Killeen area residents will have the right to vote for directors of the regional water district board that sets water rates and assumes debt that residents ultimately repay.
In a unanimous vote at Wednesday’s board meeting, the water district board decided to keep elections for its board members, doing away with its previous proposal to move to appointments.
“With the outcry we have heard, it looks like we are heading for the vote,” said Mitch Jacobs, one of five directors on the Bell County Water Control and Improvement District No. 1 board.
The board sets water rates, has borrowed $46.1 million that will be passed on to residents and has powers that include taxation and creating its own law enforcement agencies.
Jacobs said during the WCID-1 board meeting this morning that the board misjudged the reaction the people of Killeen would have about the move to appoint rather than keep with elections of board members.
“We’ve had the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’,” Jacobs said. “The ‘have-nots’ are the six entities that have not had a voice. The ‘haves,’ which are Killeen, I think we misjudged. We didn’t take into account the outcry we would have about the right to vote and how important that is.”
The move to appointments was one side of a two-part proposal that was brought before the Killeen City Council Jan. 8. It was tabled by the council during that meeting when some council members said they needed more information about how the change would impact constituents.
Following that meeting, City Council members reached out to their constituents through a public forum and social media posts.
“Many people misunderstood the spirit of the board on Dec. 19,” board president John Blankenship said. “The spirit of the board was to give representation. We chose the route of least expense and probably didn’t study enough about voter rights and how the public felt.”
During the meeting Wednesday morning, the board voted unanimously in favor of the second part of the proposal, which would expand the district’s boundaries to include all areas served by the district. The board had failed to update its boundaries since 1954. The small area proved to be problematic in May when the district had its first election in 24 years and only a few Killeen residents were eligible to vote.
“We are no longer just a local operation anymore,” Blankenship said. “We are more of a regional player.”
The district serves the communities of Copperas Cove, Killeen, Belton, Harker Heights, Fort Hood, Bell County Water Control and Improvement District No. 3 and 439 Water Supply Corporation.
“Everyone needs to have a say-so in the water that they have at their disposal,” Jacobs said Wednesday.
The district will implement a new structure for elections in which each wholesale customer it represents will have one board seat, with the exception of Killeen, which will have three, and Fort Hood, which will have an ex officio member. This member will participate in meetings and have input in discussions, but will not be a voting member of the board.
“I was talking with someone who is very knowledgeable of the water issue and, from their perspective this morning on the outcome of the meeting, they stated that they believed we got the best deal we could ask for out of the deal,” Councilman Steve Harris said.
Harris made the motion that passed during Tuesday’s City Council meeting to approve the expansion of the boundaries, but reject the move to appointments.