Graham city administrators and elected officials have known they were going to have to raise water rates -- now they know how much. The average Graham water customer uses 4,500 gallons a month and will likely see their bill grow from $26.55 to $31.52, a 17.7 percent increase.
At 6 p.m. Wednesday night, The Graham City Council met for a budget workshop in which New Generation Solutions consultant Chris Eckert presented the study he recently completed to determine new water rates for Graham, a task he has already completed for many other Texas municipalities.
Eckert, who said he's busier now than he's ever been in the 10 years he's done this work, explained that the reason for the increase is simple. Because of the drought and stage 3 water restrictions currently in place, Graham is selling less water than predicted when it set water rates last year.
At the same time, the drought also caused water treatment costs to rise as low lake levels result in the treatment plant bringing in more organics and dissolved solids, City Manager David Casteel explained at the city council's Aug. 14 meeting.
Graham has taken out loans to expand and improve the water plant and has to make a payment against those loans. If the rates remained unchanged, the city would be able to cover operating cost and make the loan payment, but could not maintain additional revenue promised to lenders when the city borrowed money. This would affect how much the city would have to pay in interest on any money they borrowed in the future, Eckert explained.
The rate increase is structured to have the least impact on minimal, fixed income users, Eckert said, adding that a minimum user in Graham consumes less than 2,000 gallons a month and should expect to see their bill go from $18.00 to $21.07 for an increase of about 17 percent.
Contracts established with Graham's wholesale water customers require a 30-day review period before new rates can be approved. City officials hope to adopt new rates after that period, at the Sept. 25 city council meeting, and have new rates go into effect on Oct. 1.
For an expanded version of this story, see the weekend edition of the Graham Leader.