Area water district officials are on the road, seeking support from local representatives to eliminate voters’ right to elect representatives to the district that controls water for more than five towns and has the power to tax water users.
Just eight months after its first election in 24 years, the group — Bell County Water Control and Improvement District No. 1 — is seeking to end elections and have area cities appoint representatives.
In the last election, only a small area of Killeen residents were eligible to vote because the water district had outdated boundaries. Now, the district is proposing extending the boundaries to area communities it serves but taking away residents’ right to vote for the board.
At the first Copperas Cove City Council meeting of the year Thursday night, water district General Manager Ricky Garrett told council members about proposed changes and sought their support.
Under the district’s proposed rules, each contract customer would be entitled to representation. Killeen would have three representatives.
Fort Hood, Harker Heights, Copperas Cove, WCID No. 3 (Nolanville), Belton and 439 Water Supply Corporation would have one representative each.
The district voted 3-1 on Dec. 19 to pursue eliminating public elections for its board of directors. In addition, the board also seeks to expand the district’s 34-year-old voting boundaries to include customers previously left out of board votes.
The measure will go to a legislative committee for consideration when it convenes in January.
One water district board member is against the proposal.
Richard “Dick” Young cast the one vote against the measure. Young said in an interview with the Herald on Friday that residents should have the right to vote in water district elections, and he favors expanding the voting rights to all voters served by the district.
“Besides taking you out of the (election) process, water is the most important commodity we have. We have to do everything we can to protect it,” Young said.
Young was at the Cove meeting Thursday for a reason unrelated to the water district and was surprised to see Garrett there.
Prior to the council meeting, he had no knowledge of Garrett’s intention to be there.
The Cove council voted unanimously to support the proposal after Garrett said holding an election would be difficult.
The general manager estimated the recently contested election, the first in 24 years, cost roughly $25,000.
An election with the proposed revision of boundaries could go up to $125,000, Garrett claimed to Cove council. Garrett did not provide a source for that amount.
“That doesn’t even include man hours,” Garrett said.
Garrett told the Cove council that WCID already has a letter of support from the Fort Hood garrison commander Col. Hank Perry. Fort Hood officials did not respond to a request for comment Friday afternoon.
Young questions the sudden urgency of this WCID measure.
Cove is one piece to WCID’s plan to gather approval from all municipalities. This week, the water group will meet with the Killeen City Council and Harker Heights City Council in an effort to acquire support.
In Cove, the agenda item was listed as “consideration and action on a resolution to support the Bell County WCID #1 Boundary Expansion Proposal.” No presentation was given Thursday night in the public meeting.
The Harker Heights council agenda item appears as “discuss and consider approving a resolution of the City of Harker Heights, Texas, in support of (WCID’s) efforts to expand the WCID #1 District Boundary and expand and modify its Board representation to include all of its wholesale customers, and take the appropriate action.”
The terms and provisions in the water contracts for each entity are similar. Water purchase capacity is acquired through capital outlay on a pro rata basis, according to documents in the Cove council agenda packet.
When WCID expands services to entities beyond the original boundary, the serviced entity agrees to take on the debt associated with their increase in capacity, according to the document.
Killeen is footing a $30 million bill for a $46.1 million water plant to serve future growth.
The plant is under construction at Stillhouse Hollow Lake.
Ultimately, Young thinks the effort to expand the boundaries should be discussed in workshops over several months as opposed to WCID’s current urgent pace.
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