LHISD, City nearing agreement on sewer service to new school

By SHELLY WILKISON

After months of discord and public quarreling, administrators of the school district and the City of Liberty Hill may be nearing an agreement on the provision of wastewater services to the new high school.

Liberty Hill ISD Superintendent Dr. Rob Hart said Monday that he was feeling “optimistic” about the chances of the two entities reaching an agreement.

Hart and City Manager Manuel De La Rosa, who have been at odds over the issue for months, met last Thursday with city and school district engineers and attorneys representing both entities. It was the first time both sides have come together since the City Council voted Feb. 26 not to accept the district’s application for sewer service to the site.

During last week’s meeting, which Hart said lasted about 90 minutes, the City proposed the creation of a new class of customer – an out-of-city customer. The new classification would allow the school district to avoid compliance with an ordinance adopted by the current City Council in December 2011 that requires wastewater customers to also be customers of the city water system and be annexed into the city’s corporate boundaries.

In the past, the Council refused to provide sewer service to the new facility because the school district wanted to use Chisholm Trail Special Utility District for water. Hart said Chisholm Trail provided a lower bid for delivery of water to the property and was able to meet fire flow requirements.

Hart told school trustees on Monday that with their prior approval he had recently executed the interlocal agreement with Chisholm Trail SUD.

Hart has previously been critical of the City’s attempt to force the district to buy one before it can get the other, insisting that school district taxpayers did not agree to be the financiers of improvements to the city’s utility infrastructure when they passed a school bond package in 2010.

“I felt pretty good coming out of that (meeting),” said Hart. “This is the only meeting we’ve had that water (service) was off the table.”

De La Rosa said while the City is willing to make an exception to the ordinance in the case of the school district, the ordinance continues to stand.

“The ordinance pertaining to wastewater customers also being water customers continues to exist,” said De La Rosa. “However, the City is not limited by that specific ordinance, if it decides to enter into an agreement.

“The City’s position has not changed in that it still has a responsibility to protect its limited resources and its best interest,” De La Rosa added.

De La Rosa, whose last day on the job as Liberty Hill’s city manager is Friday, said if the two entities agree on the terms of providing sewer service, a Developer Agreement or a 380 Agreement, which refers to Chapter 380 of the Local Government Code, would be adopted by both the Council.

Because the details are still under negotiation, De La Rosa would not reveal the City’s concerns.

“The terms and conditions are still fluid and part of the discussions or negotiations,” De La Rosa said. “Therefore, I am unable to go into details at this time.

Hart said the parties discussed a reduced connection rate in light of the fact that the school is a tax-exempt entity as opposed to a private business that is located outside the city limits.

Hart told The Independent that the idea of annexing the 96 acres into the City is still on the table. However, before that can occur, all contiguous property between the city’s western boundary and the school property must first be annexed voluntarily by those property owners.

“We have already been through all the permitting process (for the new facilities), and we would want that grandfathered so that it would be the site that would be included (annexed), not the project,” he explained.

After months of disagreement between the school district’s central administration and city management, Hart said he thought it was “political pressure” that finally brought the City to the table with a will to resolve the differences.

“There are 900 people in the city limits and 14,000 in the school district, and they (LHISD taxpayers) were behind us,” Hart said, adding that he received numerous phone calls from constituents offering their support suggesting he was “doing the right thing.”

“It was always the City’s intent that both the City and school district be partners in the community,” De La Rosa said. “As city administrator, I am recommending that the City enter into an agreement to reach a resolution on the matter.

“If the school district finds the terms and conditions favorable, the City’s professional consultants are authorized to prepare the necessary agreement to start the process,” he said.

De La Rosa resigned his position with the City of Liberty Hill April 9 to accept the City Administrator’s job in Jonestown.