Chisholm Trail SUD board approves water utility merger agreement

A merger between the city of Georgetown water utility and the Chisholm Trail Special Utility District is back on track after members of the Chisholm Trail SUD board of directors voted 6-1 in favor of a merger agreement Aug. 15.

"[This agreement] significantly benefits our customers," said board member Mike Sweeney, adding that by merging with the city, Chisholm Trail SUD customers would have reduced costs and be able to share the cost of growth in the region with the city's existing water customers.

Board member Marcus Canipe voted against the contract, and board member Ed Pastor, who had decided to resign but did not complete the resignation process, was back on the dais.

"This is not a utility that is in trouble. We have an excellent business here that is making money," Canipe said. "We have paid all of our bills for this fiscal year, and I cannot see any justification of why we need to go to Georgetown. ... We've paid our way, we are making money to afford whatever maintenance and repairs and so forth. ... Let's keep Georgetown out of the territory, and we can service it ourselves."

The Chisholm Trail SUD provides water to about 7,000 customers, about two-thirds of whom are in or near the Georgetown extraterritorial jurisdiction, or ETJ. The district incorporates northwestern Williamson County as well as a portion of Burnet and Bell counties.

Under the new agreement, the base water rate for Chisholm Trail SUD customers is expected to decrease about 26 percent. Proposed rates for the average water user are also expected to be less than current Chisholm Trail SUD rates, according to district documents.

"The city has in-city rates and out-of-city rates, and we would become part of that out-of-city customer base," said Pat Gower, Chisholm Trail SUD board president, during a July 18 meeting. "They have about 3,000 out-of-city customers. We're bringing 7,000 more, and [Georgetown] would run the whole thing."

Under the agreement, the city would take over all of the district's assets and debts as well as 17 full-time employees, Georgetown Utility Manager Jim Briggs said.

If approved by City Council, the transfer would have to be approved by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Briggs said.

The two utilities have been discussing the proposed merger for more than 2 1/2 years. The board had previously considered an agreement with the city that would have created a local government corporation, however, the board voted 4-3 in April to deny the agreement.

On July 18 board members directed the water utilities legal staff to draft a contract to merge the two utilities; however, on Aug. 1 the board voted 3-3, which tabled the contract.

"When I sit back and look at all of the work the district has completed in the last two years For my first time of being on this board, we actually have a pretty good view of what the future would look like for an independent Chisholm," Gower said. "When I sit back and look at the asset transfer and utility consolidation agreement, I see a better future for our customers than I do there."