Q: The Bell County Water Control and Improvement District No. 1 is holding a board election May 5 — why should I care?
In short, the district treats your drinking water, it treats your wastewater and the bulk of your water utility fees pay for its operations.
The district sets rates on how much of your money it needs for annual operations and maintenance and — with your City Council’s approval — can float debt for infrastructure that your bills help pay back.
Q: Why is this election important?
The board of directors negotiates directly with the Killeen City Council for resident water and wastewater rates, and board elections are exceedingly rare. The district last held a competitive election 24 years ago.
Note: In February 2017, district manager Ricky Garrett told the Herald the district last held an election in 1990, but Garrett amended that number to 24 during a candidate forum Thursday.
Q: Who can vote?
Of the city’s estimated 145,000 residents, just 40,474 — all within the city’s 1984 limits — will be allowed to vote. Residents of cities such as Belton, Harker Heights and Copperas Cove also buy water from the district but have zero voting privileges on the board.
The district’s rough boundaries from 1983 include all of Killeen north of U.S. Highway 190/Interstate 14 and small areas south of the area.
Q: Where can I vote and when?
Early voting will be held at the Killeen Community Center at 2201 E. Veterans Memorial Blvd. Early voting is from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays between April 23 and May 1.
Election Day voting will be held at the Central Fire Station at 201 N. 28th St.
Curbside voting will be available for those who cannot leave their vehicles, the district said. Hours for Election Day will be from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Q: How can I vote?
If you are an allowed voter, go to either of the polling locations and request the district ballot, which is separate from ballots for the Killeen City Council and the Killeen Independent School District.
You can get all ballots in one place only at the Killeen Community Center and only during early voting.
Q: Why can’t I vote?
You don’t live within the district’s boundaries.
Q: Why didn’t the district update the map to update its voting boundaries?
According to Garrett and board secretary Mitchell Jacobs, it’s unclear why the district never extended its boundaries after 1983 or exactly how a boundary extension would work.
Extending the voting boundaries would likely take a ballot proposition to ratify annexing new voters into the district.
Q: How did the district get its current voting boundaries?
On Jan. 7, 1984, the board submitted an updated voting boundary map to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the regulatory authority for all state special districts, that made the boundaries contiguous with city limits at that time.
Q: What does the board do?
The board is largely responsible for approving construction contracts, monitoring water treatment, negotiating contracts with area customers, setting water and wastewater rates and negotiating with the state.
Q: Who is running for the board May 5?
There are three candidates for two at-large board seats: Allen Cloud, Mike Miller and former Killeen Councilman Richard “Dick” Young.
Q: Who is on the board of directors?
The board is comprised of five members:
John Blankenship, a former member of the Killeen Independent School District board of trustees who has served the water district for 20 years.
Don Farek, a former Killeen council member and a homebuilder who has served the district for 13 years.
Dr. Mitchell Jacobs, the president of the Bell County Expo Center board and a veterinarian in Killeen, who has served the district for 15 years.
Cloud, a former mayor of Killeen and owner of Cloud Real Estate who served the district for 12 years
Miller, a former Harker Heights City Council member and owner of Miller & Co. insurance in Heights who has served the district for six years.
Q: Do the directors have term limits?
Per Texas Water Code, water district directors have four-terms but do not have any limitation on how many consecutive terms they can serve.
Q: How does the district pay for its infrastructure?
State law gives WCIDs broad rules to determine whether to levy a property tax — which WCID No. 1 does not do — and levy debt to pay for capital improvements.
Because the district does not levy a property tax, the district’s funding system uses customer utility fees to pay for annual operations and maintenance and pay back debt the district frequently floats.
By the district’s rules, local entities must agree to let the district dedicate customer utility fees to debt service.
Q: Why was the district created?
The district, formed in 1952, was meant to serve as a conduit from Fort Hood’s $17-million treatment plant at Belton Lake, which was constructed in 1954, to the few residents of Killeen.
According to the district, a U.S. Department of the Army ruling at the time said the Army could not directly sell water to local residents.
Q: Who owns the water at Belton Lake?
The state, until it passes through the “take points” of the entities that purchase water from WCID No. 1.
According to state law, water districts cannot own any surface water.
Instead, the district acts as the manager and conduit of water bought and paid for by local municipalities.
One level above the district is the Brazos River Authority, which manages and allocates the waters of the state on the Brazos River Basin.
The district contracts with the authority to treat and transfer water between the state and area cities.
The city of Killeen has about 49,000 acre-feet of water reserved.
Q: What information on the board’s meetings is available online?
Last week, the district posted the board’s meeting agenda and minutes from Jan. 1, 2017, to April 25 following a Herald request. Before then, no agendas or minutes were posted online.
Although the district has slowly added information online since the district election was called in February, the board minutes show the directors were not amenable to posting board business online.
During a Oct. 25 board meeting, Cloud raised concerns about the district not posting its meeting minutes online.
“The general consensus is to leave the website as it is,” the minutes read.
Q: Who decided to construct the $46.1 million plant that is funded by water ratepayers?
The decision to build the plant was a regional effort with six municipalities paying back the district’s $50 million in debt.
The city of Killeen, which will receive 10 million gallons per day of treated water capacity from the plant, will pay back the lion’s share of the debt service — around $25 million.
The Killeen City Council approved an agreement in 2013 to help fund the treatment plant, which will provide water to the city’s southern growth corridor in the coming decades.
Q: Who owns the plant?
The new plant, as with all infrastructure running from area reservoirs to city of Killeen meters, is owned by the district.