By Kim Steele
Killeen Daily Herald
HARKER HEIGHTS - An unexpected recent discovery of an illegal sewer-line hook-up by a Nolanville shopping center spurred the city to establish doubled sewer rates for out-of-city customers.
Public works director Mark Hyde said the city recently found out that Forest Hills Plaza was emptying sewage into Harker Heights' lines without permission.
"When the shopping center's contractor was doing construction, he must have tapped into the city's sewer line," said Hyde. "Harker Heights didn't know about it, wasn't asked to inspect the connection and the owner didn't pay the required fee for tapping into the system."
Hyde said the city discovered the hook-up when it received a call recently about a sewer overflow in the area. City workers could see a pipe from the shopping center when they checked a manhole just inside city limits. Hyde said Nolanville doesn't have city sewer lines and the shopping center doesn't have a septic tank.
The shopping center, built in 2007, is owned by Gene Williams and houses two tenants - Babe's Gentleman's Club and Mirage Club. Williams said the sewer hook-up was no surprise to him, because he got sewer and water service from Harker Heights when the complex was constructed. He said the city installed four water meters and has been charging his tenants for water since then.
"Nolanville doesn't have sewer or water lines here, so obviously, Harker Heights gave us permission for both or we wouldn't have them," said Williams.
Hyde disagreed, noting the shopping center and its tenants have been paying for water since 2007 at the out-of-city doubled base rate of $19.96 and $6.22 per 1,000 gallons, but not for sewer. In fact, said Hyde, no out-of-city sewer rates had been established until last month because there were no customers.
"The tenants didn't know about this, and it was a surprise to the city, too," said Hyde. "I've spoken with the tenants and the owner, and they want to continue with Harker Heights' sewer. The first bill for sewer will be going out to them in a few weeks."
The council approved a monthly out-of-city sewer rate of $35.98 for the first 3,000 gallons of sewage and $6.02 per 1,000 gallons after that, up to 10,000 gallons, during a March meeting after learning about the situation. In-city businesses pay $17.99 monthly for the first 3,000 gallons and $3.01 per 1,000 gallons after that.
Councilman Sam Murphey, Place 2, said the city needs to be cautious about setting a precedent by providing utility services to businesses outside of Harker Heights. Murphey said the city has had several requests over the years for hook-ups and considers each request on a case-by-case basis.
Councilman Pat Christ, Place 3, said the situation was unusual because there are not many places outside of Harker Heights where businesses can tap unnoticed into the sewer line. Christ said Williams requested a water hook-up and the city allowed it, but accessed the sewer line without permission.
"Doubling the in-city rate for out-of-city customers was Mark Hyde's recommendation, and I agreed with it," said Christ. "We had nothing on the books to charge anyone for sewer use outside the city. This shopping center doesn't pay any taxes in Harker Heights. We have special rates for water outside the city, and now we do for sewer."
Contact Kim Steele at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7567.