San Antonio residents – or their wallets – will be bearing the brunt of bad management by their municipal water utility, San Antonio Water System (SAWS). City council will vote on rate hikes tomorrow, Thursday, Nov 21. The proposed rates represent an increase of 5.1% in 2014, and another of 5.3% in 2015, for an increase of $5.38 on residents’ average monthly water bill.
In fact, it looks as if ratepayers can expect those rates to continue to rise each year for the next five years, purportedly to pay for infrastructure improvements and regulatory compliance.
Missing from their rate-hike narrative, however, is that beginning around 2006 the municipal utility was under investigation by the EPA for a multitude of operational deficiencies, including violations of the Clean Water Act (1972). This culminated in a settlement requiring SAWS to pay $2.7 million in civil damages as well as (most expensively) upgrading their infrastructure. It seems as though their historical, abject failure at responsible operation could cost up to $1.1 billion over the next 10 years.
Just one day prior to the court ruling, the SAWS board decided to award CEO Robert Puente $72,000 as a – get this – performance award, on top of his $300,000 plus salary.
Although comparatively just a drop in a bucket, SAWS was also ordered to pay $1.27 million in civil damages by an appellate court. The issue? Sexual harassment by one of its top executives, the SAWS vice president of public affairs. Of course, they’ll likely continue to fight it, racking up even more court costs and attorney’s fees to be picked up by the taxpayers. In fact, it seems they’ve already spent over $500,000 in legal bills, in addition to the civil damages.
San Antonio residents should not be subsidizing the incompetence of their utility managers. But since only 7.6% of the electorate even participates in deciding who appoints these officials, it comes as little surprise that so many of SAWS resources are turned into waste.