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Of water and clarity
by Jeff Latcham
Apr 26, 2013 | 909 views | 0 0 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Count us still in the undecided column when tallying those for or against the proposed city water bond issue on the May 11 ballot.

Tuesday’s third and final public hearing on the topic provided no real new information and pitched the same two-well proposal as had been given at the second public hearing. That was a change from the one big well plan presented at the first public hearing, but didn’t touch on the multi-well plan discussed last week by citizens, engineers and city staff, as reported in Wednesday’s paper.

In discussing the third option during a tour of a reverse osmosis plant in Donna, city staff and engineers estimated that a one well in the deep, brackish Jasper aquifer with smaller RO plant and three wells (all on city property) into the shallower, sweet Evangeline aquifer could be done for approximately $8 million. This would seemingly be a bargain in comparison to the $15.3 million bond issue as it sits before voters. Because the dollar amount is fixed on the ballot, the unused balance of the issue could be reserved for future expansion and repairs to the entire system.

That certainly sounds appealing. Except it was not presented as the plan, or even an option, at the public hearing. When asked about it, the answer from staff and engineers is essentially: we won’t know what we have until we drill the wells.

So citizens are asked to authorize a $15.3 million bond issue with no firm plan or commitment in place. In an age when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi famously told us we had to pass the Obamacare bill to find out what’s in it, the bond issue doesn’t come to the voters with an aura of prudence – only an aura of panic.

That said, in fairness, the NorrisLeal engineering firm has only been on the job since January, no doubt hired by the city to find a solution and quickly. That’s what happens when the City of Corpus Christi reportedly tells Beeville that it cannot guarantee water from Lake Corpus Christi after 2014.

So the community must reach a decision in a matter of weeks instead of the usual six or more months that go into building a consensus for a bond issue. There’s just not a lot of time to ask questions.

Signs springing up in opposition tout city taxes going up 49 percent, but as city staff explained Tuesday, that is the worst case scenario if the entire bond issue was funded by property taxes. The city would look to spread the cost over several sources including property taxes, water and sewer rates and possibly hotel and motel tax rates if the state will allow that. The bond market wants a simple concise repayment source, so the city expresses it on a tax basis even if it will actually use other means.

Questions about the viability of the Jasper brackish waters and the RO plant with its scalability have pretty well been laid to rest. There’s no real question that this can be done – just which ways and for how much? Sometimes it has the feel of a shell game. As noted before, the time frame essentially puts a gun to the heads of city voters.

We’ve never seen a bond issue before that essentially asks the voters to just give us the money and trust us to figure it out.

We don’t think it’s unreasonable in this situation for voters to seek as much clarity as possible before casting a ballot. – Jeff Latcham
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