WaterWorks customers likely to fund sewer line

HARLINGEN — After weeks of debate, it’s a done deal.

The Harlingen WaterWorks System will fund the construction of a sewer line to serve the city’s $14.8 million convention center as part of a project including a privately-owned hotel and restaurant.

That means the city’s sewer ratepayers will end up footing the bill for the sewer line expansion at the project site in the Harlingen Heights business district.

A 2014 sewer rate increase will apparently help fund the project.

More than two years ago, officials approved a rate hike increase each month for 40 months to help fund future water capital improvements project.

The implementation of the overall $4 monthly increase in sewer base fees is being spread out over a 40-month period. Each month, fees increase by 10 cents so by the end of the 40-month period they’ll add up to $4.

Yesterday, utility board members considered options including requesting developers to fund the project and sharing costs with developers.

As part of an agreement, the city will fund construction of the convention center while San Antonio-based developer BC Lynd Hospitality builds the attached hotel.

Landowner Ezequiel Reyna, a Weslaco developer, plans a restaurant as part of the project.

The small audience at yesterday’s meeting included the developers’ representatives, including Brandon Rainey, BC Lynd’s chief executive officer.

Board member Curtis Bonner, who opposes paying for the project, was absent.

After little discussion, the utility board voted to fund the sewer line’s construction as a capital improvement project during the next fiscal year.

Construction of the convention center and hotel is expected to be completed next year, Assistant City Manager Carlos Sanchez said after the meeting.

“It makes the most sense for WaterWorks to undertake the project,” board Chairman Josh Fields said. “From a cost standpoint, no private firm will be able to get the line in (at WaterWorks’ cost). It’s a city project. We’re part of the city.”

The area’s existing 10-inch sewer line could serve the convention center and hotel but it is too small to handle any further development in that area, WaterWorks General Manager Darrell Gunn said.

“We have a major demand with very limited infrastructure,” Gunn told board members.

Fields said impact fees will help WaterWorks recoup some costs.

“We’ll never get all of it back,” he said.

“The west part of town is growing,” Fields said. “We need sewer there.”

The meeting came about two weeks after a tense workshop in which Serna and City Commissioner Tudor Uhlhorn asked the utility board to fund the sewer line’s construction.

City officials said they believed a $200,000, 10-inch sewer line, installed to help develop the area for Sam’s Wholesale Club in 2011, was big enough to serve the project consisting of the 43,700-square-foot convention center and the hotel and restaurant.

Gunn took responsibility for approving the 10-inch sewer line as the city finalized the Sam’s Wholesale Club plat in an area primed for further development.

Yesterday, during the meeting’s public comment period, local attorney Ron Lozano said he opposed the use of public funds to help private companies develop the site.