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Kingwood seeks approval for water and garbage rate increases

KINGWOOD – The City of Kingwood is seeking approval for water and garbage rate increases.

But COVID-19 is impacting the speed at which approval for the proposed increases progress.

The State Public Service Commission (PSC), which must approve the rate hikes, extended the deadline for PSC staff to respond to the garbage cases by 60 days, to March 12, and the deadline for the administrative law judge will rule to no later than Aug. 2 on garbage rates.

Administrative Law Judge Darren Olofson cited “the difficulty of conducting the necessary audits during the COVID-19 pandemic” in his order.

Council has asked its attorney to ask the PSC to act sooner. The city filed applications for the garbage and transfer station rate hikes with the PSC on Oct. 5, 2020.

Garbage rates were last raised in 2007 at the transfer station and 2010 for home pickup.

For in-town residential customers a rate hike from $15.90 per month to $17.49 is proposed. Out-of-town residential customers currently pay $17.26 per month. They also will pay the 10% increase. Business customers, whose rates vary depending on pickups, will also see the increase.

At the transfer station, customers now pay $63.35 per ton.

An accountant the city hired before seeking the raise estimated Kingwood has to augment transfer station earnings $6,000-$7,000 per month and about $8,000 per year on residential and business pickups.

Water rates

Council will hold second reading of the proposed water rate increases at its Feb. 9 meeting. When the Kingwood Water Board met this week, Bill Robertson, who represents council on the board, warned that those increases also could be delayed once they reach the PSC, for similar reasons.

The Water Board is requesting about a 10.5% water rate increase. If approved on final reading, the increase will add about $2.16 to minimum monthly bills.

The current minimum water rates per month for in-town customers are 5/8-inch meter or less, $21.66;  3/4-inch meter, $32.49;  1-inch meter, $54.15; 1 1/2 inch meter, $120; and 2-inch meter, $192. PSD 2 customer current minimum monthly rates are 5/8-inch meter or less, $24 per month; 3/4 inch-meter, $36; one-inch meter, $60; 1 1/2 inch meter, $120; and 2-inch meter, $192.

It’s the first since 2014 for Kingwood customers as part of a tank replacement project, but users on the former Public Service District 2 system, now a part of Kingwood, had a rate increase last year, so it collected enough to cover the district’s bond payments. The Public Service Commission mandated that rate increase as part of Kingwood’s acquisition of the district.

The water board said in a statement, “Our current rates are below the value needed to apply for some grants. With rates that are too low, when we apply our application is denied.”

Grantors told the city it needs to increase rates to cover operating expenses, the board said.

In addition, the system is collecting less money from usage during COVID-19. For example, restaurants were closed a portion of last year and are still at limited capacity, schools have been closed and Camp Dawson has not been holding events.

At the same time, the system has projects that need to be completed, the board said. These include a $500,000-plus project to update the pressure reducing valve stations at Pleasantdale and covering water clarifiers at the plant.

Kingwood still has some galvanized water pipes, which are more prone to leaks than newer pipes. The water system also wants to replace all its meters with radio-read meters, to improve accuracy.

“We have a whole list of items we need to address. We are taking it one step at a time,” the board said in its release.