PECOS COUNTY, TX (KWES) - Fort Stockton residents could face steep water rate hikes beginning next month, city officials admitted Monday.
The increase is due to a proposed $15 million infrastructure improvement project that requires the city to raise approximately $750,000 a year, according to City Manager Raul Rodriguez.
"If you have a large house and you irrigate your beautiful lawn [with] a lot of water, you'll see a good 25 to 30 percent increase," he said.
The graduated water rate system could see low-income, low-usage residents facing increases as low as 3 percent, Rodriguez added, and high-usage commercial ratepayers paying nearly 50 percent more.
Fort Stockton residents are largely unaware of the looming water bill changes, city representatives said Monday.
More than 10 ratepayers approached at random by NewsWest 9 reported having no knowledge of the infrastructure project, pending rate hikes or any prior opportunity to voice opposition.
"It would happen either way," Rodriguez said. "Any time we have improvement projects, it's the customer who is going to have to pay for it with increased rates."
The changes come as city officials push to rewrite an earlier water deal inked with Pecos County.
The county judge did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The agreement between city and county was signed in 2010, officials said, after years of poor money management and water infrastructure problems plunged Fort Stockton into financial turmoil.
"Our 2-million gallon water tank was in need of replacement," Rodriguez said. "It was leaking real bad [and] we didn't have the funds [to replace] it."
Pecos County stepped in and covered the cost of reconstruction, but the city was unable to repay them upfront.
"The only thing we had to pay them back with was water," Rodriguez explained.
Terms of the resulting agreement included 15 years of free city water for Pecos County and city contributions to the county's emergency medical service (EMS) resources.
However, with nearly two-thirds of the contract left to complete, Fort Stockton officials proposed this year to shorten the agreement by about four years, a move that would reduce the estimated $2 million worth of water given to the county over 15 years to approximately $1.6 million.
An offer from the city - their second formal proposal to renegotiate the deal, according to Rodriguez - is set to be presented next Monday during a regularly scheduled County Commissioners' meeting.