Grapeland City Council Hears Complaint About Garbage, Sewer Rates

By Robert Neel, Reporter

Asa Cascavilla and Rhonda Carpenter of Grapeland Apartments shared their concerns about utility rates at a regular meeting of the Grapeland City Council on Tuesday, Sept. 9.

Cascavilla made a presentation comparing garbage and utility rates of Grapeland to other surrounding cities where they own apartments.

According to their information, the price per apartment unit for garbage pickup is $24 in Grapeland, $6 in Henderson, $7 in Athens and $5 in Kilgore.

"We are basically paying four times as much for garbage pickup per apartment in Grapeland as we are elsewhere," Cascavilla said.

Total water and sewer costs for a month at apartment complexes in the various cities were also provided as follows:
• Kilgore had a water bill of $2,306 and a sewer bill of $2,387.
• Henderson had a water bill of $935 and a sewer bill of $821.
• Athens had a water bill of $629 and a sewer bill of $676.
• Another Athens apartment complex had a water bill of $464 and a sewer bill of $459.
• Grapeland Apartments had a water bill of $207 and a sewer bill of $897.
"Grapeland does not provide the 1:1 ratio of water to sewer prices we see at our other complexes," Cascavilla noted.

According to City Superintendent Shaun Wiley, the sewer bill for the Grapeland Apartments is based on a 4,000-gallon minimum per apartment, which is $28 per month. He proposes to reduce this minimum to 2,000 gallons, which cuts the monthly charge in half.

"For garbage there is not much we can do," Wiley said. "How much do you pay for your garbage?" he asked the council. "Twenty-four dollars," Mayor George Pierson replied. Wiley went on the say that each apartment is being charged the same rate as each residence.

"Henderson, Athens and Kilgore are much bigger towns than Grapeland. We are not comparing apples to apples," Pierson said. He asked Cascavilla to get him comparisons to towns similar in size and asked the council if the issue could be tabled. Cascavilla agreed to submit additional data and the council tabled the issue.

In other related utility actions the city council unanimously approved the following:
• Requirement to provide a mandatory water shut-off valve on the customer side of water meters.
• Eliminating the 50% discount for large water losses due to customer negligence. The discount will be reduced to 1/3 after Oct. 1 and no discounts will be allowed after Jan 1.
• Allow 45 days to pay late water bills.

Moving to other business, Pierson told the council he has made a request to the Texas Department of Transportation to close the southbound lane of Market St. during the Peanut Festival. This request was generated by a near accident where a child almost got run over at last year's festival. The closure also will allow greater access to the park for emergency vehicles, according to Pierson.
Next, the council approved the Certified Tax Roll and adopted a tax rate of $0.607344 per $100 of taxable value for Fiscal Year 2014-2015. This rate is up $0.03 from last year. There was no discussion or comment prior to this vote.

In other business the council unanimously approved the following:
• Appointment of Ben Childress and Marilyn Walker to fill vacancies on the Grapeland Economic Development Cooperation.
• Audit engagement letter from Todd, Hamaker & Johnson, LLP
• Proposal from ATS construction for fencing at the new city well site at a cost of $6,200.
• Amending the park closing time from 10 a.m. to 12 a.m.(midnight) during Peanut Festival activities.