Waco City Council members voted unanimously Tuesday to assume ownership of the Waco Metropolitan Area Regional Sewerage System, making Bellmead, Hewitt, Lacy-Lakeview, Lorena, Robinson and Woodway, customers of the system rather than co-owners.
Each of the six other cities must approve the ownership change, which has been discussed for the past two years. The move will guarantee each participating city’s usage capacity and charge each city operating fees as customers.
Lisa Tyer, Waco’s water utility services director, presented an overview to council members of the current ownership agreement, citing difficulties in requiring agreements from seven cities for system updates, repairs and bond sales to fund the work.
“For the city of Waco, we saw no impact to the cost of service, because it is what we are doing now. The bonding stays the same for the city of Waco, but it decreases for the other cities,” Tyer said. “The city employees remain employees and all member cities would become customers of the system and have representation in an advisory capacity.”
City Manager Wiley Stem previously said the move to sole ownership by Waco would allow the city to act on its own to apply for federal and state grants and low interest loans. Cities have been shown their proposed rates under the Waco ownership proposal and have all seemed in favor of the discussed changes, he said.
Each of the cities have been under a joint ownership agreement after buying the system from the Brazos River Authority in 2004. Tyer said Waco’s sole ownership will streamline the process and cities will be billed monthly based on actual flow with the rate to be determined by the prior year.
While no regional cities were in attendance in the workshop, Tyer said a letter of intent was approved by all the cities in 2018 to move forward with transferring the sewer system ownership to Waco.
“We’ve had lots of meetings about this (with the other cities) and we had some great leadership with our consultants that brought forth the concept that really the asset here is for the cities is their capacities,” Stem said. “As long as we are guaranteeing the capacities, that brings this thing together for us and I think it will smooth out the financial process for us for sure and allow us to continue to grow the system support for all the growth that is going on in these seven cities.”
The cities’ rates have not been finalized as some are still looking at the proposal. If all the cities do not agree before the new budget year, the existing contract will automatically renew, Stem said.