by BRAD ROLLINS
Hays County commissioners this week approved formation of a nonprofit corporation to explore making a bid for the Lower Colorado River Authority’s water and wastewater system in western Travis and northern Hays counties.
The court deadlocked 2-2 on the same effort last week but in a second pass at it on Tuesday, Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley had returned from vacation and Pct. 1 Commissioner Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe switched her vote to support creation of the Coalition of Central Texas Utility Development Corp. Pct. 2 Commissioner Mark Jones cast the lone dissenting vote.
“I believe in empowering the people of Hays County to have control of their own infrastructure,” Conley said. “It’s a big [water] business out there and it’s a very political game and there’s lots of money involved. If we can stand together as one entity and one voice, we’re going to have a seat at the table.”
The cities of Leander and Bee Cave have already joined the coalition and a list of expected members distributed in court on Tuesday includes Travis, Burnet and Bastrop counties as well as a dozen smaller entities ranging from the Belterra subdivision’s water control and improvement district No. 1 and Highpointe subdivision’s municipal utility district.
Creation of the coalition itself will not cost the county any money, its supporters said. But Jones said he opposed the county’s involvement in utilities such as water and wastewater on philosophical grounds.
“My reason for not supporting this is just the belief that this is more of a municipal issue than a county issue. I just don’t believe counties are set up to be in this kind of coalition,” Jones said.
In December, Hays County and other governments asked LCRA to give public entities first right of refusal to buy the systems and to delay the sale until the end of 2011.
“And it fell on deaf ears,” Pct. 4 Commissioner Ray Whisenant said.
Now the coalition is racing to assemble a bid by May 23. Whisenant said the bid will be based on the system’s revenue and the cost of its purchase, if it happens, would be borne by those who use it, not county property taxpayers at large.
Also on Tuesday, the court took the first steps toward reviving the dormant Hays County Water & Sewer Authority, which was founded in 2000 as a conduit for receiving the county’s six percent surcharge on taps into the system. Revenue from that arrangement goes toward funding the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District.Email | Print
Good call Will.
“Whisenant said the bid will be based on the system’s revenue and the cost of its purchase, if it happens, would be borne by those who use it, not county property taxpayers at large.” Whisenant only tells half the story; taxpayers will have to front the money to purchase and bear the risk if the County proves to be bad at the water business. It is always important to remember that government isn’t really good or efficient at anything, so the odds are stacked against any new venture. For instance, the federal government only bore the risk of home mortgages if there was a default, which was fine until there was a default.
This is a terrible project for the county to be involved it. The West Travis region properties serve 5-10,000 customers in Hays County, and $140 million in asset value, according to county commissioners. As Barbara Hopson and others have pointed out, 5-10,000 customers won’t be able to pay the annual interest on that.
In spite of the fact that there has been so little information shared on this by the court, there have been a surprising number of contradictions week-to-week. Our elected officials are dead-set on tight lips and keeping this thing pushing along. I don’t like that. This court has not yet earned the right to say “Trust us.”