Hutto City Council discuss COVID-19 safety, water bill reimbursement

Hutto City Council discussed water bill forgiveness in its March 4 meeting. (Kelsey Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Hutto City Council discussed water bill forgiveness in its March 4 meeting. (Kelsey Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)

Hutto City Council discussed water bill forgiveness in its March 4 meeting. (Kelsey Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)

Masks and COVID-19 safety protocols were the first topics Hutto City Council discussed in its March 4 meeting following Gov. Greg Abbott’s lift of the statewide mask mandate.

Mayor Pro Tem Mike Snyder said the city would not contradict the order, but would continue to adhere to common sense safety practices. Residents are encouraged to social distance, wear face coverings and hand wash frequently.

Over $300,000 in COVID-19 relief funds are still available for businesses that have encountered issues within the past year. Snyder said the last loan given out was in October. The city is currently working on ways to better communicate the availability of the funds.

“I’d hate to see a business shut down because it didn’t know about the ability to get possible help,” he said.

City Manager Warren Hutmacher was given authorization to proceed with water bill forgiveness plans for winter storm related damages. Utility relief programs have been considered in cities throughout Texas following February’s winter storm.

Hutto’s plan would give citizens whose February water bills are 50% or more than their normal rate the amount of their average monthly bill plus 10% to account for any increase. Citizens whose water bills increased but are less than 50% their normal rate are encouraged to contact the city so they can negotiate the bill, Hutmacher said.

Sewage bill rates will be capped to average consumption so residents won’t see an increase in their April bills, he said.

Council also approved phase one of a three-phase plan for water supply improvements. These upgrades will consist of new wells and aquifer storage to increase capacity, and are estimated to be complete in a year. Phase one, which involves system improvements that will leverage the city’s existing water source to meet increased peak demands, is estimated to cost $17 million.

Director of Engineering Samuel Ray said the city of Hutto has $12.7 million available in utility bond money to go toward the project. Snyder and Rose expressed concern over funding the project without hurting the taxpayer.

“Somehow we've got to thread the needle and figure out how to use our impact fees and current revenues to get through this period,” Snyder said. “If there is a point in time where we do have to level with the people and explain, or we're going to have to move some stuff around, I think the sooner we do that the better instead of waiting six months halfway through a project.”

Council Member Dan Thornton said the water supply improvements project is what needs to be done, although he would be happier knowing exactly how the city was going to pay for it. Because they are not paying for it right now, as the project progresses they will eventually need to answer where the money will come from.

Council Member Peter Gordon said Hutto was one of the last cities whose water went offline during the winter storm and one of the first back online. He said he credits it to the city owning its own water system.

When water pressure went down, Snyder said it was because other systems helping supply Hutto with additional water went down, not because of their own system.

“What that told me was how bad of a problem we have with our water supply, because we’re pumping as much as we can and we need other providers,” he said. “At some point we’re going to have to increase our output and our ability to get more water.”

One item that was tabled during council's meeting was an Economic Development Corporation presentation of expenses and return on investment of the last two years because the presentation was not ready. Snyder said the council requested a report in January to get up to speed on projects and personnel. There was frustration among council members for the delay.

“It’s a little bit frustrating,” Council Member Robin Sutton said. “As an organization of business you should have the records together.”

Steven Harris, the Economic Development Corporation chair, will have two weeks to prepare to present during the March 18 meeting. Sutton and Council Member Tanner Rose said they would be looking at how people spent money and for what reasons as well as the job descriptions of the people within the corporation.
By Megan Cardona

Reporter, Round Rock, Pflugerville-Hutto

Megan is the Hutto reporter for Community Impact Newspaper's Round Rock and Pflugerville-Hutto editions. In 2020, she graduated with a degree in communication from UT-Arlington, where she worked at the student newspaper, The Shorthorn, for two years covering student affairs, campus administration and the city of Arlington.