07.30.07

Too Much Water In Hutto

Posted in Bad Government Republicans, Commentary, Cronyism, Williamson County at 4:47 pm by wcnews

In 2004 the City of Hutto knew they were buying more water than projections said they would need and did it any way. AAS has the story, How did Hutto end up with so much water?

This Williamson County hamlet signed a deal in 2004 that committed it to buy more water than its own growth projections indicated was necessary, according to recently released documents and interviews with city officials.

Still, city leaders went ahead with the deal, perhaps under the impression they had no other choice. This year alone Hutto, by now a city but still growing fast, will spend $1 million on water it will not use.

Customers’ water rates have already gone up once because of the contract, and another increase is expected before the end of the summer. The city is now renegotiating with the water provider, which has cost taxpayers about $100,000 more in consultant fees.

When asked about the extra water, current city leaders have said Hutto simply didn’t grow as fast as expected to cover the extra water. But documents obtained by the American-Statesman and interviews tell another story.

Among the findings:

•Hutto’s city engineer calculated growth projections showing that the water contract was too big. Those projections turned out to be fairly accurate. But there’s no record that the City Council ever saw them before signing the 2004 contract.

•City leaders said Hutto was under orders from the state to buy more water immediately. State officials deny that.

•There’s evidence that there were other water options in the works. Nearby Taylor and the Brazos River Authority were planning an expansion of a water plant — fully expecting Hutto to be a customer.

I’m not sure how many people are familiar with the growth of Hutto in the past seven years, or so, but it’s been massive. To say Hutto didn’t grow as fast as expected sounds suspicious. Especially when in the next paragraph we find out that Hutto is the fastest growing city in the state. Instead is appears that Hutto’s leaders, at the time, panicked and mishandled a state citation.

This need was made more dire in the summer of 2003, when the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality cited Hutto for not having enough water to meet state guidelines.

Mel Yantis, Hutto’s city manager at the time, said he took that citation — and numerous verbal warnings — to mean that they had to find a new water supplier.

But that wasn’t necessarily the case.

Hutto city engineer Dan Hejl had appealed to the state environmental agency to relax its minimum guidelines. The state denied his request, but only because it didn’t include the proper paperwork.

“We definitely didn’t tell them, ‘You need to get a whole bunch more water,’ ” said Judson Smith, who wrote the denial letter from the agency’s technical review and oversight team.

Yantis said this month that he didn’t know Hutto needed only to provide more detailed information. He said he relied on Hejl for engineering advice about state water requirements.

Hejl said he had prepared the missing documentation for the state, but city officials did not ask him to submit it — instead, they signed a new water contract with Heart of Texas Water Suppliers.

Yantis said he went with Heart of Texas because it was the only supplier with a contract ready to go.

Hmm…Heart of Texas Water that sounds familiar why?

Heart of Texas has come under scrutiny because it is partly owned by Frankie Limmer, the area’s county commissioner during the negotiations.

Yantis and Limmer said Limmer had no part in negotiating the deal because of his position with the county. Limmer is also a part-owner of land in two water control districts within reach of the pipeline. Limmer did not return calls for comment.

Hejl owns land in one of those districts through a limited liability company. He would not answer questions about whether he has or has had a business relationship with Limmer. He said Hutto approached the deal from a “purely water research standpoint.”

“Hutto has been extremely good to (my engineering company), and I would never do anything to harm that community,” Hejl said.

Why is it that whenever the people of Eastern Williamson County are getting a bad deal that Frankie Limmer is involved so how?  Let’s see if we have this straight. Hutto needs water because of fast growth. The city then buys too much water, and says it overestimated the growth, even though Hutto is the fastest growing city in the state. We then find out they knew they were buying too much water when they signed the contract but did it anyway. And who did they sign the contract with? Well the company owned by then Precinct 4 county commissioner Frankie Limmer. No big deal it’s not like all this extra water is going to cost the citizens of Hutto or anything like that.

Hutto customers already pay some of the highest water bills in Williamson County. The city plans to raise rates again soon, to an average of $72 per month.

Those rates shouldn’t change until 2011, according to a rate study by an outside engineering firm.

But that’s only if a new contract with Heart of Texas is finalized — and if the city grows as expected under Hejl’s new projections.

The new deal would decrease the amount of water the city buys from Heart of Texas considerably over the next few years. The council approved the new contract, but the two sides are working out small details; once completed, the deal would go into effect immediately.

But it also calls for Hutto to buy more water in the long term that its customers might not use. In 2027, Hutto would have to buy 5 million gallons of water a day from Heart of Texas, but according to Hejl’s most conservative projections, the city would need only 3.6 million gallons. If the city grows at a faster rate, the city would need 5.2 million.

A $72/month water bill would not make me happy.  This sounds like another issue that the Hutto Citizens Group could add to it’s . Like with Limmer’s landfill contract this deal is now being renegotiated. And like with the landfill deal the citizens of Hutto are the ones who are likely to suffer and better hold onto their wallets.

1 Comment »

  1. bobcatpaws said,

    September 18, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    Mel Yantis is now causing problems as the City Manager of Jarrell. Mel is wasting city money. Mel gave himself a pay raise and now the City of Jarrell pays Mel $90,000 to sit on his lazy rear end and hide in his Jarrell city office. Mel hired City of Hutto full-time emplyee Gerald Marinik to do personal contract work in Jarrell issuing building permits and inspecting. Gerald is using the City of Hutto time and Hutto fax and office equipment for his personal side business. Gerald faxes documents from the City of Hutto Community Development office that is related to Gerald’s personal side business of personal contract work to the City of Florence, Granger, Jarrell, Bartlett, and Rockdale. According to the City of Hutto policy, Gerald should be terminated for using the City of Hutto equipment for his personal side business. There is a rumor so this needs to be confirmed, that the City of Hutto hired an outside firm to inspect commercial construction in the city of Hutto and that Gerald does not do City of Hutto commercial inspections. Gerald is doing commercial inspections in the cities of Florence, Rockdale, Jarrell, Bartlett and Granger. And you should see the contract Gerald has with Mel. Mel pays Gerald monthly retainer fees! This is ridiculous!

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