HOUSTON - Houston City Council has approved the largest water rate increase in decades to fund a federally mandated overhaul of the Houston's sewage system.
At Wednesday's session, Council Member Dave Martin waved a map, identifying thousands of waste water leaks plaguing Houston's decrepit infrastructure for decades.
"We got to stop kicking the can down the road. We got to deal with it and I think we deal with it today," said Martin.
Martin's answer is Mayor Sylvester Turner's $2 billion hike in water and wastewater rates over five years - a cost born by every business and household in Houston.
"It's not pretty. It's going to be ugly," warned Martin.
Ugly, as in the numbers and the outcry. Water bills will automatically rise 47% by 2026. Wastewater costs will increase 63%.
Council member Greg Travis pleaded for a three-week delay to better inform rate payers and publicize details of a massive re-build plan criticized by Council Member Mike Knox as "opaque".
"We don't know what the money is going to be spent for. We don't know a lot of things," said Knox.
And then there's the fear the rate hike will be permanent.
"Water rate increases, like all rate increases, they are like Herpes, they are with you forever and I don't think that is a good thing," said Travis.
The Mayor was not persuaded.
"We are not going to delay infrastructure improvements in this city," said Turner.
And by a 12 to 4 vote, the biggest rate hike in a generation passed.
"It’s easy to vote no. It's easy to vote no when the circumstances are difficult, the times are hard and you have to make tough decisions," said Council Member Edward Pollard.
"When you think about everything all the people have gone through, the freeze, the winter storm, Harvey, the pandemic, Covid-19 and now we going to lay a 50% water bill on them for the next five years. It was pretty tough," said Council Member Michael Kubosh, who voted against the hike.
Rate payers will get a slight reprieve. The hike previously set for July 1 was pushed back and will take effect on September 1.