Monarch Utilities has reached an agreement with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and a number of its subscribers on its water and sewer rate increase request originally filed in May 2011. An agreement was made to accept a water rate increase of 8.7 percent effective June 1 and another increase of 4.2 percent effective Jan. 1, 2013. There will be no sewer rate increase.
"We would have been more pleased if there was no increase, but all things being equal, we feel that it was a reasonable settlement at this point," said Orville Bevel, chair of Texans Against Monopolies Excessive Rates, which represents 22,000 rate payers across the state.
Among the customers TAMER represents are 1,100 households in five subdivisions southeast of Magnolia's city limits—Decker Hills, Inverness Crossing, Champions Glen, Hidden Lake Estates and Park Place Mobile homes.
Monarch Utilities originally filed a request with TCEQ for a 62.3 percent water rate increase and 33.6 percent sewer rate increase.
"My question is if they needed a 62 percent increase and are settling for 13 [percent], what's wrong with this picture? If they're that desperate for funds, why were they willing to settle?" said Bill Hudgins, who lives in the Champions Glenn subdivision. "I'm happy that it's more reasonable, but if you look at our rates compared to those around us, we still have trouble paying to water our lawns."
Hudgins said his monthly water bill typically runs around $125 based on 3,000-4,000 gallons of water used. As a comparison, residents living within Magnolia's city limits pay around $60 a month for similar usage.
The agreement with Monarch stipulates that customers will not pay for another water or sewer rate increase before Jan. 1, 2014.
"Over the past months, we have listened to our customers' concerns about the rate increase and the economic impact on them," said Charles Profilet, vice president of Southwest Water company, Monarch's parent company. "We are pleased to reach an agreement that meets customers' needs while allowing the company to continue to provide the highest quality water and wastewater services."
Monarch has also agreed not to charge its customers for the expenses the company incurred from the rate case, which they are allowed to do by law.
"If we'd had to go back into a rate case had we not settled, I can guarantee you that they would have put that right into the case as an assessment above the rates," Bevel said.
Bevel said he is hopeful that legislators will look into rules and regulations that need to be changed regarding investor-owned water and sewer utilities in the next legislative session. Senator Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, who is co-chair of a Senate subcommittee investigating rising water and sewer rates from investor-owned utilities, has said he plans to introduce pertinent bills in the 2013 legislative session.