Officials in the North Texas town of Blue Mound and the town's representative in the state House say they are upset and baffled by Gov. Rick Perry’s veto of a bill that would have made it easier for Blue Mound to gain control of its water system.
The town's water is provided by a private company, Monarch Utilities, a subsidiary of SouthWest Water Company. Officials in Blue Mound, which is north of Fort Worth and home to about 2,400 people, have complained that they have considerably higher water rates than the town's neighbors. House Bill 1160, sponsored by State Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, would have made it easier for Blue Mound to obtain the right to run its system.
Perry vetoed the bill on Friday. “At a time when infrastructure is a focus for our growing state, this bill would provide a disincentive for development by private utilities,” the governor said in a statement accompanying the veto. He noted there is also "pending litigation directly related to this issue."
Geren, whose district includes Blue Mound, said that the governor’s action was a surprise. “My first thoughts are — I wish someone from the governor’s office had told me they had some issue with this, and they never did,” he said. "They never called my staff. They never came to see me. Nothing."
The bill was specifically tailored to Blue Mound and one other Texas community, Geren said, and it included accommodations for SouthWest Water Company.
“[Perry] obviously had somebody too stupid to read a three-page bill” advising him, Geren said.
In a statement responding to a question about the veto and the future of Blue Mound's water system, Chuck Profilet, vice president of the SouthWest Water Company, said that “Monarch remains committed to providing clean, safe, reliable water to our customers in Blue Mound, but we can't comment beyond that due to pending litigation.”
Blue Mound is in a legal battle with Monarch in an effort to gain the right to provide its own water. The battle is in the 348th district court of Texas, according to Alan Hooks, the mayor of Blue Mound.
Hooks said that “it was kind of upsetting” to learn of the veto, after he had made multiple trips to Austin and spent a few hundred hours on the matter.
The problem, he said, was the high water rates: Water bills in Blue Mound average $140 for 5,000 gallons a month, he said, whereas residents in nearby Fort Worth and Saginaw pay about $40 for the same amount of water.
Hooks said that his water bill ranged from $180 to $220 for 8,000 gallons of water a month (which he acknowledged was “a lot”), whereas his brother in nearby Saginaw pays about $70 per month roughly for the same amount. The Saginaw figure includes trash services, Hooks said.
“It's just ridiculous,” Hooks said, adding that the high water rates have had an impact on the town’s economy.
SouthWest Water has said its rates have increased 62 percent since 2005 as it has invested in Blue Mound’s infrastructure. Private water companies note that repairs and maintenance to rural water systems can be costly.
Rich Parsons, a spokesman for the governor’s office, said that the veto statement "speaks for itself."
Hooks said that the town would continue its fight to gain control of its own water system. The veto was “a bump in the road,” he said, but it could be overcome. The bill would have made it easier for the town to get certified to run its own water system, with the approval of a trial court, but the town can find a way around getting the certification, he said.
“Why are they fighting so hard to keep this little 800-house community up here when we don’t want them?” Hooks said, referring to SouthWest Water. “We don’t need them.”
One other bill did go the way that Blue Mound and some other rural communities with high water rates had hoped: House Bill 1600 will transfer oversight of water rates from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to the Public Utility Commission of Texas. Small communities had lobbied for the transfer, partly because the PUC — which already handles electric utility-rate oversight — has an associated office of the Public Utility Counsel to help small communities make their case on rates. That transfer does not occur until 2015.
Both Geren and Hooks vowed to raise the Blue Mound issue again during the next legislative session.
“I’m coming back in two years, and I’m going to file [HB 1160] the first day,” Geren said.
Said Hooks: “I will be back in Austin in 2015 talking to anybody and everybody who will listen to me.”
Cody Permenter contributed reporting.