Conroe budgets millions of dollars toward infrastructure upgrades; water, sewer rates jump

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Water and sewer fee rates in Conroe are going up this year—with sewer rates expected to nearly double over the next 10 years for the average residential user—to fund plans for major infrastructure projects amid exponential anticipated growth.

Conroe City Council raised water and sewer fees Aug. 23 and approved $63 million for a new wastewater treatment facility in the fiscal year 2018-19 budget after Hurricane Harvey partially ruined a 2016 rehabilitation project that updated the existing wastewater plant.

“The new plant is to address growth. We’ve experienced a lot of residential and commercial growth,” said Steve Williams, city of Conroe chief financial officer and assistant administrator. “As consumption goes up, the [water and sewer fee]rate changes.”

In addition to raising fees, the city approved other infrastructure projects—like a $4.7 million sewer and water line extension and a $14.9 million connector road from Pollok Drive to Farrell Road near the Conroe Park North—within its Capital Improvement Projects budget to accommodate this growth.

The Lake Conroe area population is expected to grow from 180,000 residents in 2018 to 485,300 in 2050, according to a 2018 demographic study conducted by consulting firm Community Development Strategies for the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce.

“Some of the growth has been annexation, but there’s a considerable amount of inner city growth that’s happening as we speak,” Conroe Public Works Director Norman McGuire said, adding Conroe is seeing about 1,000 new homes being built each year, resulting in as much as a 4 percent increase in water and sewer tap applications.

Conroe’s capital improvements

Conroe’s FY 2018-19 operating and capital improvement budgets, approved Aug. 23, include a total of $98.3 million for the design and construction of a new wastewater treatment facility as well as updates to the existing water and sewer facilities and pipes.

The $64.6 million budgeted for the new facility is actually spread over three years, including last year’s design fees and a 24-month construction timeline. The city plans to issue the debt in October and deliver the funds to build it in November.

To fund the expansion needed to satisfy the growth, the council increased monthly water rates by 4 percent to $31.10 and sewer rates by 15 percent to $59.94 for an average user who consumes 10,000 gallons per month. In the city’s 10-year plan, water rates are projected to increase by 20 percent to an average of $37.31, and sewer rates by 92 percent to an average of $115.38.

City officials said the new wastewater treatment plant is needed in part because of industrial growth in Conroe Park North and the Deison Technology Park areas. The new facility is planned to accommodate 12 million gallons per day, and Phase 1 will include the first 6 million. Water consumption is growing 500,000 gallons per day on average each year, according to McGuire.

Construction also continues rehabilitating the city’s Southwest Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant. The city had just finished a $14 million rehabilitation of the plant prior to Harvey. Conroe has already spent
$6.7 million on the renovation, which is expected to total $8.3 million and be completed in mid-September.

“[The renovation is] basically covered by our insurance,” Williams said. “Then there are some mitigation projects on the table the city’s trying to work with [Federal Emergency Management Agency] to get funded, to keep it from ever getting flooded again.”

The city also has other infrastructure projects in the works. For example, it is replacing 8,750 linear feet of sewer pipeline from Arnold to Frazier streets at a cost of $815,000.

“[And] we have another pretty good project coming up at the [Hwy.] 105 west corridor,” McGuire said. “We’re working on some future developments in extending the water and sewer lines out to the McCaleb Road area.”

Projects in Montgomery

In Montgomery, too, new businesses are attracted by large, recent developments, such as the 2015 Montgomery Summit Business Park, Buffalo Springs Shopping Center in 2017 and the Shoppes of Montgomery coming in 2019. With major road projects—like the ongoing expansion of FM 149—expected to increase traffic flow, city and chamber officials expect businesses, shoppers and residents to increase in the area, too.

Chris Roznovsky, district services department manager for Jones and Carter Municipal, Montgomery’s contracted engineering firm, said in May the city expects to need $38 million in water, sewer and transportation improvements over the next 15 years to accommodate the growth. In striving to reach that number, Montgomery increased the water and sewer tap fee structure for developers in January 2017.

Montgomery is budgeting for $35,000 in sewer plant improvements this year, with a grand total for water and sewer fund expenditures proposed to be $1.75 million.

The city also expects to spend $2.6 million on Texas Water Development Board projects next year, mainly for water plant upgrades increasing the city’s capacity by one-third.

About 90 percent of the city’s water is served by plant No. 3, according to Montgomery City Administrator Jack Yates. He said larger pipes will be installed to help with the water pressure at Montgomery High School and at the Town Creek Village Apartments, all needed because of population growth around the Lake Conroe area.

“There are several major developments going on inside our community,” McGuire said. “A 6 [million gallons per day new wastewater]facility in essence will extend our service area well into the future.”

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Jules Rogers
Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Jules Rogers has been covering community journalism and urban trade news since 2014. She moved to Houston in June 2018 to become an editor with Community Impact Newspaper after four years of reporting for various newspapers affiliated with the Portland Tribune in Oregon, including two years at the Portland Business Tribune. Before that, Jules spent time reporting for the Grants Pass Daily Courier in Southern Oregon. Her favorite beats to cover are business, economic development and urban planning.
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