The February Freeze took a big toll on Texoma schools, roads and businesses. But, infrastructure also took a big hit. Many were left without water as aging pipes sprung leak after leak.
Wichita Falls Public Works Director Russell Schreiber said the city experienced an increase in water line breaks during the past two storms. Burst pipes kept crews busy making repairs and disabling residential meters. But, that's nothing new in severe winter weather. "We're dealing with infrastructure here that's a hundred-and-something years old," Schreiber said.
The cost of dealing with all those breaks is running the city over budget. That's in addition to overages for road crew supplies and overtime for city workers. Assistant City Manager/CFO Jim Dockery said, while exact numbers won't be known for some time, the amount shouldn't be significant. "I don' think it's gonna be insurmountable," he said.
The city is pouring millions of dollars into infrastructure improvements to help deal with the situation. City Council voted to raise taxes and increase utility bills to help get that done. So, will the improvements cut down on utility failures during future storms?
"I don't think," Schreiber said, "you'll ever see a difference in the number. Because the problem is so big." Schreiber said it will take decades to fully upgrade the entire system. In that time, what gets replaced now, will become old.
But, Schreiber said the work is necessary and the newest sections of pipelines should be less susceptible to damage from future storms.
Dockery said, in addition to the storm costs, the city might see a small decline in sales tax revenues from the February Freeze. But, the city is hundreds of thousands of dollars up in tax revenue and saw a 6.7 percent increase from holiday shopping alone. That, said Dockery, should make up for the cost of responding to the winter weather.
Both Schreiber and Dockery said the city will see improvement from the infrastructure upgrades. While it won't eliminate leaks and outages, they said the investment is vital and sound. "It's a lot less expensive to fix it now," said Schreiber, "than it's going to be when it fails or five years from now."