Disapproval by Buda city staff of the Economic Development Corporation’s (EDC) decision to nix funding for a proposed water line to Buda Elementary was a factor in a continuing fight between the two bodies.
That specific argument escalated in a resolution approved by Buda city leaders April 25 that claimed the EDC “abandoned” its incentive task force (ITF), a group meant to score applications for EDC funding, and instead took “independent action” without city collaboration.
But documents and emails obtained by the Hays Free Press show Buda city staff was part of a 2018 ITF meeting on the project and allegedly left a decision on the application up to the EDC Board of Directors.
However, lingering legal issues pushed the EDC board to ultimately deny the application.
Problems surfaced Feb. 8 when Buda City Manager Kenneth Williams was informed by Hays CISD its application to the EDC’s Incentive Task Force was turned down.
Williams said in a Feb. 11 email the denial, along with Hays CISD’s application for incentives, was “news to me” as he didn’t recall emails sent by the EDC four months prior about the project.
In September 2018, Hays CISD applied to the EDC seeking incentives to help fund construction of a $13.8 million water line leading to the new Buda Elementary school on Old San Antonio Road. According to Hays CISD officials, the new line addressed a dead-end in Buda’s water system.
Williams said in the email Hays CISD officials were “puzzled” on being turned down. He also said he didn’t recall the ITF conducting a meeting “in months” to consider any new applications.
However, Ann Miller, who was the Buda EDC executive director at the time of the Feb. 8 email conversation, said the water line project was discussed at an Oct. 3, 2018 ITF meeting. Taking part in that meeting, according to documents, was Miller, Williams, former Assistant City Manger Chance Sparks, current Assistant City Manager Micah Grau and former Buda EDC board member Joy Hart.
According to sources, Williams requested at that Oct. 3, 2018 meeting not to grade Hays CISD’s application based on a handful of unanswered legal issues surrounding the project.
In a Feb. 15, 2019 letter to Buda city leaders and staff from the EDC board of directors, part of the issue stemmed from the need for Buda to annex the 14-acre tract the new elementary school is on to extend water service. In order for properties to receive city utilities, they must fall within the city limits.
According to the letter, Hays CISD officials in 2018 petitioned for the city to voluntarily annex the property, but the city “did not forward that request to the city council” for action.
In May and June 2018, Buda’s City Council approved annexations requested by Hays CISD, but did not address the tracts where Buda Elementary is located. Other questions included whether the district was required to have an 8-inch or 12-inch water line.
EDC board members also had issues with the application not fitting within guidelines for incentives. According to Chapters 501 and 503 of the Texas Local Government Code, the EDC may only fund projects that create primary jobs or stimulate business growth.
EDC board officials, many of whom were removed April 25, said in the letter that none of those issues were resolved when they discussed the project Oct. 3, 2018 and again during the Feb. 6 meeting.
According to the EDC letter, board members were “a bit baffled” by the water line matter, as well as personnel issues raised by the city council and the city’s attorney relating to Miller.
On May 3, Miller left the EDC after the board released her from her contract citing a hostile work environment.
However, on Feb. 20, Buda City Attorney George Hyde said in letter to the EDC the incident “brings clarity as to the level of dysfunction existing” in the EDC.
Hyde said Williams did not recall the ITF holding a meeting in months regarding new applications. He added “it is no wonder with all the activities in the city” that Williams takes part in that he could not recall a meeting that took place four months prior.
Other issues centered on Sparks saying Hays CISD complied with the annexation request but was “not annexed to allow time” for Hays County to address road repairs.
“The annexation delay had no connection to water/wastewater service to the school in his view,” Hyde said in his letter.
Hyde said the city council had “difficulty accepting the asserted justifications” presented in the EDC letter as a reason to “postpone an otherwise clearly permissible infrastructure projects” that would have been eligible for consideration by the ITF.
A revised application was submitted by Hays CISD to the EDC but was not presented to the ITF and was not disclosed, Hyde said in his letter.
Miller said in an email that the ITF in October 2018 left a decision on Hays CISD’s application up to the EDC board if they wanted to fund it as an infrastructure project. Miller said the EDC board discussed it multiple times in depth, but agreed that “pitting agencies against each other,” for funds was not the way to go, and the board wanted to avoid that issue.