BELTON — Bell County Commissioners Court on Monday approved a resolution opposing the city of Georgetown’s proposed merger of its utilities department with the Chisholm Trail Special Utility District.
The resolution will be sent to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, along with protest letters from state Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, and other stakeholder groups.
According to the timetable laid out by the commission, members of the public have until the end of the month to send written notice to the commission requesting a public hearing on the proposal.
The 377-square-mile district provides water services primarily to homes in northwestern Williamson County; however, it also includes areas of Bell and Burnet counties. The fact that two-thirds of the district’s 6,300 customers are in or near Georgetown’s jurisdiction concerns some Bell County elected officials.
“I’m worried that if they absorb the territory into the city, rural users won’t be represented,” Aycock said. He added he is afraid that a lack of interest from the Georgetown utilities department will lead to residents along the Bell and Williamson counties line having “an over-reliance on groundwater.”
“This could lead to new wells being dug,” Aycock said. “And the water table has been dropping along the county line for years.”
In his letter dated Jan. 30, Aycock claims that transferring control of Chisholm Trail to Georgetown “will further isolate the region and effectively limit all future and current development in these non-served areas due to reliance on groundwater.”
Georgetown doesn’t see it in quite the same way.
A consolidation feasibility study, commissioned by Georgetown and Chisholm Trail and released in June, found that if the city were to regionalize its water service, it would save $27.5 million over a 15-year period.
The study also claims the merger would allow Georgetown to stabilize current water rates, as well as give the city time to secure future water contracts.
Georgetown’s 2030 master plan points to utilities as a key focus area for the city as it prepares for anticipated growth.
City planners expect the Georgetown-area population to almost double, to about 240,000, in the next 15 years. All of which is of little comfort to Bell County Precinct 4 Commissioner John Fisher, whose district covers the affected portion of the county. Fisher said many area residents are afraid Georgetown is “just buying Chisholm Trail for the water.”
Keith Walker, Chisholm Trail’s transition manager, said the district has claim to 11,100 acre-feet of surface water in Stillhouse Hollow Lake. He added the district has about $15 million in cash, and almost as much in debt, on its books.
Walker said under the terms of the contract put before the TCEQ, while Georgetown will issue bonds to pay off Chisholm Trail’s debt, the city can’t “divest any part of the district for five years.”
In the world of municipal planning and real-estate development, five years is a fairly short time, Aycock said.
“What if someone wants to subdivide their land?” Aycock said. “They can’t sell it if they know they are only going to have water for five years.”