Star Harbor to file for grievance hearing /Rate increases deemed unfair and unreasonable

Posted by : admin | On : February 16, 2017

By Pearl Cantrell
The News Staff Writer
STAR HARBOR–The Star Harbor City Council agreed to file for a grievance hearing with the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) through its attorney over new sewer rates the City of Malakoff is charging under new contract terms.
Star Harbor has been adamant in its rejection of the new contract and is developing plans to construct its own wastewater treatment plant. A committee formed for this purpose gave its report to the council on Monday. The council named Wasteline Engineering Inc. out of Aledo to be its design firm.
The January bill to Star Harbor has gone from $3,400 a month to $15,485. In addition, the council has agreed to continue to pay the City of Malakoff the customary amount and bank the rest in an escrow account. Councilman Duane Smith opposed the move.
One of the residents, who is a lawyer, pointed out that if Star Harbor pays the increased amount it could be construed as acceptance of the new contract.
Council member Warren Claxton told the council that under Chapter 13 of the Texas Water Code (TWC), the city could appeal to the PUC on the grounds the new rate is unfair, unreasonable and discriminatory. Claxton pointed out that it discriminates because Star Harbor’s rate doesn’t consider the community provides its own maintenance of sewer lines, reducing (I & I) water inflow (from storm water) and infiltration (from ground water). Thus, it is not being treated equally with other customers outside the city limits. Star Harbor charges each of its taps an additional $15 a month to maintain the lines.
“It’s unfair, too,” Claxton said pointing out the increase from $10.43 per sewer tap for first 1,000 gallons to base rate of $47.50 represents a 355.4 percent increase. The next 1,000-gallon increment costs $14.04. Extrapolated out to three and four thousand gallons a month demonstrated a 624 percent increase from $10.43 to $75.58 for 3,000 gallons; and a 759 percent increase from $10.43 to $89.53 for 4,000 gallons of wastewater. “Surely, they haven’t been taking our $10.43 a month per tap fee for the last two years at a loss?” queried city treasurer Don Ellis.
“At those rates, just over two years we would have enough to build our own sewer plant,” Councilman O.R. Perdue said.
Star Harbor produces its own water for residents. It sends a quarterly report to the City of Malakoff reporting the amount of water delivered to residents in Star Harbor, some of which have septic tanks. From this data, the city formulates the charge, divided among 326 taps comes to $10.43 a month for the past two years, or $3,400 to the city, plus a 1 percent administrative service charge.
“It’s incumbent upon Malakoff to come back to justify this rate increase,” Claxton said. Council members repeatedly wanted to know what it costs Malakoff to process a thousand gallons of wastewater. They also agreed the city was entitled to make a reasonable profit. After a lengthy discussion, the council approved the sending of a letter to the City of Malakoff, demanding it justify the new rate and be willing to negotiate with the City of Star Harbor on a new contract.
However, Star Harbor residents say there is a 10-year history of attempts to negotiate a new wastewater treatment contract before the former 30-year contract ran out without success. “In fact, Malakoff did not even present us with their original ‘new contract’ proposal until several months after the old contract expired,” Mayor Dr. Walter Bingham wrote in a letter sent to all residents. “Most recently, we have had our attorney directly involved in the negotiating attempt but Malakoff has rebuffed any counter proposal we have made other than an out clause after a 10-year lock and has notified us that the new rate will be used as the calculation of our sewage bill beginning Jan. 1, contract or no contract.”
In related business, the council approved the hire of four laborers to complete smoke testing on sewer connections with 192 homes to locate areas of I&I, so these can be corrected. “Last month, we tallied nearly 21,000 gallons of rain water we sent to the wastewater plant,” utility/golf maintenance director Tommy Posey said.
Resident Selwyn Wilson pointed out that Star Harbor residents need to continue the relationship they have had with the businesses and people of Malakoff. “We use the same grocery stores, banks, insurance professionals; I’m sure the citizens of Malakoff don’t know this is going on. We want to continue a cooperative relationship. We’re just asking for information.”