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El Paso Water bills increasing again in 2021 after PSB approves new rates

Vic Kolenc
El Paso Times

El Paso Water rates are increasing again, as expected.

The El Paso Public Service Board on Wednesday approved increasing water and sewer rates 2%, and the stormwater fee 6.1% for residential customers, and similar increases for commercial customers.

This is the sixth consecutive year that water and sewer rates have increased. The stormwater fee hadn't increased in the last two years.

The water and sewer increases were proposed by El Paso Water staff in late November, and the PSB asked in early December that the stormwater fee also be increased to help pay for more stormwater projects.

The increased rates and fee will add $1.37 per month to the average residential water bill beginning March 1. An average $3.23 per month will be added to most commercial water bills.

The seven-member El Paso Public Service Board and El Paso Water CEO John Balliew, far right, are shown at the PSB's Jan. 8, 2020, meeting.

New El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser, who took office Jan. 5, was the only member of the seven-member PSB to vote against the increases.

"While I understand the needs and challenges that we face at El Paso Water, I voted against an increase at this time because I don't believe we should be increasing rates during what has been a very challenging year for El Pasoans," Leeser said in a statement given to the El Paso Times after the PSB meeting.

No one from the public spoke at the virtual meeting.

The city-owned utility also passes a city franchise fee to its customers through a separate charge, which is increasing nine cents per month to $1.33 per month on residential bills. That's because the City Council-approved fee increased by $3 million in March 2020 to $6.55 million, according to information presented at the PSB meeting.

That means the total El Paso Water bill for an average residential customer will go from $60.49 per month to $61.95 per month beginning March 1 — an increase of $1.46 per month, including the franchise fee.

Most commercial bills will go from an average $114.64 per month to $117.98 per month — an increase of $3.34, including the franchise fee.

Without the city franchise fee, it's possible the utility could have deferred a rate increase until later, John Balliew, El Paso Water chief executive officer, said in response to a question from PSB board member Christopher Antcliff.

However, the PSB's policy for several years has been to increase rates in small, annual increments to avoid large rate increases in the future.

The utility's combined water, sewer, and stormwater budgets for its 2021 fiscal year will be $508.3 million, an increase of $15.5 million, or 3.1 percent, from its current budgets.

Vic Kolenc may be reached at 546-6421; on Twitter.