The Public Heard, it's Time for Stormwater Fee Reductions
by David Crowder
Posted on May 6, 2008
Ed Archuleta, the chief executive officer of the El Paso Water Utilities’ Public Service Board, promises that substantial reductions in stormwater utility rates will be unveiled at Wednesday’s evening’s special PSB meeting.
But, he said, the utility would not release those newly proposed rates before the 5 p.m. meeting at the utility’s headquarters on Hawkins Boulevard.
“The reason, to be frank, is we’re still working on it,” he said Tuesday. “Secondly, if the apartment association lawsuit had not hit, we might have done that. But we want to give everyone the chance to come to the meeting and get the information there.”
The association, representing dozens of apartment owners, has charged in a lawsuit filed last week that the stormwater rates are unfair to and discriminatory against poor and Hispanic renters.
Car dealers also have threatened to challenge the legality of the utility in a lawsuit of their own.
Homeowners are angry and businesses and school districts are in an uproar over the stormwater fees added to water bills for March. The Ysleta school district is refusing to pay its bill.
“We have listened thoroughly to people at all the public meetings … and I think we intend to make some significant changes,” Archuleta said.
The utility was established by City Council and placed under the water utility’s Public Service Board to repair and pay for about half of the more than $200 million in damage left behind by the monsoon storms and record floods in August 2006.
When those projects are out of the way, the utility will be responsible for new drainage control projects and for the maintenance of facilities that were the responsibility of the city Streets Department before March 1.
Residential water customers were broken into three tiers of rates ranging from $2.28 to $9.50 a month based on the size of their homes.
Nonresidential customers – businesses, shopping malls, school districts and churches – are being assessed a fee of $4.85 for every 2,000 square feet of impervious areas including driveways, parking lots and rooftops.
Those charges have added thousands of dollars to the bills of those water customers with large parking areas.
The budget approved by the PSB for the year starting March 1 is $21 million, of which $8.2 million will be used to start, operate and maintain the new utility. Another $10.3 million was budgeted for planning and capital expenses, and that is the area Archuleta said will be reduced.
“Planning will continue and be done by next year,” he said. “What we’re stretching out will the capital improvements program.”
David Crowder can be reached at email@example.com
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