By WAYLON CUNNINGHAM
A bill to allow the defunct Chisholm Trail Special Utility District to dissolve itself heads to the Governor’s desk this week.
State Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, and State Rep. Terry Wilson, R-Marble Falls, whose districts include Liberty Hill, headed the effort to pass it in the upper and lower chambers.
A string of financial problems had led the Florence-based Chisholm Trail to transfer their water rights and assets to the City of Georgetown, which by 2015 was the sole provider of water for the district’s residents.
Though the district’s board has since voted to dissolve itself, state restrictions have forced the entity to continue operating.
Chisholm Trail Board of Directors President Delton Robinson says reports from his board and the City of Georgetown peg the costs for residents in the district at an annual $400,000, due to the entity’s continued elections, board meetings, public notices and other state required functions.
Speaking for Wilson, his Chief of Staff Jeff Frazier said, “We’ve made it hard for governments to dissolve itself, but it shouldn’t be hard if an entity is useless and defunct.”
The bill Wilson authored in the House would have allowed entities statewide to dissolve themselves once all assets and responsibilities had been transferred out.
The version that passed was Schwertner’s bill in the Senate, which eschews statewide changes to focus on the Chisholm Trail case in specific.
Frazier said this was the third legislative session the issue had been addressed.
Wilson sponsored the Senate bill when it returned to the House floor. There, he was met with opposition from Rep. Hugh Shine, whose district includes parts of Bell County.
Shine came to eventually sponsor the bill following an amendment.
Some of Shine’s constituents who live on the Bell County side of the district, including Bell County Commissioner John Fisher, filed a lawsuit arguing that the merger of the district with the City of Georgetown was illegal.
Chisholm Trail was established in 1990 to provide water for rural residents in a 340-square-mile area which includes parts of Bell, Burnet and Williamson counties, including Liberty Hill.
The roughly 250 residents of the district on the Bell County side are not in Georgetown’s city limits or its extraterritorial jurisdiction, and so have had no electoral input to the district’s management.
In February, the Texas 3rd Court of Appeals heard arguments whether to uphold a lower court’s decision to dismiss the lawsuit. They ruled in favor of the merger.
The case is now headed to the Texas Supreme Court.
Shine came to join Wilson in sponsoring the bill on the House floor after an agreement was reached that would amend the bill to take into consideration the ongoing appeals process, Frazier said.
In the end, the only dissenting vote in either chamber came from State Sen. Dawn Buckingham.
“Shine was doing what he needed to do as a representative,” Frazier continued. “There’s no bad blood, and we worked out the final compromise.”
The final bill text requires the Chisholm Trail’s board to wait to vote on its dissolution until the court case is resolved — either with the judge’s verdict or through an out-of-case settlement. The district can also vote on August 31, 2019.
“Everyone deserves their day in court,” Frazier said, and Wilson’s office had no intention of denying that.
He also said that if the Supreme Court case decides against the merger, it would not overturn the legislation.
Provided that Chisholm Trail repeats the process of transferring its assets and responsibilities, they will still be allowed to dissolve themselves afterwards.