An easier mark to hit; Utilities Board lowers threshold of homeowners who must support project

Published 10:25 am Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Residents living in the Turtle Creek 1 neighborhood west of Interstate 90 and north of Oakland Avenue West have better odds than before to get water services along with a proposed sewer project that could start this year.

The Austin Utilities Board of Directors voted 5-0 Tuesday to lower its threshold of property owners who must support a water services project from 90 percent of the 28 properties to a little more than 60 percent.

Under the new threshold, 17 out of 28 households must support the project by April 6, when the Austin City Council is set to discuss whether to move forward with the sewer and water projects. If more than 11 property owners decide to object to an improved water system, the water project won’t move forward.

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That appears unlikely, as more than 20 residents packed the board of directors’ meeting room Tuesday.

“We’re glad it went through,” Beverly Kestner said.

Another resident, Bob Brinkman, said he was pleased to see the project move forward.

“That’s a step in the right direction,” he said.

Several Turtle Creek 1 homeowners have tried to get sewer and water access to the neighborhood, formerly of Austin Township, since 2013.

The council formally approved the annex in late 2013, and work went under way to hook those residents up to the city’s sewer and water grid.

Public Works Director Steven Lang gave a presentation on the Turtle Creek 1 projects last year, showing the sewer hookup would cost about $22,900 per property for the sewer project, and about $9,500 to install the water main in the neighborhood. The project could include a potential street paving project for about $4,600 and a water service hookup for about $1,500, should residents wish to have that included.

Yet after consulting with Austin Utilities, city officials found the cost to complete those projects would rise.

City officials secured $461,000 from a Point Source Implementation Grant, as well as another $98,000 to help bring costs down after project bids came in much higher than anticipated. Lang told the audience the city had estimated the projects would cost about $614,000, but the lowest bid cost about $901,000.

Lang told residents last month the increased price tag was due to labor and rising material costs.

A sewer project will now cost about $17,000 per household, with an additional $12,000 per household for water.

City staff are also giving Turtle Creek 1 residents a little more leeway when it comes to hooking up to the city’s systems. Residents can either pay the assessment cost for planned sewer work all at once, over the next 15 years, or wait to hook up to the sewer system.

The two homes with compliant sewer systems can wait up to five years before hooking up to the city.

City staff are using an assessment model with Turtle Creek 1 residents rather than its recently designed sewer access fee charge as the city began working on the project before the fee was in place.