Want to pay more for road repairs?

HARLINGEN — Residents may be on the hook to help pay for future street repairs. But it may not be through property taxes.

Instead, if you reside in the city of Harlingen and use its utilities such as water, sewer and garbage pickup, your bill may be getting bigger soon.

Tomorrow, city commissioners will consider a proposal to charge utility customers a monthly fee for street repairs.

Commissioners will discuss the proposal in a workshop before going into a meeting to consider approving an ordinance setting the fee.

“There are pros and cons,” Mayor Chris Boswell said yesterday. “We still have a workshop. The City Commission has to discuss this and hash it out.”

City Manager Dan Serna said the fee would replace the city’s so-called infrastructure fee currently charging utility customers $1 a month for public building improvements.

Under the new proposal, utility bills would include a monthly $2.50 charge for apartments and other multi-family units; a $4.50 charge to single-family homes and an $8.50 fee to commercial accounts.

Serna said single-family homes could request their charge be reduced to $2.50 per month if they use 12,000 gallons or less per year.

The fee would raise about $1.4 million a year to help fund street improvements.

So far, the street maintenance fee has raised opposition from some city commissioners.

When it was proposed in January, city commissioners voted 3-2 against imposing a monthly $4.50 fee to single-family homes and an $8.50 fee to commercial accounts a month to raise about $1.2 million a year.

Commissioner Ruben de la Rosa said he voted against the idea because the proposed fees were too high.

Now, Serna has tweaked his proposal to broaden the base of customers who would be charged.

But he didn’t lower the amounts.

No tax increase

Boswell countered some residents’ arguments that commissioners should dip into the city’s $15 million cash reserve fund to pay for street improvements.

“Fund balance, if it’s used at all, should be used for one-time capital expenditures,” Boswell said. “It should not be depleted on recurring expenses.”

Boswell also said the city’s substantial cash reserve helped it upgrade its bond rating, or credit score.

“This would be a recurring fund,” he said of the proposed street maintenance fee.

The city was not proposing the fee in the place of a property tax increase, Boswell said.

A tax increase, he said, would not specifically set aside money for street improvements.

“If you raise taxes, it can be used for anything in the general fund,” Boswell said. “This is a dedicated fund just used for streets.”

Some residents believe the city should fund street improvements instead of building the $14.8 million convention center.

But Boswell said the convention center would not be funded through the general fund, which funds street improvements.

Instead, the Harlingen Community Improvement Board raises sales tax revenue for so-called “quality of life” projects such as the convention center, Boswell said.

Who else does this?

Serna said other cities charging residential and commercial fees to fund street improvements include Austin, Corpus Christi, Kingsville, Richmond, Lampasas, College Station, Taylor, Bryan and Lumberton.

Serna’s proposal stems from last summer’s budget workshop, when commissioners asked him to create a fixed account to help fund street projects.

Too often, commissioners said, officials defer expenditures such as street repairs to fund other projects.