Customers petitioning against Kempner water rate hike
By LYNETTE SOWELL
In February 2017, Kempner Water Supply Corporation customers received a notice that their base water rates are going up.
In response, some customers have started a petition which they plan to submit to the Public Utilities Commission.
“We are getting the same water but paying way more than we used to,” said Anelicia Cheney-Campbell, who is one of the petition drive leaders. “I have talked to people that when they moved here they paid $18 for water and now before we use a drop of water it will be $67.50. Some people say they would be okay with an increase if the increase would go towards fixing pipes and providing better water but it isn’t. None of this increase will go towards our quality of service and it seems like people have had enough.
“KWSC services four counties and so there are customers that have 10-plus accounts and when you have a price increase of $5 per month per account for water that most people don’t drink, it makes them want to stand up and do what they can to stop it.”
The petition requires 10 percent of the utility company’s customers, in this case, the Kempner Water Supply Corporation (KWSC).
Cheney-Campbell, who is helping lead the petition drive, said the group’s goal is to collect 1,000 signatures from the approximately 5,200 member/customers.
“Right now we have about 300,” Cheney-Campbell said. “There are petitions at several locations that we try to pick up almost daily.” Those locations include Kempner Brick Oven, Shell/Star Mart at 12444 E. U.S. Highway 190, Rebecca’s Kitchen in Kempner, Valero at 2202 U.S. 190 in Kempner, and the Valero/Speedy Pac on FM 2657.
The petition must be submitted to the Public Utilities Commission of Texas within 90 days of effective date of the rate change.
Cheney-Campbell said after the announcement was made, she and a few other customers met with KWSC’s manager,
"She was happy to help get us those papers and inform us of what all we needed to do. So we took the papers, made hundreds of copies and have been out trying to get the word out.”
The base rate for both 5/8 x ¾” and ¾” meters increases from $62.50 to $67.50 per month. Customers with 1” meters will pay $168.75 for a base rate, up from $156.25; customers with 1-1/2” meters will pay $337.50, up from $312.50; and any customers with two-inch meters will pay a base rate of $540, up from $500 per month.
There is no proposed change to the $3.15 per 1,000 gallons that customers currently pay.
According to the notice issued to customers, the rate increase takes effect April 1, with the new rates being reflected starting with the May bill.
In KWSC’s February newsletter, Dolores Atkinson, the general manager for KWSC, said the last increase was approved by the KWSC board of directors in September 2014, and this most recent increase was approved at the February 2017 board meeting.
Atkinson called the increase “inevitable” and stated that the rate was the result of an independent rate study. No cost per 1,000 gallons increase was implemented, although the rate study recommended it.
The increase is to help take care of issues with elevated trihalomethanes (TTHMs), with the project to address that costing $330,588. The company is also replacing the pump station on County Road 3420. Atkinson also said in the newsletter there is an application for a petition at the KWSC office.
In response to many questions from customers, Atkinson issued a letter of explanation on March 7 to KWSC customers, due to concerns about the increase and the lawsuit with the city of Lampasas, and how the 2006 contract with the Lampasas relates to the present rate increases.
In that letter, Atkinson cites multiple issues with the contract between KWSC and the city of Lampasas, which favor the city and involve multiple costs to the KWSC.
Atkinson said a copy of the contract is available at the KWSC office for customers to read the contract.
KWSC supplies water in a 315-square-mile rural service area covering portions of Lampasas, Coryell, Burnet and Bell counties. This area is 35 miles from the source of the water, Stillhouse Hollow Lake. Atkinson told customers that just the fuel cost for vehicles to traverse KWSC’s large service area is “significant” when compared to a city which provides service within a relatively small footprint.
Also, KWSC purchased facilities from CTWSC, including paying the costs for a new water treatment plant and large transmission lines. The rates include the debt service and debt service coverage for these facilities.
“KWSC’s directors, managers, and legal team are keeping the costs down although it is impossible to keep the costs from rising while budgeting for the subsidy to Lampasas required by the contract,” Atkinson wrote. She wrote that the City of Lampasas is also taking a “potentially valuable portion of KWSC’s service area,”” the business park, away from KWSC without compensating KWSC for the loss.
“Our financials are all in good standing and meet all required laws that govern water supply corporations,” Atkinson said, adding that part of the rate increase is to generate the revenue required to satisfy the debt service coverage requirements on the TWDB loan and to borrow additional funds in order to pay for required upgrades and extensions. The letter in its entirety is on the KWSC website, www.kempnerwsc.com.
Kempner Water Supply Corporation is holding its annual membership meeting on Thursday, March 23 at 7 p.m. at the KWSC office, located at 11986 E. Highway 190 in Kempner.