The continuing flap in the seemingly never-ending saga between the City of Liberty Hill and the Liberty Hill Independent School District regarding water and sewer issues seems to be a local political example of the gridlock we so often see in Washington or Austin.
We all like to point to the nation’s Capital and pontificate that those governmental officials up there need to stop fussing, get along and get things done for the greater good. Well, the same thing needs to happen in Liberty Hill, but it hasn’t.
All involved seem to have honed their debate message down to a single gesture by pointing their fingers at the other side.
When the school Superintendent took the unusual step of coming to the City Council meeting Feb. 20 to ask for a sewer connection for the new high school the water supply issue was no longer on the table.
Let’s start there.
Did the school district originally intend to get its water from the Chisolm Trial Special Utility District all along? School district officials say no and we have no reason to disbelieve. They were duty bound to look for the lowest priced water. The fact that the school district hadn’t already been offered a ‘smoking hot deal’ by the city on water for the new high school seems a little hard to understand.
City officials were duty bound to try to gain a large and valuable customer for their new water utility department. Both entities are funded and owned by us — the taxpaers. So, whether you are a part of the smaller subset of Liberty Hill taxpayers or the much larger school district tax base, we were all due a fair shake and frankly some old fashioned cooperation by those who knew and had full and total understanding about the situation.
Instead, we have allegations of missing paperwork, missed deadlines, appeals and counter-appeals to governmental agencies up the chain that really amount to getting permission to not have to talk or deal with one another on the water issue. Remember, there are millions of dollars at stake here and billions of future developmental profits that could benefit the entire community.
Some folks suggest a backdoor deal was cut with Chisolm Trail water and that the City never had a chance to compete for the business. There are some already saying that any conversations with the city about water purchase were merely a sham. We have seen no evidence of anything like that. But if there was any impropriety, it most assuredly will come to light as these things always are eventually found out and made known.
It would be next to impossible to go back to the beginning and find out where things went wrong. But, this much we know: it was in the City’s best interest to act in good faith and secure a fair contract with the school district for water. If the bid was too high, the school district should have tried to negotiate a better price on behalf of its taxpayers.
To observers, district administrators appeared quick to throw the nod to the Florence-based competitor while certain City Council members seemed to think they could hold the school district hostage, economically speaking.
Despite all the back and forth, it’s important to note that if any of the rest of us were to set out to build a new house or a new home for our business, we would have a plan for water and wastewater well in advance of pushing dirt. Fourteen months out with such crucial infrastructure still undecided, it’s no wonder that school officials are scrambling to find a quick solution and city government is suddenly viewed as the holdup and accused of throwing up roadblocks.
Regardless of whether either entity was in the wrong, one thing is certain, the system failed. The people who had the knowledge of the facts and the responsibility to act in good faith decided to go another direction. Somewhere along the way, the adults in the community should have swallowed their personal and institutional pride and worked out a deal between two governmental entities that would have had a positive, lasting impact for the future.
As it stands now there are winners and losers. There are those who politically can claim they won a hand and no doubt there are those who still hold a few cards and are waiting to play the payback game.
The danger of brinksmanship and game playing is that the real owners — those of us who fund both entities — will actually lose. And someday, we fear this community will look back on this fiasco and wish that the grownups had just picked up the phone or walked a few blocks down the road and laid down their weapons.
If indeed, there is still a chance for the school district to get what it needs from the City of Liberty Hill at a fair and reasonable price, we encourage decision makers to put personalities aside and come to the table prepared to lay down all the cards.
The truth is that investing in city infrastructure will have a bigger far-reaching impact on the future of our community than spending our tax dollars to improve a system that might one day belong to the City of Georgetown or some other entity.
We sure hope our leaders haven’t forgotten that the original mission was to build a school. Maybe we need to all take a deep breath and remember what we tell our children all the time about being their brother’s keeper, that they should do unto others as they would have them do unto them and you know that part about loving their neighbors…