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Austin Water reports happier customers and over-budget expenses for first quarter

Monday, March 30, 2020 by Jessi Devenyns

In a mixed start to the year, Austin Water reported expenses that were 14 percent above budget for the quarter and revenues that were 6.2 percent higher than projections.

“We were above our (revenue) budget by $8.79 million,” Christina Romero, Austin Water’s financial manager, told the Water and Wastewater Commission on March 11.

Below-average rainfall from October through December 2019 led to an increased need for water from the city utility. Residential customers accounted for the largest increase in water service revenue for the quarter, with a 22.4 percent increase over budget. Multifamily and commercial properties drove a 3.5 percent and 8.2 percent increase in revenue over budget respectively.

Although revenue was up, so were expenses. Austin Water reported that expenses for the quarter were 5.8 percent above projections.

One area where the utility saw increased expenses was in its leak adjustments. The average adjustment in the first quarter was $607.86 for a total of $970,746. In previous years, the average adjustment ranged from $461.54 to $534.12.

However, Romero told the commission, when compared to Fiscal Year 2019, the utility is ahead of where it was at this time last year. “We still anticipate to be below budget at the end of the year in expenditures,” she said. Austin Water budgets for higher expenses at the beginning of the fiscal year.

A portion of these operating expenses is spent on the utility’s customer service program, which Commissioner William Moriarty said has seen “very good” improvements over the last year.

“Our overall satisfaction (is) just slightly above industry average,” said Austin Water’s Randi Jenkins. She told the commission that the utility ranks number 11 when stacked up against 90 other comparable water utilities across the country.

Although the utility ranks only marginally above average, the reported statistics show improvement over this time last year. The average time to solve a call has dropped from 4.5 days in FY 2019 to 3.6 days in FY 2020. Similarly, 99.9 percent of escalated cases are resolved within a week, up from 91 percent in FY 2019. There were also 2,000 fewer water-related calls to the customer service center in the first quarter of this year than in 2019.

While residents wait for the digital meters – which are just now entering a pilot phase – to replace manual reads, Austin Water is continuing to make progress in eradicating meter estimations. Last year, readings on 71 meters were estimates rather than recorded reads for at least three months. During the first quarter of this year, the utility reduced the number of estimated reads to three meters.

Although the figures are looking bright, it will be necessary to increase revenues. Austin Water will foot the bill for $147.9 million in costs, which is $5.77 million more than budgeted for.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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