Council rejects LHISD request for sewer at new high school
By SHELLY WILKISON
After a 50-minute executive session Monday, the Liberty Hill City Council voted 3-2 against accepting the school district’s application for sewer service to the new high school.
With Council members Byron Tippie and Mike Crane casting votes in support and Council members Jack Harkrider and Charles Canady voting no, Mayor Michele “Mike” Murphy cast the tie-breaking vote in opposition. Immediately, the entourage of school district officials, campus administrators and other supporters who filled the Council Chamber hoping for a different outcome, stood up and left the building.
They attended the meeting in hopes that the Council would make an exception to its November 2011 ordinance that requires sewer customers to also be customers of the water system and be annexed into the city’s corporate boundaries. District administrators claim they filed an application for wastewater service in February 2011 – long before the Council passed the ordinance – but the City has argued that it has no record of it.
Harkrider said he voted no on the sewer request because he is still hopeful that the two entities can work out an agreement for the City to provide water and wastewater to the new school that will be beneficial to the taxpayers of both entities.
“I’m still hopeful that we can work with the district as a partner to get the situation worked out,” said Harkrider. As part of his motion to adopt the proposal, Harkrider asked that the school board respond to the question of whether they are willing to negotiate with the City.
Minutes after school officials left the meeting, the Council approved a
revised proposal for water and sewer service that is about $1 million less than what was originally proposed to the district.
Although the plan was delivered to Superintendent Dr. Rob Hart by Liberty Hill police on Feb. 24, the Council voted 3-2 to ratify it Monday. Crane and Tippie voted against the proposal, Harkrider and Canady voted yes and the Mayor broke the tie by voting yes.
While City officials are hopeful that the revised estimate puts them back in the game to be considered as the school’s water provider, school trustees on Feb. 20 unanimously adopted an Interlocal Agreement with Chisholm Trail Special Utility District.
Hart has maintained that the district can save money on water by using Chisholm Trail SUD as opposed to the City of Liberty Hill. Trustees authorized him to execute the final details with Chisholm Trail.
Although the document has not been finalized, Hart provided The Independent with a cost comparison to the City’s new proposal.
He said Chisholm Trail is proposing construction costs of $829,000, legal fees of $3,000 and engineering fees of $46,630 for a total of $878,630.
Hart said the Chisholm Trail plan proposed construction of a 16-inch main line direct to the facility and required the use of surface water for its supply.
The City’s plan called for a six-inch main line into a storage facility that would have to refill at night and during low-use hours. The water would be supplied from city wells, he said.
The new proposal to the school district is about $700,000 less than what was originally proposed.
In a letter to the Superintendent that was submitted with the proposal, City Manager Manuel De La Rosa asked for a meeting between Council members, school board members, engineers and attorneys representing both sides, as well as Hart and himself.
“The City will offer to make the District whole on any costs above and beyond those that are proposed to be spent on securing water from Chisholm Trail SUD,” De La Rosa stated in his letter to Hart. “The City asks that whatever dollar amount that the District was going to spend on improvements benefitting Chisholm Trail SUD be invested in the City’s water system. In consideration, the City will make sewer service available to the district even though the new high school is not in the certificated area under the wastewater Certificate of Convenience and Necessity (CCN).”
On Wednesday, De La Rosa said the City has yet to receive any response from the district to the proposal or the request for a meeting.
“We’re looking to establish some type of dialogue, but we continue to maintain that any delays (on construction) are not the fault of the City,” he said. “These are business decisions that should have been resolved well before construction.”
Hart said the Board does not meet again until March 19. He did not say whether he would recommend participation in the proposed meeting.
City Engineer Perry Steger said the new proposal is significantly less than the original offer because the transfer of the water system from the Liberty Hill Water Supply Corp. to the City of Liberty Hill enabled the City to fund a capital improvement program through the issuance of revenue bonds. Steger recommended the City immediately fund a portion of those improvements and accelerate construction of an elevated 600,000-gallon storage tank along with a three-inch meter for the new school at a cost of $1.25 million. Of the total capacity, 510,000 gallons would be dedicated to school use to meet fire flow recommendations of the Williamson County Emergency Services District #4.
The City’s original proposal had a $2 million price tag. Steger said the first price was higher because it included a 750,000-gallon storage tank, an approach main and pump station. In the revised quote, the City picks up the cost for the approach main and pump station, which could be funded by the revenue bonds.
The proposal also states the City would consider sharing a portion of the $1.25 million cost for the storage tank and meter to make it competitive with any other proposals being considered by the school district.
De La Rosa said the rates for water usage once the system is in place will be equal to the rates in place for all City water customers. Currently, those rates are slightly higher than Chisholm Trail and some area cities due to the fact those entities’ water infrastructures have been in place for some time.
“This (new proposal) puts us not just in the ballpark, but in the diamond,” De La Rosa said Wednesday.
He said the City is planning for growth west of its current boundaries and placing another elevated storage tank in the area will accommodate future customers. However, he said if the school district chooses not to use the City for water, the decision to place another elevated tank in the area will wait for future developments interested in sharing some of those costs.
“That time line is fluid and is development market driven,” he said, adding that the City will not place an undue burden on current water customers to pay for the capital improvements or expansion of the system.
“The (school) district’s budget is 22 times larger and geographical area is 45 times larger than the City’s,” wrote De La Rosa in his letter to Hart. “The City has an obligation to protect its limited resources.”
De La Rosa said it is an “industry standard for water and wastewater services to be provided by the same entity when the services are available.
“What the City is proposing is not something unique to Liberty Hill,” he said.
During the public comments portion of the meeting Monday, Della Hodgson said the school district is wrong to expect the City to provide water and sewer without passing along the costs to them.
“I have to carry water from my shower to water what I want to grow,” she said. “I don’t appreciate that (the district’s actions).”
Ms. Hodgson is a candidate for Place 5 on the City Council.
Jim Dillon said the school district was trying to shift the burden of the costs onto the citizens of Liberty Hill.
“I don’t think any other business can pick and choose who they want to use for water and sewer,” he said.