San Benito mulls hiring company to run utility plants

Fernando Del Valle, Valley Morning Star, Harlingen, Texas
·3 min read

Mar. 21—SAN BENITO — City officials are awaiting responses from companies considering taking over the operation of San Benito's utility system whose water production fund has run an $800,000 shortfall.

Last month, City Manager Manuel De La Rosa requested proposals from companies that could more efficiently operate the two water plants and sewer plant.

During last year's budget talks, De La Rosa called for a $30,000 water rate study, discussing plans to boost water rates to offset a water production fund shortfall of $880,022.

Meanwhile, Mayor Rick Guerra and Commissioner Rene Garcia have expressed mixed reactions about turning over city operations to a private contractor.

'It needs to be good for business'

On Friday, Guerra said a company would have to present a proposal which would benefit the city and its water and sewer customers.

"It needs to be good business for San Benito for the citizens of San Benito," he said. "I have to see what they can offer the city to fix or not fix."

In 1996, then-Mayor Cesar Gonzalez's administration opted against renewing a $958,000 million contract with a company that had operated the city's water and sewer plants since 1992.

Handling daily operations

Meanwhile, Garcia wants the city to continue operating the water and sewer plants but would consider hiring a company that could do a better job.

"I'd like to keep it in-house but I'm willing to see what other companies have to offer," he said, adding "if it's going to be something to benefit the community as far as water quality and production."

"I'm not ready to turn the operations over to anybody. I want to see the pros and cons," he said. "Can we do a better job in-house or is it something we can't handle? At this point, it needs further evaluation until we get all the details. We definitely need to improve our water quality. We don't need to be getting (state) citations."

Garcia said he wanted to make sure the city was properly operating the $17 million water plant built about 12 years ago.

"We want to ensure water quality and production at Water Plant No. 2," he said, referring to the newest water plant.

"It's something we need to evaluate — if we can determine if we can handle it," he said. "It was a concern when Water Plant No. 2 failed from the beginning. What do we have to do to prevent that from happening?"

Late last year, city officials re-opened the water plant following a three-year project aimed at restoring its operation.

In 2014, a previous administration shut down the water plant before filing a lawsuit against companies involved in its design and construction, arguing the plant never properly operated.

As part of the city's new budget, the city hired workers to run the plant, which requires experienced technicians.

Request seeks 'efficiency'

Last month, officials requested proposals from companies with experience in operating water and sewer plants.

"The city is seeking to ensure the overall efficiency and management of the facilities by contracting with a firm having the technical and financial resources to perform the required operation, maintenance and program management services," the city's request states.

"The city's ultimate objectives for operation of the facilities are to select a program manager who will provide a strong technical, financial and management support team, operate in compliance with state and federal regulations and improve maintenance and operational efficiencies."

The city would negotiate the contract's fee "based on clarification of the scope of services as well as the terms and conditions of a final agreement," the request states.