San Marcos City Council held a budget workshop Wednesday night during which council members discussed the possibility of increasing the city’s drainage utility rates, including the potential of doubling rates.
The drainage utility revenue funds projects related to storm water management and flood resiliency, and council members voiced a desire to see the rate increased to more aggressively address the city’s flooding issues.
City staff has recommended council approve a 10 percent increase—which would equate to a $0.92-per-month increase on a bill for the owner of a medium-sized residential lot. The 10 percent increase would allow the city to continue work on capital improvement projects that have already been planned. Staff also presented City Council with a list of other drainage projects they would like added to the city’s plans.
“I know we’re raising taxes, and that’s never fun, and it’s going to be painful, but this is a problem that has been in this city for 100 years,” Mayor John Thomaides said. “Every 10 years there is a massive article in the paper that says ‘Flood’ in big letters. I’d like us to strongly consider a different rate increase for this.”
Thomaides said he would support doubling the rates if it meant the city could more aggressively pursue solutions to issues that caused two major floods in 2015 and some flooding during a short but intense rain event in April.
“I’m more than willing to go out on the line and say I think it ought to be double,” Thomaides said. “There is no way we’re going to get where we need to be by nibbling at [the flooding issues].”
Currently the city charges residential customers based on the size of their lots. The owner of small residential lot pays $5.72 per month to the drainage utility. The owner of a medium lot pays $9.15 per month, and the owner of a large lot pays $10.48 per month. Commercial property owners are charged based on the amount of their property that has impervious cover—a surface such as concrete or metal that does not allow water to seep into the ground.
Council Member Saul Gonzales said he supported the idea of an increase, but the amount of the increase worried him. Some residents are better able to afford an additional $3-$4 per month on their bills, but for some residents that additional charge could be difficult to pay, Gonzales said.
Laurie Moyer, director of engineering and capital improvements, said the larger revenue stream would not necessarily increase the city’s ability to pursue drainage projects in the short term, but within three years more projects could begin to be built.
Moyer said the engineering department’s primary constraint is based on workload. Before discussion of the drainage utility rates began, Moyer said the engineering department has had a hard time competing against private sector companies to hire engineers.
“We can either all pitch in and take care of our city or we can have a good portion of our residents completely devastated every few years when we have a flood,” Council Member Melissa Derrick said.
City staff will prepare more information for City Council about potential drainage utility rate increases and how they would affect the city’s ability to mitigate against future flooding. That information will be presented to City Council at a meeting prior to adoption of the fiscal year 2017-18 budget and utility rates.