Travis County commissioners delay bulk water price increase until Jan. 1

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After voting last month to raise the price of bulk water from $0.25 per 100 gallons to $12.28 per 100 gallons, commissioners delayed the implementation of the new price until Jan. 1 after hearing “from numerous constituents regarding the hardship created by such a large increase,” according to a brief prepared by county staff.

“There are several action steps, I think, that will come out of meeting with the community,” said Sherri Fleming, county executive for health and human services, at a Sept. 17 Commissioners Court meeting.

The goal is to develop a legal plan to assist those residents facing “genuine hardship,” Commissioner Brigid Shea said, while also working to help wean off bulk water customers who may use the resource for business purposes because it is inexpensive.

In light of the recently passed property tax revenue cap, commissioners have stressed the need to cut costs and develop additional revenue streams other than property taxes.

During the ongoing budget process for fiscal year 2019-20, county staff have supported moving toward a cost-recovery model, which would help the county recoup the cost of providing certain services.

A cost-recovery model for bulk water, for example, would see the county price its own bulk water provision service in line with market rates.

However, such a shift can lead to unexpected hardship, as commissioners recently learned.

Some residents live in subdivisions built without water lines, such as Los Lomitas in Southeast Travis County, and depend on the county’s bulk water service, both for its convenience and affordability.

At an Aug. 27 meeting of the Commissioners Court, Rose Vargas said through an interpreter that her family uses around 2,000 gallons a week, in part to care for cattle and other animals on their lane.

“I’m willing to negotiate the price, and I know it shouldn’t be free, but from $5 to $250 [a week]seems insurmountable,” Vargas said.

A series of community meetings to discuss possible solutions is scheduled for early October.

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Emma Freer
Emma Freer began covering Central Austin for Community Impact Newspaper in 2017. Her beat includes the Travis County Commissioners Court and local business news. She graduated from Columbia Journalism School in 2017.
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