After hours of heated discussion, Council last week voted 8-3 to approve San Antonio Water System's requested 8.4 percent rate increase.
True to form, Northside Councilman Carlton Soules put up the loudest objection. Soules argues SAWS has been too slow to respond to concerns from the Environmental Protection Agency, which in 2007 opened an investigation into the utility's unacceptable frequency of sewer overflows and spills. Despite the utility's assurances to EPA and ratepayers that sewer-line cleaning and monitoring would forestall expensive pipe replacements down the road, Soules, in an op-ed he penned the day before the Council vote, chided that SAWS has only spent $6.5 million annually since 2009 — out of a $500 million budget — on pipe cleaning. SAWS even decreased spending on it from 2010 to 2011, Soules wrote.
Soules' solution — one that only he and fellow Northside Council rep Elisa Chan voted for — was to push a 6.4 percent rate increase, insisting Council could ease the blow to ratepayers by demanding SAWS save $5 million through corporate belt tightening, by removing funds "slated for salaries and benefits." Beyond that, Soules asked Council to add new accountability measures to any rate increase that would be "targeted at immediate cost cutting" at the utility.
Only Soules, Chan and West Side Councilman David Medina voted against the 8.4 percent rate increase, which is now set to take effect March 1.