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Councilmembers split on whether to support higher water bills

The San Antonio Water System is proposing a 5.8 percent rate increase next year, followed by a 4.7 percent hike in 2019. City leaders will vote on whether to approve the plan on Dec. 7.

Councilman Manny Pelaez toured a sewer line project Wednesday, saying he wanted to better understand what’s behind the push for higher water bills.

The San Antonio Water System is proposing a 5.8 percent rate increase next year, followed by a 4.7 percent hike in 2019. City leaders will vote on whether to approve the plan on Dec. 7.

“Sewers and storm water, I do believe, is one of those areas that if we don’t invest in it now, we’re going to regret it later,” Pelaez said.

The District 8 councilman toured a project near The Rim, where workers are digging to install more than three miles of sewer lines at a cost of more than $14 million – one example of the needs all over town, where a growing population is pushing aging infrastructure to its limit.

“The difficulty that these utilities have is in explaining the value that this investment has to the citizens,” Pelaez said.

Part of the additional revenue would also fund a new water source – the Vista Ridge Pipeline.

However, a handful of councilmembers are questioning the cost to San Antonians, including District 10’s Clayton Perry.

“While I understand that there are necessary infrastructure improvements that need to be made, I do not agree with the consistent rise of rates in the past six years,” Perry said in a statement. “The past six rate increases have totaled over 40 percent.”

We checked in with each member of council, asking how they plan to vote in three weeks:

• District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño did not indicate he’d made a decision. In a statement, he said: “I think what Manny is doing to show the SAWS infrastructure is a good thing. I applaud him showing the work and giving the community access as it is important to show what people's rates and taxes are going towards. We are also working with SAWS on the impact of their affordability program among other items. Going forward, we will continue to monitor SAWS operations to ensure our residents continue to have access to clean, affordable water. I am also still reviewing and discussing with staff and community leaders. I am committed to doing my due diligence until the vote.”

• District 2 Councilman Cruz Shaw said he hasn’t decided. His statement: “Right now I hope to see more community involvement and an explanation to our citizens on what exactly this rate increase would be used for. SAWS is visiting some of our neighborhood associations and we hope these outreach efforts continue.”

• District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran had no on-the-record comment.

• District 4 Councilman Rey Saldaña did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

• District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales said she supports the rate increase.

• District 6 Councilman Greg Brockhouse said he plans to vote no, adding in a statement: "We should be doing all we can to reduce the SAWS operating budget first, and that includes stopping massive CEO bonuses, before asking the public for more money. Residents will see an almost 40 percent increase in their water rates over the next four years. That’s unacceptable and the City Council must stop rubber-stamping rate increases."

• District 7 Councilwoman Ana Sandoval did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

• District 8 Councilman Manny Pelaez said in an interview: “In all likelihood, I’ll vote yes. Now, what form that rate increase takes, whether or not it’s a multi-year increase or if it’s going to be less than 5.8 percent as request, has yet to be determined.”

• District 9 Councilman John Courage said he does not support the increases as proposed.

• District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry said he’s a no vote. His full statement: “While I understand that there are necessary infrastructure improvements that need to be made, I do not agree with the consistent rise of rates in the past six years. The past six rate increases have totaled over 40 percent, and have raised over $170M each year in extra revenue for SAWS. This along with other rate increases and rising property taxes are putting undue pressures on our neighbors.”

mlocklear@sbgtv.com

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