Gaining Greater Focus on the
CPS Pass-Through Charge
Commissioner Tommy Adkisson
November 27, 2003
About two months ago, a thoughtful constituent wrote me a letter giving me the unvarnished version of her view on the County's response to the CPS pass-through as it pertains to the County residents living outside San Antonio or any suburban city. In sum and substance, the letter read:
"Recently there had been an excessive windfall due to CPS overpayments. The only people who benefited from this are San Antonio "City" residents. Bexar County residents are CPS ratepayers also.
"While we realize the City of San Antonio owns the utility, we would like to know why no one made an effort to approach the city to share the windfall to benefit the city and county alike in these times of troubled budgets and deficits. This could have been an excellent tool to solve the Jail Guard issue and Detention Officer raises. If not that, something else positive for the county.
"When the decision was made by Mayor Ed Garza not to do a rebate back to all CPS customers this should have been immediately pursued.
As county residents we overpaid and our money due to us went to help someone else."
The first thing that came to me with my attorney-negotiator background and all, was to check to see if there is a legal foundation to any request that I might make to the City of San Antonio for relief. There is none. But it took a while to sort through the lawsuits that were filed by various school districts and others in the 1980's to obtain relief from the pass-through.
According to state law found in Section 36.353 of the Public Utilities Code, relief from the pass-through is only availed to school districts and hospital districts and so the County, suburban municipalities and individuals in the County are excluded from relief.
So, we are left with a purely political or intergovernmental relations remedy. Instead of a 14% pass-through issue, it is a rate-paying issue. The 14% profit is being used exclusively for the City of San Antonio, not the county residents or the suburban residents. Bexar County could have requested CPS to not set rates so high and/or City of San Antonio to rebate some of the 14% back to the ratepayers. In turn, the City could have told us that there is no legal basis for such. We could then retaliate and so on and so forth.
On June 17, 2003 around the time of the rate hikes, questions were raised by the Commissioner's Court about the utility's intentions regarding the financial windfall. Objections were registered with the CPS representatives. Yet nothing was forthcoming. I believe the County can and should make a more concerted effort to participate in the rebate and that we must register our concern and requests if not demands for a County-friendly rebate of some respectable amount.
Incidentally, although Section 52 of the Texas Constitution prohibits a governmental entity from giving a gift to anyone, except for a "public purpose", it is likely that the City could have for instance, found a way to pay the County for the its "City" inmates staying free in the Bexar County Jail. The annual payment up until the City stopped making payments around 1998 was over $100,000.00 annually. Most of the people populating the County Jail come from the City. Additionally, the "municipal arrests" money collected by the City is not used to reimburse the County for accepting and underwriting the cost of housing the City's inmates.
All of this gives great prospective value to the work of the Citizen's Commission on City/County Service Integration Committee, now underway. Some rational approach must be made to ironing out the inequities such as the CPS pass-through. Please stay tuned. And, ya'll keep those letters coming!