This update will be of particular interest to the almost 3,000 ratepayers in Henderson County that are customers of Monarch Water. For the majority of the citizens of Henderson and Kaufman Counties, water service is provided by city governments or water supply corporations with a city council or governing board made up of local residents that are held accountable to the people they represent.
As an example, I live in the city of Terrell and the city provides water service to my house. If there was a problem with my water service or a discrepancy with my water bill, I would call the city of Terrell water department and the matter (in most cases) would be resolved quickly. If my problem wasn’t resolved, I might escalate the matter to my city councilman and expect him to get involved. I would also expect to be charged a fair price for water service and not to be billed for water I did not use. That seems reasonable, right?
For about 3,000 citizens in Henderson County that live near or on Cedar Creek Lake or Lake Palestine, the simple scenario I describe above is a dream that never comes true. When many of the housing developments were built along the lake areas in Henderson County, the water systems were installed by developers looking to make a profit by selling their assets and exiting as soon as possible. In many cases, developers sold the water systems to Investor Owned Utilities (IOUs), private enterprises that manage water systems for a profit. One of these IOUs, Monarch Water, owns many of the water systems in the Cedar Creek Lake and Lake Palestine areas and has made huge profits due to increasing water rates. They have raised their rates again this year, and in some cases households are paying over $100 per month for water service, even if they don’t turn on the faucet during the month.
Many of my colleagues who don’t understand IOUs because they don’t have them in their districts often ask me, “Don’t you support a free market and a business’s right to make a profit?” My answer is always an emphatic “yes;” however, a business that is a monopoly doesn’t have to compete in the marketplace. Furthermore, Monarch is a monopoly whose product is water, something we all need to live. Not only can my constituents not shop around for a better price, but they can’t even refuse to buy the product because they must have water to live.
I stood up to the IOUs this last session and used a point of order to kill a major piece of legislation that the for-profit water monopolies wanted in order to raise rates without a hearing. Due to the overwhelming number of rate payer protests of the recent Monarch rate increase, the Monarch water rate case has been transferred from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to the Office of State Administrative Hearings (SOAH). Monday, an informal preliminary hearing was held in Austin to take public comment and identify parties affected by the increase. The next step will be a formal evidentiary hearing where all participants will be able to present evidence and testimony concerning Monarch’s rate application. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) presides over the hearing and sends his recommendation to the TCEQ. The TCEQ will weigh the recommendation along with other factors to make a decision whether to approve or deny Monarch’s application. As things stand today, the process is in the discovery phase prior to the evidentiary hearing.
Due to a statute on the books, Monarch has raised their rates to reflect proposed rates in their applications. I have written a formal letter to the presiding ALJ asking for a suspension of the new rates until a decision has been made regarding Monarch’s pending applications. The letter is attached for your review. In September, I met with a number of members from Texans Against Monopolies’ Excessive Rates (TAMER) in the Lake Palestine area. I always come away from these meetings with a renewed sense of urgency to put a stop to the predatory rate-making of these monopolies, something that will only finally be accomplished with Legislative action.
For those that require assistance paying their water bill, H20 – Help2Others is a customer based support program, funded by Monarch Utilities and its employees, designed to offer bill payment assistance to our water and wastewater customers. H20 will assist Monarch customers whose combined household incomes fall at or below the 100% bracket according to the current Federal Poverty Level.
For Questions concerning where to apply for assistance, please contact:
Family Resource Center, 107 Spring Valley, Gun Barrel City, TX 75147, 903-887-4711
Henderson County Help Center, 309 Royal, Athens, TX 75751, 903-675-4351
I appreciate all the phone calls, emails, and meetings by affected constituents. We have a long road ahead, but I am confident we will win in the end.
Take care and God bless,