By MICHAEL RODRIGUEZ
So the San Benito Food Pantry again faces increasing demand from its clients – ‘again’ being the operative word.
While I wouldn’t call it a staggering rise, watching the pantry clientele swell over the years is alarming when considering all which San Benito already contends with.
In a city where U.S. Census data has reported the median household income being $20,680 less than the state average – $30,883 in San Benito compared to $51,563 in Texas – it’s no surprise that public need for the pantry’s services is at an all-time high. To put it into further perspective, San Benito is home to more than double the percentage of persons living below poverty level than the state average reported in the Census – 35.6 percent to 17.3 percent, to be exact. And then there’s the tintinnabulating reminder that water rates have increased for several years – presumably for a water treatment plant in such disrepair that the city filed a lawsuit against the engineers and manufacturers responsible for the facility’s design and construction.
Granted, nobody is arguing whether San Benito is a poor community. Cities throughout this region, after all, have long shared similar household incomes and reported high percentages of people living below the poverty level. But this is also why our local governing institutions must remain conscious of these demographics before embarking on potentially-costly endeavors, which all too often serves only to further impoverish the community than they do to empower it.
Take the new water plant for instance. Here’s a facility hailed as San Benito’s state-of-the-art savior for all things water treatment, and yet it has produced more controversy than water. What’s more, questions have now been raised concerning the validity of the previous justification for the annual increasing of water rates.
As you may recall, San Benito city officials spanning several administrations and councils have long explained that the revenue generated from incremental rate adjustments helped pay for the $17 million plant, which was part of a $32 million water/wastewater infrastructure overhaul that was partially funded by the North American Development Bank. Still, some associated with the project have recently contended that the rates were actually mandated by another institution – NAD Bank, to be specific – as one of the conditions for grant money.
Whatever the case may be, the question that people are asking in San Benito is whether they’re getting a refund. They’re being facetious, of course, but consider their frame of mind for a moment. I think they couldn’t care less about the whos, the whats, the wheres and the whens.
This is a growing resentment fueled by the hour in which an already-disillusioned citizenry learned of the problems experienced at the plant. In fact, it’s only been a few months that we’ve known about that the facility never actually operating at full capacity. If it wasn’t for the San Benito News exclusives that kept our readers abreast of the situation, who knows how long it would have been before the public was made aware of the deficiencies associated with this multi-million dollar investment.
As it is, there’s much that local residents struggle with every day – a scarce job market and fluctuating insurance costs notwithstanding – without inheriting a money pit that the city is still paying for… and in more ways than one.
What the city can do now, however, is learn from this experience and refrain from implementing any future water/wastewater rate hikes.
In the meantime, I may need to retract the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge I issued to the San Benito City Commission two weeks ago. There’s no telling how long the plant’s predecessor – an 87-year-old treatment facility – may continue as the city’s only supplier of water while the suit is fought in court. With that said, what do you say we just save the ice water for now, guys. I won’t hold it against you.