Water and wastewater provider Aqua Texas, which provides a wastewater plant and water utility lines to more than 2,000 people in the Wimberley Valley, is seeking a new partnership with Wimberley.
Despite protests from some residents, Bob Laughman, president of Aqua Texas, said his company is committed to helping the city of Wimberley.
To help build the city’s downtown even more through tourism and business, the city of Wimberley wants to get off its septic system, which has hindered growth from businesses for years.
Additionally, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is forcing the city to move off septic, as the treated effluent is slowly making its way to nearby rivers.
At a special town hall event at the Wimberley Community Center, more than 100 members of the city gathered for a presentation about the city’s potential finances and the impact of the treatment center.
According to the city’s projections, the city will be nearly $400,000 in debt by 2023, a big deficit for a city that does not collect property tax. These increases in the city’s financial debt have pushed officials to consider a third party company for the sewage and treatment plant, a service that is cheaper than operating a city-owned treatment plant.
“If we stay on our current plan, this is our projection,” said Wimberley Mayor Susan Jaggers. “We’ve spent 102 percent of our budget for legal fees already this year and only five percent of our budget has been spent on our road.”
According to a report presented at the meeting, the engineering group hired for the estimates of the city-owned plant miscalculated by 45 percent from $3 million to nearly $4.5 million.
Jaggers said Aqua Texas has committed to Type I effluent for the discharge, which is safer than Type II and can be used for surface irrigation.
“Or we can stay on course with escalating construction costs while exhausting our discretionary funds,” Jaggers said. “The shelf life for a sewage system is 20 years but we’re agreeing to a 30-year bid.”
Despite the mayor’s call for assessing all options on the table, the community center was packed with citizens against the idea of Aqua Texas back in another local city.
Many of the citizens who attended the town hall lived in the neighborhood of Woodcreek, which currently uses Aqua Texas as its water provider. The citizens were not reluctant to state the company suspiciously bills its customers for water when on vacation or how lack of communication with the company has made it difficult to settle disputes.
However, Laughman, in an interview with the News-Dispatch after the townhall meeting, told citizens that Aqua Texas is not forcing the city to pick the company for the sewage lines.
Financially, it makes sense to go with Aqua Texas, Laughman said. The company, which has served neighboring Woodcreek for more than a decade, has not increased rates since 2007 and will continue to serve the community, he said.
“The system we want to build will only cover downtown and it would be a tenth of the size of the current system we have,” Laughman said. “If the city does not choose Aqua, they will have two competing systems in the city – ours and theirs.”
Laughman said Aqua Texas’ system would connect to the plant the company already has which would be economically beneficial for the city.
Additionally, Laughman said the city will be in control of the plant or certificate of convenience (CCN), meaning Aqua Texas will not use the plant to bring future development to Wimberley and surrounding areas.
One concerned resident asked the mayor directly if she or any member of council was taking contributions from Aqua Texas to push their services to the city.
Jaggers responded by ensuring the community no contributions were being to any members of council.
Jimmy Hall, an attorney with a specialty in water law and a former employee for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, said the role of Aqua Texas in Woodcreek has tarnished relationships with its citizens.
Steve Thurber, former mayor for the city of Wimberley had one message to Jaggers at the town hall: no Aqua Texas.
“The sky is not falling and I don’t want false conclusions and fear to spread based on misinformation,” Thurber said. “The city has done a lot of planning for this facility financially. We must say no to Aqua Texas.”
Despite the emotions Wimberley Valley residents had about Aqua Texas, Laughman said the company is staying on the sidelines and not getting involved with the debates in the community.
If the citizens want Aqua Texas, the company will provide, he said.
“We want to build a neighborhood friendly system,” Laughman said. “We do not want to fight with people. I know what the best solution is, but hopefully, the city will reach that same conclusion.”