community. We cannot do all of those drainage projects within the five-year time frame, which is when that master plan is going to be essentially good for,” Haverlah said. “We’re likely going to add to those projects because drainage facilities will eventually need to be improved because of additional water flow that occurs in our community. In order to do those projects and maintain the drainage system, that fee would need to increase in order for us to actually accomplish those projects sooner.”
For a residential customer who uses 5,000 gallons, with no sprinkler, their bill would increased from $107.07 to $113.15, with these proposed fee changes.
The water and sewer base rates would increase from $14 to $14.70 each, while the water and sewer volumetric rates would change from $4.75 per 1,000 gallons of water to $4.99 per 1,000 gallons of water and from $5.75 per 1,000 gallons of sewer to $6.04 per 1,000 gallons of sewer.
The rate for solid waste collection would change from $19 to $19.95. The stormwater (drainage) fee would increase from $6 to $7.
The city’s Water and Sewer Fund is considered an enterprise fund and is not funded by property taxes, instead receiving revenue from utility customers.
The Water and Sewer Fund has a proposed beginning fund balance of $3,274,580. The city’s fund balance policy states that city funds have a 90-day fund balance, known as an “ideal fund balance.”
The “ideal fund balance” for Water and Sewer is $2,414,057. The FY 2021 proposed budget for Water and Sewer is $901,320 over the ideal fund balance.
Expenditures in the Water and Sewer Fund include a one percent cost of living adjustment plus market adjustment increases for staff; the reclassification of the Billing Technician to Utility Admin from the Finance Department; the remodel of the Utility Administration building for $250,000, as well as a software purchase of Tyler Technology for $173,793.
The budget also includes a new position request for a Utility Administration Manager coming in at $69,159.