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Water director recommends more staff over bill credit following February boil-water snafu

Wednesday, March 23, 2022 by Elizabeth Pagano

After reviewing the options, the director of Austin Water is recommending spending money on more staff and enhanced technology instead of a direct credit to customers impacted by February’s citywide boil-water notice.

Council approved a March 3 resolution that, in part, asked the water utility to look into one-time bill credits for customers and alternative recommendations that would reduce the likelihood of boil notices being issued in the future.

In terms of direct mitigation, the “goodwill” one-time bill credit proposed by Austin Water would be applied to each customer’s account. Multifamily customers belonging to the customer assistance program and residential customers would see a $10 credit. Other multifamily customers would get a $75 credit while commercial customers would receive a $50 credit.

The total cost? $3,855,040.

A March 22 memo from outgoing Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros details alternative recommendations designed to reduce risk for the city’s water treatment plants. Meszaros writes that 12 full-time “core” employees would cost the city $275,000 this year and $1.35 million next fiscal year. Four more full-time support staff positions would cost $125,000 this year and $550,000 the next. And modernizing software would cost $350,000 this year and $650,000 in Fiscal Year 2023. 

The total cost for the alternative plan is $3.3 million.

“In consideration of the above, Austin Water recommends implementing the enhanced staffing and software modernization investments in lieu of the goodwill bill credit,” Meszaros wrote. “These enhancements, at a combined current year and Fiscal Year 2023 cost of $3.3 million, will strengthen operational resiliency at our water plants and reduce the risk of future operational upsets.”

Though Council will ultimately make the call on which path to take, the recommendations will first be discussed at the Austin Water Oversight Committee meeting on March 31. 

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