Hays County declines water group formation

At their regular meeting Nov. 18, Hays County commissioners considered—and ultimately declined—formation of a new water development corporation that aims to unite Central Texas cities and counties in the pursuit of water projects.

According to the proposal included in the meeting agenda, the Central Texas Water Development Corp. would have the authority to plan, develop, coordinate, build or finance water infrastructure.

A decision on forming the CTWDC was postponed by Travis County Commissioners and Leander City Council after Hays County's 2-3 vote against formation of the group.

County Judge Bert Cobb and Precinct 4 Commissioner Ray Whisenant voted in favor of the proposal, while Precinct 1 Commissioner Debbie Gonzales-Ingalsbe, Precinct 2 Commissioner Mark Jones and Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley voted against the measure.

Cobb said the CTWDC is intended to give Hays County a voice in ongoing conversations about water in Central Texas.

"You're either at the table with a seat, or you're on the menu," Cobb said. "I don't want the citizens of Hays County to be on the menu. We have to have somebody step up and say, 'Wait a minute, what about Hays County? What about our people?'"

Gonzales-Ingalsbe, Jones and Conley each expressed concerns about the broad, vague authority the development corporation would be granted under the proposal. Some public commenters suggested the proposal could lend itself to a monopoly or "cronyism" on the part of the county.

Conley said he disagreed with commenters who suggested the county is aiming to create a water monopoly, but he acknowledged the powers laid out in the proposal were broad. Conley suggested the county may benefit from exploring different options before joining the CTWDC.

"I know we're doing it for the right reasons, but is it the right path?" Conley said.

Pix Howell, a former board member of the Lower Colorado River Authority and current consultant to Hays County, organized the proposal and said he has been working on bringing the idea to cities and counties between Bell County north of Williamson County, down to Comal County south of Hays County.

Howell was instrumental in the 2012 initiative that helped Hays County and a collection of other cities purchase part of the Lower Colorado River Authority's system, which later became the West Travis County Public Utility Agency. That initiative also utilized a utility development corporation to bring the former LCRA system under local control.

Howell said only municipalities such as cities or counties could have seats on the board of the corporation, but private entities could join as sponsors, which would limit their role in the decision-making process.

So far the only municipalities that have considered membership in the corporation are Hays County, Travis County and the city of Leander. Private entities such as Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative and Aqua Water Supply Corporation have expressed interest in joining the organization, Howell said. Howell estimated there are about 10 other entities interested in membership with the organization. He said he plans to give the commissioners more time to review the proposal before checking in with the court again.
By Brett Thorne
Brett Thorne reported on education, business, economic development and city government in San Marcos, Kyle and Buda from 2012 to 2017. Thorne attended Texas State University in San Marcos, where he graduated in 2010. He joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter in 2012 and was promoted to editor in 2013.


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