Following a heated discussion at an earlier Wimberley City Council meeting, city officials late last month formally accepted a federal grant that will go toward the development of the Central Wimberley Wastewater facility.
The $1.1 million reimbursement grant from the Economic Development Administration (EDA) passed by a 3-2 vote.
It was accepted after a second application was submitted by the council to the EDA for the development of a wastewater facility that would be owned and operated by the city.
The decision comes on the heels of council voting to enter negotiations with private utility company, Aqua Texas.
While nothing has been finalized, negotiations with Aqua Texas will not only include utility services, but also the potential construction of a wastewater facility.
That was something Aqua Texas said they’d be willing to construct, if given the contract to work with the city.
However, Don Ferguson, Wimberley city administrator, said the grant and discussions with Aqua Texas would have to be two separate courses of action.
“If you were to go wholesale with Aqua Texas, where you built a collection system and routed your waste to Aqua to treat, and you didn’t own the treatment plant, EDA feels that’s a significant change in your application, and so you would not qualify for this particular funding,” Ferguson said.
The grant received by the city can only be used as specified in the application sent to EDA, which was for an owned and operated facility under direct control of the city.
“It is a process EDA has in place to promote business and job growth in the community,” said Ferguson about the project, which focuses on the downtown area of Wimberley.
Other prerequisites for the EDA grant are that the city must start on the construction of the facility, and close on any loans associated with the project, before any funds are distributed by EDA.
Funds from the EDA would be under surveillance for a 20-year period. The city could face an audit if it were to use the money on anything other than the facility development.
This option, while more costly than working with Aqua Texas, brought mounds of support from community members who appeared to speak on the matter.
Many residents were not comfortable working with Aqua Texas based on past experiences with the service they already provide. Excess waterwaste, pollution and alleged corruption were also concerns brought to the council.
“It is right and proper for a city to operate its own utilities, and not be beholden to, as many [members of the community]pointed out, a private entity,” said Alan Munde, a resident of Wimberley who spoke at the council meeting.
His concerns were echoed by other members stating that the future of treating wastewater in Wimberley would be more secure by going the option of independently starting development of the facility without involvement from Aqua Texas.
While the motion to accept the grant passed, the council will proceed with the Aqua Texas negotiations as agreed upon at that same meeting.
There were no indications about what course of action the council would like to take with the issue in the future, but it is keeping its options open beyond Aqua Texas by accepting the grant.