The Daily Hustle: 9/15/10

Spelman waxes on WTP4, rate increases

The Daily Hustle: 9/15/10
Photo by John Anderson

One element of this week's budget adoption we touched on in our live-blog was Austin Water's rate increases and Bill Spelman's failed motion to roll the increase back to represent potential savings if the city stopped building Water Treatment Plant No. 4.

We talked with Spelman after the vote and heard more from him on the controversial waterworks.

As we noted, Spelman moved to lessen the increase on residential customers from 6.7% to 5.9%. Lee Leffingwell noted the decrease wouldn't effect WTP4 but argued it instead would hurt “non-core services,” including AW's funding for the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve and conservation efforts; he also argued it would hurt the utility's bond rating. Spelman replied they could preserve AW's high bond rating simply by recalling the debt, saying “we do not need to pay debt service if we are not going to spend the money.”

“Well, obviously if you don't spend the money, that means that you are not building the plant,” Leffingwell said.

“That was my point exactly, Mayor, thank you very much,” Spelman replied. However, the amendment failed along the usual lines, with the so-called “Water Treatment Plant Four” of Leffingwell, Mike Martinez, Randi Shade, and Sheryl Cole voting no on Spelman's proposal.

“The record for Water Treatment Plant 4 has gotten thinner and thinner every season," Spelman said after the vote. “Our peak usage this year was 194 million gallons. That's considerably lower than the previous year when we were under Stage 2 water restrictions, or the previous year before that. It's been going down very steadily since 1965. … I think it just gets harder and harder to justify the expenses.

Still, with four votes in favor of the plant, opinions seem unlikely to change on the dais anytime soon. Also, Spelman's amendment, even if it passed, wouldn't have stopped construction. Spelman acknowledged his proposal was “largely symbolic. But on the other hand, we got hundreds and hundreds of people sending us e-mails saying 'we want you to stop the rate increase.' We can't stop the rate increase just because of WTP4. But, at least to demonstrate that there would be some rate effect if we did cancel further work on WTP4 until further notice, it made sense for me to bring up the issue. It also demonstrates that the vast majority of that rate increase is because of everything else the water utility is doing, not WTP4. I thought that argument needed to be made; people needed to hear that.”

We'll have more with resident contrarian Spelman in the Hustle's print column tomorrow.

What the hell else is happening?

On the city calendar: The Downtown Commission meets in the Board and Commission room at City Hall, 310 W. Second, 5:30pm.

The Environmental Board meets in Council Chambers at City Hall, 6pm.

The Urban Forestry Board meets in the Parks and Recreation Department board room, 200 S. Lamar, 6:30pm

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