Grapeland City Council nixes water rate hike
Houston County Courier
By Jenna Duncan
The Grapeland City Council chose to not increase rates for water and wastewater services for city and ETJ customers during its meeting Tuesday, Feb. 12, despite explanations from Mayor George Pierson about why he believes the rates need to be increased. Because of increased costs of postage to send out monthly bills, additional water tests for cancer causing agents in water and increased cost for lake water from the Houston County Water and Improvement District, Pierson argued that the increase was necessary. The water rates have remained unchanged since 2009. "And I know some might say we have some people who just can't pay their water bill now," he said. "But, we gotta do what we gotta do. We gotta have some additional finances. Michael's budget and the city's budget will be in the red. I mean, it's a necessity. I wouldn't be asking for it if I didn't think we need it." Councilman Jimmy Moffett made a motion to increase the rates, which would increase rates by a dollar for the first 1,000 gallons used, and for raise rates by roughly $1.25 for each 1,000 gallons used after. "Is there a second?," Pierson asked the remaining three councilmembers (Councilman Michael Chapman was absent). "I know this hard to make a decision on, but it's going to be hard to make a decision too with how to spend money when this comes up on the budget," Pierson said. "And keep in mind Houston County Water District rates most likely will increase come July," City Superintendent Michael Dillow furthered. After an additional question and more silence, the motion died with lack of a second. The council also disagreed on another agenda item during its meeting, regarding the finances for getting two new Chevrolet Tahoes for the police department. The city had been told they received a $150,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture to purchase new vehicles; however, when they called to get the money distributed they were told the city would receive only $40,000 in grant funds and a $41,500 low interest loan to use for the cars. "They really got on my bad side - they didn't do business," Pierson said. "If the council agrees to finance the other $42,000 . . . I told her I wanted the lowest interest rates and the lowest payment plan that they can give us so it won't put us in a strain. And since we didn't vote for our water increase - I don't want to get in a strain - I want the City of Grapeland to continue to be in the black." Councilman Daniel Lumbreraz asked what was wrong with the current cars, and Pierson explained they were old, had high mileage and some were in need of costly repairs. After additional discussion, Councilman Willie Shepard made a motion to approve the financing approval with Mayor Pro Tem Wanda Nichols seconding the motion. Lumbreraz voted against the motion and Moffett abstained from the vote, so the motion carried. The council agreed on the rest of the agenda items during the meeting, including a transfer of funds from the general fund to the water and sewer special projects fund to construct a water test well. The city currently has $222,000 in grant funds to construct a well, and were told that by constructing a test well seperately, it would save the city money. Before the well is constructed, a test well would ensure that water is available and safe in that area by doing a 36 hour test. For $32,000, a test well will be constructed as a piece of insurance, Dillow said. "If we go through with this whole process and drill a well without having a test well, we have no guarantee," he said. "We might as well be throwing away grant money or any money we use for this project." During the meeting, the council heard from two guests about the Jan. 13 incident at Whataburger that led to eight arrests and involved a Grapeland police officer.