Voters shot down the bond sale by a vote of 398 to 184 Saturday, letting the city know they had no intention of seeing their taxes raised in order to drill two wells and build a reverse osmosis plant at the city’s water storage facility on West Cleveland Street.
Voters also elected attorney George P. “Trace” Morrill to represent them in Ward 1 on the council and returned certified public accountant Florette “Libby” Spires to the Ward 5 post she has held for years.
Morrill beat his opponent, former councilman Randy Forbes, by 34 votes, 77 to 43, and Spires defeated correctional officer Christopher Payne by 39 votes, 104 to 65.
City Manager Ballí lamented the fact that fewer than 600 city residents decided the fate of the water bond issue.
“I’m sure that the council and I will sit down at some time and come up with a plan,” Ballí said of the city’s mounting water problem.
City Secretary Barbara Treviño reminded residents that the vote totals are still unofficial and will not become final until the City Council canvasses the results and approves the report at its May 21 meeting.
Ballí said the fact that the council was asking for $15.3 million in bond sales did not mean the council planned to spend that entire amount.
Some of those who opposed the plan apparently did not like the fact that property taxes could have risen by more than $16 a month for a $75,000 home.
Ballí said the city had several options available that could have reduced the financial hit to property owners. She said the council never intended for the entire project to be paid for with property taxes because many of the customers who would benefit from the project live outside the city.
The plan was for the city staff to seek federal and state grants, if some could be found, and to raise more funds with water rate increases.
The fact remains that Beeville could see its raw water intake structure near Swinney Switch high enough out of the Nueces River that it will no longer be able to pump water out of that location.
That surface water is the city’s only source of municipal water at this time.
The plan called for building a $12.3 million well system that would have taken water from the deep but salty Jasper aquifer. Other water would have been pumped from a shallower well drilled into the Evangeline (Goliad) aquifer.
Water from the Jasper aquifer would then be filtered through a reverse osmosis plant to remove the solids and chlorides and then blended with untreated water from that well to add minerals for taste.
Evangeline water contains fewer suspended solids and chlorides than the Jasper water, but it would have to be treated for iron and other minerals before being blended with the city’s other water supplies.
As the votes were counted at City Hall Saturday evening, Mayor Santiago “Jimbo” Martinez said he had been giving serious consideration to a less expensive solution proposed by Beeville Water Supply District Board President Jim Crumrine and geologist Kenneth Newbury.
That plan would involve drilling three wells into the Evangeline aquifer, one well into the Jasper and building a smaller RO plant.
“What this vote did was say no to our financing,” Ballí said.
Whatever the solution will be, Ballí said it will have to provide 3.2 million gallons of water a day that the city uses currently. In fact, during times of peak demand, the city uses 5.2 mgd.
Ballí said one alternative will be for the city to go to the open market to borrow funds. The water problem is not going away and if the Coastal Bend does not receive appreciable rain in the next two years the city could be out of water.
“I’m not sure there will be any grants,” Ballí cautioned. The Texas Legislature recently shot down one attempt to release some of the state’s rainy day fund money to help fund municipal water projects.
“Whatever the answer is, it’s going to have to be paid for somehow,” Ballí said.
An offer by the Bee Development Authority to sell the city well water at $0.62 per 1,000 gallons is not an option, Ballí said. The BDA wants $1.5 million up front to rehabilitate the single well at the Chase Field Industrial and Airport Complex. That would only be able to provide 1 mgd.
“There’s no water conservation plan that could be used that would allow the city to get by on 1 mgd,” Ballí said. “Any solution that we can find will have to provide 3.2 mgd.”
Signs posted around the city in opposition of the water bond issue hinted that there was a cheaper and better proposal for the city.
“If that’s the case, now would be a good time to come forward with it,” Ballí said.
The failure of the bond sale puts the city right back at “square one,” Ballí said.
Hopefully, higher assessed values for property within the city will help bring in some additional tax money.
“We haven’t raised our tax rates in years,” Ballí said. The last tax increase was passed by the council to meet increased costs of treating the surface water from Lake Corpus Christi.
“We always try to live within our means,” Ballí said. “It’s not like the city has gone out for financing on very many things.”
In fact, Ballí said, the city has little outstanding debt.
The city is paying debt service on only three issues at present and some of those will be paid off in the next few years.
Part of the $15.3 million in bonds would have been sold to finance improvements to the city’s wastewater treatment plant.
Those improvements will still have to be made.
“You’ve got to trust the people that you elect to make the decisions, to do what’s right,” Ballí said. Apparently the voters did not have that trust Saturday.
The two council members who will take their oaths of office next Tuesday had little to say about the problem facing the council.
Morrill said he is “humbled by the opportunity to represent this community.” And he is excited to join the mayor and council members in solving the water, wastewater and infrastructure issues facing the council.
Spires said she is interested in finding alternative methods of financing water and wastewater improvements after the failure of the bond election.
She also wants to see the council set some term limits for the City Council and all its boards and commissions.
Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 120, or at reporter@mySouTex.com.