LHISD, City in standoff over water, sewer service

The Liberty Hill City Council may have drawn a line in the sand last week when it adopted an ordinance that requires the school district to annex its new high school site into the city limits and become a water customer before it can obtain wastewater service.

Contractors for the new $71 million high school and athletic complex say they are about 45 days away from being ready to lay water and wastewater lines to the new facilities, but the school district and the City are still at odds over who should provide the services.

Superintendent Dr. Rob Hart told school trustees Monday that the City had gone back on its word, and he was “confused” by the ordinance adopted by Council last week.

While Mayor Michele “Mike” Murphy told the Council Nov. 14 that the new ordinance wasn’t a significant change from current city policy, Hart said this week that the change is “significant for us and it goes against what we were promised.”

Before school trustees adjourned to executive session to talk with attorneys on a pending application to release the district from the area served by the City’s water system, Dr. Hart briefed the Board on what appears to be a standoff between the two entities.

“My feeling is that we should be grandfathered and this doesn’t apply to us,” he said. “It (the ordinance) took effect last Monday. But Feb. 28 is when we formally applied for wastewater service,” he said.

Hart added that he met with City Manager Manuel De La Rosa on June 30 and informed De La Rosa that the school district would be contracting with Chisholm Trail Special Utility District for water service at the new school. He said Chisholm Trail had bid less than half of the price quoted by the City (formerly the Liberty Hill Water Supply Corp.) because the City would have to construct water storage tanks on the property in order to meet fire flow requirements. The City’s bid was just over $2 million.

“It was a no brainer for us,” Hart told the Board. “I informed him (De La Rosa) that we were going with Chisholm Trail because it was too much money to use the City, and he told me that he understood.”

The school district is about 30 days away from hearing from Texas Commission on Environmental Quality on the status of its application for expedited release from the City’s water service area. With state

approval, the school district can use Chisholm Trail to provide water to the facilities, which will be located on a 96-acre tract on State Highway 29, just west of Liberty Hill. Currently, there is no water line to the property.

Hart said the City’s engineers had advised the school district that a three-inch line would be needed to connect the new facilities to the wastewater system.

The City is in the process of finalizing the purchase of a wastewater treatment plant from the Lower Colorado River Authority. Under City

control, the school district would purchase space in the plant just like area municipal utility districts (MUDs) that have already agreed to the transfer of ownership.

All existing Liberty Hill schools are currently connected to the City’s sewer system.

“I went to Georgetown and met with Steger Bizzell and told them we needed a budget for this (wastewater service),” Hart said. “He told me that the City Manager had said for them to stop work on the project.

“Things were moving along. we were securing easements, then everything came to a screeching halt,” Hart told the Board.

“Well, we’re going to be open in 18 months,” Hart said. “We were told they wouldn’t talk about sewer with us until it’s known who is going to supply us with water.”

The ordinance adopted by Council last week requires property owners looking to connect to the City’s wastewater service to also be a customer of the water system and voluntarily annex into the city limits.

While Hart contends the school district formally applied for wastewater service in February, De La Rosa said the request was informal.

“We’ll just have to see what they do,” De La Rosa told The Independent last week.

“To me, it doesn’t make sense for the City to try to force us to use their service (water),” said School Board President Tony Stephens.

“Or hold us hostage,” added Trustee Alfie Perrin.

“Or force annexation,” Hart said.

He added that as long as the new school is outside the city limits, the district  is exempt from paying certain permit fees.

Hart said the district officials are exploring the possibility of constructing a wastewater treatment facility of its own to serve the new school.

Before connecting to the City’s wastewater system, the current high school and junior high school were utilizing a wastewater treatment system built in the 1980s near the junior high.

Hart admitted such a system would not be ideal, but it could be more cost effective.

“It’s a win-win for both of us (LHISD and the City) for us to connect to their sewer. The City could lose $30,000 per year if we don’t connect,” he said.

The Board of Trustees met with district attorneys on the TCEQ application and personnel issues for almost two hours Monday, but no action was taken on the issues in open meeting.

Representatives of the district’s architectural firm updated trustees Monday on construction at the site.

Contractors began work there last month and are in the process of moving dirt and bringing in select fill for baseball and softball fields, tennis courts and athletic buildings. A water well was dug on site for construction purposes.

The new high school is schedule to open to students in Fall 2013.

In other business Monday, the Board:

* Heard a report that enrollment is up 24 students since Sept. 30.

* Heard a report on the number of Highly Qualified Teachers in the district. Officials says 100 percent of teaching personnel are state certified to teach in their fields.

* Heard a report on the district’s investment policy as required by state law.

* Unanimously adopted updates to local policies to reflect changes adopted by the Texas Legislature earlier this year.

Due to the Christmas holidays, the LHISD Board of Trustees rescheduled their next regular meeting for 6 p.m. Dec. 12.