Glass of fresh water

Glass of fresh water

FREEPORT — Residents shouldn’t be surprised if their July water bill is higher than usual after city council increased the water and sewage utility rate, but Freeport City Manager Tim Kelty said they still have the lowest rate when compared to nearby cities.

Increased by 10 percent, the new rate will help pay for Texas Commission on Environmental Quality compliance projects, he said.

“That rate increase basically just offset the increase in cost the city pays under our contract with Veolia Water and the Brazosport Water Authority,” Kelty said. “They raised their rates, so we raised our rates to match their rates.”

Increasing the water and sewer utility rate not only helps make the utility self-sufficient from other revenue sources, but it also allows the city to avoid increasing the property tax rate to pay for it, Kelty said. Referred to as an enterprise fund, the utility was on the verge of losing money because the rate hadn’t increased since 2014, city officials said.

“Even with this 10 percent increase in water and sewer rates, we still have the lowest water and sewer rate of any of the surrounding cities,” Kelty said.

According to Freeport finance department’s rate comparison based on 5,000 gallons of usage, the 10 percent increase would bring the average household up from around $42.74 a month to $47.03 a month, excluding garbage and garbage tax. Lake Jackson’s average monthly charge is $53.85 and Clute’s average charge is $57.90, according to the comparison.

Freeport will conduct a utility rate study to determine what rates need to be set at to make sure the utility is self-sufficient and so the city can issue bonds to pay for projects to make the utility TCEQ compliant, council members announced when they met June 3.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality notified the City of Freeport of wastewater violations in 2014 where the city discharged a total of 30,825 gallons of wastewater between April 2012 and October 2013 due to power outages and line failures, according to the TCEQ letters sent to the city.

At the time, TCEQ recommended the city enter into an agreement with the commission that would have required Freeport to inspect all manholes and prioritize and repairs necessary by March 2016, according to TCEQ letters. The city would then have to inspect at least 20 percent of the system, make any repairs or replacements necessary and report back to the commission by September 2016 and every year after.

Freeport also would have had to evaluate the effectiveness of “corrective actions” annually and conduct annual inflow and infiltration studies. All of the requirements would have needed to be completed by September 2020, according to the letters. Former city manager Jeff Pynes sent back a counter-proposal, but for reasons unclear to the current administration, no further action was known to be taken, Kelty said.

Freese & Nichols Engineering, Inc., a Fort Worth-based engineering firm, might conduct the study but it hasn’t been decided since they were just brought on last week, Kelty said. For a long time, the City of Freeport didn’t have an engineer at all, he said, so bringing on the firm is a positive step for the city.

“That is really, really exciting news,” he said.

Chosen out of five total applicants, a contracted rate with the company has yet to be set but Kelty said a typical project, depending on its’ complexity, usually costs around $40,000 to $50,000.

For full meeting minutes, visit www.freeport.tx.us/page/council_agendas.

Elizabeth Parrish is a reporter for The Facts. Contact her at 979-237-0149.

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