Port O'Connor polls open for special election

Elena Watts By Elena Watts

May 9, 2014 at 12:09 a.m.
Updated May 10, 2014 at 12:10 a.m.

Registered voters in Calhoun County will be able to vote on two Port O'Connor Improvement District propositions Saturday.

Proposition I proposes the issuance of $11 million in bonds to improve the water and sewer systems.

Proposition II proposes a sales and use tax in Port O'Connor not to exceed 1.5 percent.

Both propositions were voted down in November, which resulted in a 60 percent water and sewer system rate increase in January.

After the November election, the district's board of directors issued a letter to residents that stated, "The board is considering placing the two propositions on the May ballot and will ask voters to consider these propositions again in order to prevent future increases in rates."

Frustrated with what he calls a lack of transparency about the reasons for the rate hikes, Leon Brown, of Port O'Connor, started a watchdog group and circulated a petition that garnered 315 signatures. Only 139 signatures were required to file the petition with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

"The petition was referred to the State Office of Administrative Hearings to schedule a hearing," wrote Lisa Wheeler, spokeswoman for TCEQ, in an email.

The date of the Austin hearing has not been set.

"Port O'Connor Improvement District, formerly known as Port O'Connor Municipal Utility District, recently increased its retail water and sewer rates, and the customers filed a valid petition with the TCEQ to appeal the rate-making decision of POID," Wheeler wrote.

An improvement district board member said the increases are needed.

"The board is put in a predicament - we are limited by law and cannot borrow money from a bank," said Doyle Adams, retired member of the Port O'Connor Improvement District, who served for more than 20 years. "We can only obtain funds to comply with our water and sewer system by selling bonds."

The issuance of a 1.5 percent sales and use tax on items purchased in Port O'Connor would help the district maintain and operate the water and sewer systems, Adams said.

The district purchased its water system from Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority about 20 years ago, and it was dilapidated at that time, Adams said.

"We need to remove the old 2-inch water lines and replace them with 6- and 8-inch water lines," Adams said. "It is costly to keep our heads above water for the people of Port O'Connor."

But Brown maintains the board refuses to answer questions about the state mandates.

Members of the district's board are elected public servants spending public funds, yet they have refused to answer questions about TCEQ mandates, Brown said.

The TCEQ's Office of Compliance and Enforcement has issued Port O'Connor Improvement District notice of violation letters, Wheeler wrote. The district has failed to upgrade its water distribution system facilities, which include the installation of adequate dead-end main flush valves and discharge piping, Wheeler wrote.

"As of May 8, 2014, POID has no current maximum contaminant level violations and is currently in compliance with primary drinking water standards," Wheeler wrote. "POID has no pending or active enforcement cases with the TCEQ."

Brown said the increases are hard for residents on fixed income.

The base water and sewer rate is $124 per month, Brown said. Additional charges are based on 1,000-gallon increments of water.

"Many residents in Port O'Connor are on fixed incomes, and their water is being disconnected," Brown said.

Port O'Connor Water District owns a community public water system, which serves drinking water to a population of about 4,788 people with 1,596 connections, Wheeler wrote.

The district uses purchased surface water from GBRA in Port Lavaca as its main source of drinking water. The district's water system also has one active ground water well and one emergency well, Wheeler wrote.



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