Tomball City Council appointed four people to a special committee Aug. 20 with the purpose of taking a closer look at the fee Tomball residents pay as part of their water bills to the North Harris County Regional Water Authority.
Residents are charged $1.75 per 1,000 gallons of water used each month in order to help NHCRWA fund the infrastructure needed to convert areas throughout northwest Houston from ground water supplies to surface water supplies. The committee is meant to examine the purpose of the fee and consider whether council should issue a resolution to the state legislature formally opposing it, according to Tomball Mayor Gretchen Fagan.
"What I would like to see this committee do is give us an executive summary of what the fee is," she said. "They should look at the pros and cons for the city of being a part of the [NHCRWA] plan, and of not being a part of it."
Councilman Mark Stoll, who was appointed to the committee, said the problem with NHCRWA's current plan is that it does not extend to the Tomball area and it is not clear if or when Tomball residents will ever receive services for their payments.
"Even though we're paying this fee, we're still projected to remain on groundwater at least through 2030 and possibly past that," he said. "There is no indication to me that we are or will ever receive a benefit for this money."
Other members of the committee include councilman Field Hudgins, Barbara Tague, president of the Downtown Tomball Merchants Association and Roy Lackey, who has served on the board of several municipal utility districts in the area. They were chosen because they are each well versed on the subject and represent a balance of viewpoints, Fagan said.
While council voted unanimously to form the investigative committee, council members disagree on whether or not the fee is unjust. Councilman Preston Dodson warned that, were the city to break off from the NHCRWA plan, it could find itself in a bind down the line if water supplies ever start running low.
"Our water supply might be fine now, but this is a plan for the future," he said. "If we ever do need water from the authority, and we aren't a part of this group, we will end up paying an unbelievable amount for it."
Although Stoll has spoken against the fee in the past, he said he is going into this process with an open mind and is eager to learn more about water issues facing the area. The committee is still in the process of establishing objectives, but its course of action will likely involve meeting with water issue and water supply experts, as well as members of the NHCRWA, Stoll said. He said he is particularly interested in the concept of subsidence, where overuse of ground water causes the ground to sink.
"That's why this fee was started," he said. "As a group, I want to learn more about the subsidence issue—whether it's a significant issue and what proof and documentation we have showing that it's an issue for us."