White Oak officials take bitter sip in belated increase to water rates

For years, decades, the City of White Oak has been partially subsidizing its residents’ water costs – as of last week, council members have fixed their leaky faucet.
The increase to the city’s water rates has been in the works for months, effectively on the drawing board since the last inadequate increase was adopted about a year ago. The issue’s been through multiple iterations and revisions in between, leading up to the final set of numbers primed for a vote March 19.
The average water/sewer user in the city limits will see an increase of about 19 percent on their monthly utility bill after the five council members in attendance gritted their teeth and signed off on the change recommended by city administrators. Find more information at GladewaterMirror.com and via White Oak’s recently-updated web portal at cityofwhiteoak.com
“It’s a very, very serious situation concerning the water and sewer rates,” City Coordinator Jimmy Purcell repeated, a common refrain across months of meetings. “We think we’ve done our homework, hired an outside water rate study company to come in and also verify” with consulting from the Rural Water Association, expert Phillips Givens and the city’s financial advisors.
“They’re all pretty much in agreement of where White Oak needs to be.”
In short, Purcell summarized, the previous combined base rate for water and sewer was $65.03 and included an initial 3,000 gallons before a sliding scale of charges tiered according to usage in thousands of gallons. Notably, those figures didn’t account for either the increasing cost of water treatment supplies or for the depreciation of the community’s water infrastructure.
At their special session last week the council – five out of six members – adopted an adjusted combined base rate of $77.19 for users inside the city limits with a standard meter. It does not include any ‘built-in’ water considering the rationale anything that comes out of the faucet has already incurred a treatment cost for the city.
Customers outside the city pay an additional $13.28 on the combined base rate and the usage tiers are increased as well – “We are going to revisit that later on to see how much we need to increase those living outside the city,” Purcell noted.
In addition to sanitation fees and sales tax, White Oak water users will see a ‘new’ fee on their bill, set by and passed on to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Per the city attorney, Purcell said, that fee needs to be charged directly to users.
After consistently expressing their dismay about the increase in prior sessions, the council members offered few comments before their vote this time around.
Comparing the adjusted numbers to data from the Texas Municipal League, Purcell said, “We are still well below the average rate.”
He closed the meeting with an update on repairs to the city’s damaged water intake on Big Sandy Creek.
The contractor can’t yet put a price on the project, Purcell said.
“He has to get in there and do the work,” he added. “We’re keeping our fingers crossed it’s as little as $25,000. I know that’s still a lot. If it’s bad, it could go up to $100,000 or so.
“This is a prime example of why we’re having to do what we’re doing. Not just for the loans, but for different projects.”

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