In Williamson County, there is a tug-of-war between cities over who should provide water to newer neighborhoods. Homeowners are caught in the middle, forced to pay.
Until they got the bills, with Georgetown, homeowners paid $1.75 per 1,000 gallons. With Leander, their rates jumped to $2.40 per 1,000 gallons, but those were temporary rates. It's about to get even more expensive. The rates are set to go up to $5.40 per 1,000 gallons starting in October.
Starting in the October service period, which is usually the end of September through the end of October, so in the November bill, those transition rates ($2.40 per 1,000 gallons) will go up. Residents are going to see the typical rate for outside city customers ($5.40 per 1,000 gallons).
For retirees and families on fixed incomes, the bills have been a big blow to their budgets.
“It looks like the utilities now are going to be, if you add them all together, they are going to be more expensive than what the current payment for our house – that’s the mortgage and the interest. So it's a little stunning for it to have go up that much,” said Von Heeder.
“With Georgetown, it was about $93 in the summer. Our last bill we got from Leander was $185. So it's a pretty large margin and we're a three-person family. I couldn't imagine what people with more are dealing with,” said Hannah Langley.
"I think looking back, a steady flow of information could have helped ease the panic about the changes in the rates, you know, because it's been in the works so long. This isn't something that can sort of change course at this point in time,” said Neu.
No way to appeal
Cedar Park and Leander charge the most, but they cover largely rural areas where infrastructure and water towers still need to be built. These growing areas of new development are often where water is transferred between cities.
It turns out when there is a transfer, like Rancho Sienna, homeowners cannot appeal to the Public Utility Commission.
According to the PUC, customers can appeal water rates within 90 days of a rate change, but only in an existing service area.
“I'm going to get some rain barrels, I think so I can continue to water my plants without going broke,” said Martin.
Martin and the others said water wasn't something they ever really thought much about when buying their homes. But as many rural Central Texas counties see an explosion of growth, the lines of service providers are increasingly becoming blurred.
“In Rancho Sienna, we have a Georgetown address, but then our kids go to Liberty Hill schools. And then now I guess our water is Leander. So we're kind of dealing with three different cities here,” said Langley.
“We realize it's difficult and we're still going to provide the best service we can and we hope customers understand that,” said Neu.
It is a costly lesson about why knowing everything about your location, like which city will provide your utilities, is key in real estate.
This could happen in other areas across Central Texas as neighborhoods continue to pop up in many of once-rural areas.
Sen. Charles Schwertner told the KVUE Defenders he plans to propose a bill in the next Texas legislative session that would allow homeowners to appeal to the Public Utility Commission when cities transfer service, not just when rates rise with an existing provider. Count on the KVUE Defenders to let you know what happens.