Two at-large seats on the Bell County Water Control and Improvement District No. 1 board will be decided May 5 among three candidates who filed to run in early February.
The water district is the sole wholesale provider of drinking water to the city of Killeen and also treats the city’s wastewater. The district can also levy debt that is paid back through system ratepayer funds after City Council approval. In 2013, the district approved $50 million for a new water treatment plant that is being built on Stillhouse Hollow Lake and being repaid by its water users.
Although the district also provides water to the cities of Harker Heights, Copperas Cove, Nolanville and Belton, only voters who live within Killeen boundaries set in 1984 are eligible for the election.
For a map of the district’s boundaries, visit www.wcid1.org/districtboundary.html.
The three candidates running for the at-large seats are Allen Cloud, Mike Miller and Richard “Dick” Young.
Cloud, owner of Cloud Real Estate, has served on the board for 12 years, according to the district.
Cloud, who previously served as Killeen’s mayor and on the City Council, told the Herald the district board is largely responsible for approving the district’s annual budgets and reviewing construction projects, particularly the ongoing build-out of a new water treatment plant on the shores of Stillhouse Hollow Lake.
The plant, scheduled for completion in early 2020, will provide an extra 10 million gallons per day of treated drinking water to the city of Killeen. The $46.1 million project will be paid back primarily from Killeen ratepayers, the primary customer for the district.
Currently, the district only pulls and treats water from Belton Lake.
The district has not held a competitive election in 24 years, but all five sitting board members have served on the board less than that duration. Without a competitive election during that time, each board member would have either filed unopposed for an open seat or been appointed to an unexpired term.
Miller, owner of Miller & Co. Insurance in Heights, has served the district for six years. He also is a former Harker Heights council member. Miller could not be reached for comment.
The fresh face in the race is Young, a former Killeen City Council representative, who said he is campaigning on the platform of increasing board transparency and expanding the district’s voting boundaries.
He advocates competitive priced services and extending the voting boundaries to include everyone who is served by the district. He also would have the district provide more information to the public.
Until recently, the WCID No. 1 website didn’t tell you it had a board of directors, or when they meet, or how they vote or when they have elections. Some information about voting boundaries and board members was added in mid-March of this year and meeting agendas and minutes were added this week.
The other three directors on the board are 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; and 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.
According to the district’s website, early voting will be held at the Killeen Community Center at 2201 E. Veterans Memorial Blvd.
Early voting will take place from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays between April 23 and May 1.
The city has not proposed a joint election with the district, so eligible voters will likely have to request a separate ballot for the board race.
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 vehicle, the district said.
Hours for Election Day voting will be from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The district said polling will be overseen by an election judge and a minimum of two voting clerks to meet Texas Election Code standards.
Here are a few frequently asked questions on the upcoming election:
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 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 will take place 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 vehicle, 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 Killeen city and 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: Cloud, Miller and former Killeen City 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
Allen Cloud, a former mayor of Killeen and owner of Cloud Real Estate who served the district for 12 years
Michael 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 on 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 on 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 an approximate 49,000 acre-feet of water reserved.
Q: What information on the board’s meetings is available online?
This 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, director Allen 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.