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Dilley city residents who found their utility bills skyrocketing in the immediate aftermath of the late-February freeze are being given a break in their municipal bills, following a council decision Monday, March 1.
Winter Storm Uri swept across South Texas on Valentine’s Day Weekend, blanketing the region in snow heavier than in more than 30 years, and a four-day freeze that followed caught many households unprepared for power and utility outages. The cold-weather system was pursued almost immediately by Winter Storm Violet, which prolonged the freeze-out.
According to City Administrator Juan Estrada in a brief presentation to the council this week, a number of Dilley residents left their homes when day- and nighttime temperatures sank below freezing during the four or more days that South Texas was affected by Winter Storms Uri and Violet and when utilities were cut off.
They returned to their homes when power and water services were restored, only to find that water pipes had burst and that water had been leaking to waste unchecked, Estrada said, and the resulting utility bills came as a shock a week later.
“People had to leave their homes, and they didn’t turn off their water,” the city administrator said at Monday’s meeting.
In a bid to offer relief to families already disadvantaged by the effects of the storm – many having had to pay for alternate accommodation or travel – Councilor Everardo Castillo proposed that the city help cushion the blow by bearing part of the utility bill burden.
“We want this to apply to all city residents, and to include water and gas bills for the period of the winter storm,” Councilor Castillo said in a brief interview Tuesday. “This has to be regardless of whether they were affected as seriously as some families. I believe we were all affected, and I believe it is important for us to recognize that the effects of this winter weather touched all households.”
Castillo’s proposal included relief on gas service bills as well, even though there were no reports of serious gas line breakages or loss.
“People were already feeling many financial burdens this winter,” Councilor Castillo said. “Yes, I understand that those who used gas service during the freeze did so by choice and that the gas was actually used, not that it went to waste.”
Castillo pointed to raw data provided by City Hall on Monday night showing some utility service customers being faced with bills that were “a hundred to a hundred and fifty dollars higher than usual,” adding that he believes there are many city residents who still have no water supply in their homes.
“People whose pipes broke, they can’t find the parts to repair them,” the councilor said this week. “The storm placed a heavy burden on our citizens, and it continues to do so. I believe the council should be able to help with that.”
The council vote on Monday night allows City Hall to create a one-time average-use bill, based on two recent past months’ worth of water and gas usage, which City Hall says may better reflect the amounts that a household was using before the storm and before water lines burst.