MCALLEN, Texas – Two trustees of McAllen Public Utility Board say they support legislation authored by state Sen. Juan Hinojosa to dissolve Hidalgo County Water Improvement District No. 3.
Charles Amos, the PUB’s chairman, and Ric Godinez say HCWID No. 3 has outlived its usefulness. They also say the PUB could comfortably take over the day-to-day operations of the district, were it to be dissolved.
In recent legislative sessions, Hinojosa, D-McAllen, has filed bills to dissolve HCWID No. 3 or, at least, change the way the district is managed. This session is no different.
Senate Bill 1829, filed by Hinojosa, does not mention HCWID No. 3 by name. However, the way the bill is written may lead one to conclude that it is the district he is targeting.
The bill relates to “the dissolution of certain water control and improvement districts by a commissioners court.” And it includes any district “created or organized by a commissioners court before 1971 under general law enacted in 1904, 1913, 1917, 1918, or 1925.” And it includes a district that was “converted from a water improvement district or irrigation district to a water control and improvement district by action of the board under general law enacted in 1925.”
These parameters would include HCWID No. 3.
SB 1829 goes on to say: “Before a commissioners court may dissolve a district, the governing body of a municipality within the district’s boundaries must adopt an ordinance stating that the municipality will assume the assets, debts, contractual rights, and other obligations of the district on its dissolution.”
Amos and Godinez spoke about Hinojosa’s legislation during a recent webinar hosted by Futuro RGV. This reporter was asked moderated the online discussion by Futuro. Amos and Godinez were asked if they supported Hinojosa’s legislation and, if the bill were to become law, would their organization be able to handle the responsibility of pumping water from the Rio Grande and distributing it to the City of McAllen and the farmers HCWID No. 3 currently serves.
Godinez responded: “Well, like any legislation… I think it was recently filed… it wasn’t too long ago. So, it’s going through its processes. It’s going to look completely different by the time it (gets through the Legislature). So, I’m going to reserve comment until then.”
Godinez added: “The concept itself, though, is one I support. It makes no sense to me why a district that has served its purpose, out-served it for farmers, should be charging those types of fees beyond (the) market (rate) that we get from other districts. It just seems to me it’s not necessarily something that serves the taxpayers well. And, there is one thing I know about Senator Hinojosa… that his constituents and how he can help them is always on his mind. So I support that 100 percent.”
Amos responded: “We (McAllen PUB) are more than capable (of running HCWID No. 3’s operations) and, of course, I guess the meat in the pudding as such is that we’ve got it out there. But the biggest thing about it… and I want to commend the Senator for proposing that piece of legislation… We were unaware of his (Hinojosa’s) actions until it came about but it’s going to provide an opportunity.”
Amos continued: “This is the real key. The average delivery cost for water to us is 60 cents per 1,000 acre feet. Sixty cents, that’s the average of the three different irrigation districts, United, District One and District Two. District Three is $1.14 per 1,000. That is almost double. Why?”
Amos added: “So he (Hinojosa) is just serving his constituents, like Ric said, by causing the tough questions to be asked. We will support it.”
Godinez then said: “If it helps McAllen and it helps the utilities, obviously, we’re going to be in support of it. And for those of you that are watching that have an interest in McAllen and our utilities, we believe those bills help you to.”
Texas Committee on Natural Resources
The Texas Committee on Natural Resources, under the chairmanship of state Rep. Tracy O. King of Batesville, has weighed in on the future of HCWID No. 3. During the interim, this panel held a hearing in Weslaco about the district. The district’s chairman, Othal Brand, spoke at the hearing, as did Mark Vega, general manager of McAllen PUB. Sen. Hinojosa and state Reps. Terry Canales of Edinburg and R.D. ‘Bobby’ Guerra of McAllen also spoke at the hearing.
Just prior to the start of the 88th Legislature, the Natural Resources committee issued its interim report. One chapter dealt with HCWID No.3 and a bill Hinojosa filed last session (SB 2185) that would have dissolved the district.
The interim report stated:
“After an exhaustive search of the legislative archives, it is apparent that legislation like SB 2185 is largely without precedent. The Committee found only one other instance where a general law water district was dissolved by the legislature. Under current statutory dissolution procedures, a district’s water rights revert back to the state. However, in the example found, the district was voluntarily dissolving and desired legislation to transfer its assets. While untraditional, in light of such an agreement, legislation of this sort is understandable. However, that is not the case between the City of McAllen and the HCWID 3.
“While we believe the District has shown in good faith that it is working towards implementing the requirements of SB 2185, we remain confused about the District board elections. We are unimpressed with any explanation thus far in regard to how and when lists of qualified voters are produced or how qualified voters are made aware that an election is even taking place. If the District wishes to continue operating as a WCID, there are issues here that need to be resolved. The Committee is cautiously open to exploring legislative possibilities, but we want to stress that any changes made in statute will potentially impact thousands of other districts for which we’ve heard no complaints.
“The Committee has ultimately determined that WCIDs still very much serve their intended purpose. While there may be issues at Hidalgo County Water Improvement District #3, they are not ones for which the Legislature is suited to specifically address. It is situations like this that Art. III, Sec. 56 of the Texas Constitution is designed to protect against: “the purpose of Section 56 is to stop the legislature from meddling in local matters” (The Constitution of The State of Texas: An annotated and Comparative Analysis, George Braden). It is contrary to the Constitution and would set a dangerous precedent to act in such a fashion simply because we may favor one political subdivision over another. It is our job to regulate districts as a whole and not on the individual level. Accordingly, there are statutory options to pursue grievances available in addition to judicial remedies. If those options are insufficient, it is the Legislature’s prerogative to enact a statutory framework that keeps districts honest, transparent, and efficient. As always we welcome suggestions on improvements to the law to keep all districts functioning at their very best.”
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