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HARLINGEN — For the first time in 10 years, commissioners are set to call for a new water rate plan boosting utility customers’ charges by about 50% during the next five years to help fund a sewer system overhaul that’s part of WaterWorks’ $258 million five-year master plan.

During a meeting Wednesday, commissioners are expected to pass the second reading of an ordinance setting the new rates customers will start paying in their May utility bills.

The water rate increase would mark the city’s first in 10 years.

Earlier this month, commissioners approved a WaterWorks-recommended water rate plan raising the city’s minimum monthly charges for customers on 5/8-inch water meters from the current $7.93 to $9.91 by May then to $23.23 by 2028.

As customers use more water, rates will climb.

The series of water rate hikes will increase average monthly bills from the current $30.58 to $33.58 by May then to $63.53 by 2028.

Meanwhile, the city’s monthly minimum sewer charge for customers on 5/8-inch meters will increase from the current $6.18 to $7.79 by May then to $19.63 by 2028.

Now, the city’s current minimum monthly water rate stands at $7.93 on a 5/8-inch meter, plus $1.65 for an additional 1,000 gallons, while the minimum sewer rate is set at $6.18 on a 5/8-inch meter, plus $3.66 for an additional 1,000 gallons, with average utility bills charging customers about $644 a year.

For years, the city’s water rates have ranked as the third lowest in the Rio Grande Valley, behind Edinburg and Mission.

During an April 3 meeting, commissioners, amid arguments, voted 3-2 to give the Harlingen Housing Authority’s 1,000 residents $25 monthly discounts.

In a presentation, WaterWorks’ General Manager Tim Skoglund told commissioners the discounts will force the average utility customer to pay about $1 more on bills by 2028.

The water rates’ revenue will help fund WaterWork’s $258 million master plan aimed at upgrading the city’s aging, overloaded sewer system spurring some sewage spills, while expanding it to make room for future growth.

During April 3’s meeting, Commissioner Frank Morales proposed commissioners support an alternative water rate plan coming with lower base fees.

But commissioners argued the Skoglund’s proposed water rate plan would better fund WaterWorks’ five-year master plan’s sewer overhaul.

Under the $258 million master plan, the city’s planning to finance $210.6 million, a WaterWorks document shows.

As part of the master plan, Skoglund’s outlining several key projects, aiming to complete them within the five-year window.

A view of Harlingen’s WaterWorks System facility on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald)

Under the water rate plan, costs surrounding the master plan are projected to climb from $25.9 million in 2024 to $41 million by 2028, documents show.

“The master plan identifies projects when needed,” Skoglund said Tuesday in an interview. “These projects are needed either immediately or within the first five years. The commission’s desire was to address the needs when they are needed instead of letting problems linger and continue.”

Meanwhile, inflation’s expected to continue boosting construction materials’ prices, increasing overall project costs, Skoglund said.

“If you defer and let problems linger, you’re going to pay even more,” he said. “It’s better to address the problems now.”

Rampant inflation has helped spike the city’s water rates.

After the coronavirus pandemic’s outbreak in 2020, soaring inflation’s nearly doubled WaterWorks’ master plans’ costs to $258 million.

“Since 2020, we’ve seen the cost of construction, especially pipeline construction, nearly double, so the (overall cost) number has changed very quickly,” Skoglund said. “It is a significant part of revenue requirements that we need to build.”

While water rate revenue will help fund WaterWorks’ $258 million master plan, the agency’s requesting the Texas Water Development Board grant the city about $150 million, Skoglund has said.

For years, Skoglund’s been planning one of the city’s biggest projects aimed at overhauling the aging sewer system to make room for future growth.

Last November, he outlined the project aimed at upgrading the sewer system in which pipes are overloading, spurring some sewage overflows.

The project includes the construction of a main “interceptor” pipeline while building a deeper lift station and installing gravity lines to replace old lift stations, he said.