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Over the last few weeks, I’ve discussed the budget in general, how our city is set up operationally, and provided details on the administration or general fund side.
This week we’ll discuss the utility side of the city.
The utility side is the production, delivery and sale of water; delivery and sale of natural gas; disposal of solid waste (trash) and the removal and treatment of waste water (sewer). In addition to this, we have staff that bill and collect for these services.
The city has more than 50 miles of roads. Simply put; we actually have more utility lines than roads but let’s assume we have at least 50 miles of water lines, 50 miles of sewer lines and 50 miles of gas lines.
On the water production side, we have four water wells and eight above ground water storage facilities. We elevate our water storage and that, plus pressure pumps, provides the pressure we need to move the water down the distribution lines. Natural gas is purchased from West Texas Gas and comes to us pressurized. We reduce that pressure level and it moves down the gas distribution lines via that pressure. Sewer water is not pressurized and due to the topography of the city, we have six ‘lift stations’ at various locations to help push the sewer water through the sewer lines up various grades, and two additional lift stations at the plant. Waste water is treated at our plant according to arduous regulations and then released. Solid waste or trash pickup and disposal is outsourced, as the city does not have its own fleet of trash trucks or a trash dump. It is currently handled under a contract with Republic Services. We do maintain a waste transfer station which helps citizens with extra solid waste issues over and above what can be hauled off by the trash trucks. All this is handled by the utility side of the budget. The city does not provide power (electricity), most cities don’t do that. That is a separate source, serviced and billed separate from the city.
Roads are what most folks see, what they don’t see is the infrastructure under the roads, what it takes to make the water flow, gas stoves turn on, and the toilets flush. Our objective is to keep it that way.
In order to do that we must keep the distribution lines for water, gas and sewer well maintained as well as our water production plants and sewer plant. Each of these services has many moving parts, equipment and electrical components that see a lot of heavy service and over time wear out or may break down. The water plants, waste water treatment plant and gas delivery systems are regulated by the state and require licensed personnel to oversee to insure we follow regulations.
In setting a budget, it’s critical to understand operating costs includes covering those capital expenses and provide for contingencies. It’s important to understand that in addition to these costs that of the city’s current outstanding debt, about $5.5 million was used for improvements to utilities. Therefore the payment for these improvements should come from the utility collections. This payment of $650k adds to our utility budget.
In 2020, we had a rate study done on our utilities comparing us to many local communities. On the residential side we are higher than the average bill on solid waste pickup but below average on gas, water and waste water bills. Those living outside city limits in the ETJ are charged a higher fee for these services. We serve roughly 3,000 homes and business for water, sewer and trash pick. The gas department only has 930 customers, fewer users makes the gas system a struggle for the city. A number of cities outsource their gas system, similar to how we outsource our solid waste (trash) pick up. The state requires updates to our gas system annually that are expensive; operating this system with fewer users makes it difficult to project revenues covering the expense of operating this system. Management and the council are exploring things that can do to correct this.
It’s important to understand what it takes to deliver services to our citizens. It’s like buying a can of corn at the store. Your cost paid the farmer and all his expenses, the packing plant that cooked, canned and packaged it, the trucking company that delivered it and the grocery store that sold it. God Bless the City of Pearsall, the County of Frio, the State of Texas, the United States of America and You.
Ben T. Briscoe
Mayor of Pearsall