— By CHRISTIN COYNE
ANNETTA - Shortly after the Annetta Water Advisory Committee - comprised of Deer Creek water system residents who live inside and outside city limits - submitted a report outlining a list of recommendations, the Annetta Town Council removed two members, including the chairman, who led recent annexation efforts.
With council members Chuck Sheridan and Richard Machak opposing, council members Larry Wood, Bruce Moore and Farrar Patterson voted in favor of removing Traci Fambrough and committee chair Dennis Thompson from the board appointed in 2012 to advise the council.
Both former committee members recently led annexation efforts that garnered signatures from 500 affected residents seeking to be added to the city. Proponents have said they feel disenfranchised because the majority of users on the system cannot vote in town council election. Concerns have recently surfaced after council members discussed taking over management of the water system, currently contracted to Hudson Oaks, and building a new city hall, which water system users are concerned would be paid for primarily with water system funds.
However, a majority of the council declined to schedule public hearings to discuss the annexation issue.
“I want to discuss the water advisory board because I sat through a meeting on Monday night,” Wood said. “And according to the ordinance that set up the water advisory board, it was given a very specific task.”
Governed by ordinance 125, the water advisory board was established for issues surrounding water and water rights within the town’s CCN, Wood said. “It doesn’t say anything about making recommendations about city hall ... it doesn’t say anything about whether the city should take over the water system. It says issues surrounding water and water rights, OK?”
The town council was “bashed around” during the previous meeting of the water advisory committee meeting for wanting to look at building a city hall and wanting to take over management of the system, Wood said, adding that Hudson Oaks and Aledo manage their own water systems while Annetta lets someone else manage theirs.
“Both of them ... were the two that were very negative,” Wood said.
“This seems a little bit harsh that this is the first time we’re hearing about it and you’re asking for their immediate removal and to my knowledge or recollection, I’ve heard nothing but positive things of our water board as a whole,” Mayor Bruce
Pinckard said, adding that he was concerned about the timing of the issue.
Machak said he believed the council was acting too quickly.
“I think that all the crap we’ve put up with the past three months was orchestrated from that direction, though I have no proof of it,” Wood said.
Sheridan said he felt creating the water committee was one of the smartest things they’ve done, allowing the council to get a lot of information they normally would not have had about how to operate the water system.
“He has obviously been very dedicated in getting us information,” Sheridan said of Thompson.
“Let’s grow and work together and not do something as exacting as getting rid of somebody,” Sheridan said, adding that he felt the removal was harsh in light of what had been accomplished by the committee.
Moore said he believed the committee had chastised the council, adding that he was not happy with the leadership.
Several recent statements from Thompson have been negative and over the bounds, Patterson said.
“I would hate to have any action taken without those accused having a chance to defend themselves,” Pinckard said.
Sheridan said he thought discussion of the town hall facility was somewhat justified. “Some of that money that is going to be needed to fund city hall will come from the water system,” Sheridan, adding that the two issues are related.
“The council, as I recollect, requested the advisory committee to look at some of those items,” Pinckard said, something Wood disputed.
Fambrough attempted respond to the council members comments but was not allowed to do so.
“There was no example given of what we said or did,” Fambrough said later, admitting that she was upset that the council refused to hold hearings on the annexation issue.
Because the city council agenda was already posted when the group had their meeting Monday night, Fambrough said she believes the decision to remove her and Thompson had already been made.
Thompson said later that he believes it’s clear that council members who voted to remove him don’t like to be challenged by anybody.
In addition to providing projected costs for the current fiscal year for scenarios of management by Hudson Oaks, as well as Annetta, the five-member committee signed a two-page statement summarizing findings and several recommendations.
“At this point, it appears that the possibility of Annetta securing and negotiating a location and drilling a second well to supply the new 330,000-gallon storage tank near Stuard Elementary in time for the summer demand is doubtful,” the committee wrote. “In addition, no site has been secured for drilling a well and constructing storage tanks on the north end of the system so that the Split Rail community can be more adequately served, freeing up much-needed water for the remainder of Deer Creek.”
The group reported they don’t expect either project to be complete by summer and that the likelihood of selling more water over the summer was extremely low. The system’s approximately 720 users were not allowed outdoor watering between July and December due to the groundwater-supplied system’s inability to meet demand.
After obtaining spacing requirement exceptions from the Upper Trinity Groundwater District last year, the city drilled two wells near Stuard Elementary, using some funds from a $1 million bond issuance.
However, one of the two wells, a well drilled to the Trinity portion of the aquifer, did not produce water the city could sell and was plugged, leaving the city searching for a site to drill for the northern part of the system, as well as the southern portion of the system.
“If Hudson Oaks operates the system according to these projections, the Deer Creek Water System will produce $73,700 in excess revenue over expenses for fiscal year 2013,” the report stated. “Whereas, if Annetta operates the system, it will very likely show a loss of at least $4,000.”
They also noted that it would be impossible to cost-effectively replace the expertise of Hudson Oaks in the short term, stating that they believe Annetta cannot match the level of customer service or maintenance they’ve been receiving.
“The members of the committee do not believe the customers of the Deer Creek Water System will tolerate a return to the dark Willow Park age,” the committee’s report read, referencing recent years of public outcry and litigation involving residents and area cities when Willow Park owned the city prior to the sale to Annetta.
The committee’s report recommended the city immediately begin negotiations with Hudson Oaks to extend the current contract for the optional two years after the contract comes to an end in fewer than nine months.
They also recommended moving forward immediately to drill new wells on the north and south side of the water system, as well as put in an additional storage tank, to meet current water demand.
Using excess funds from the water system, the city should upgrade the sewer treatment facility to bring it up to standards, the group recommended.
Citing protection of the water system’s financial stabliity, they also advised the city to postpone construction of a new city hall facility and, instead, rent a portable office building for staff to be placed at the city’s property near Stuard Elementary where there is access to water, sewer and electricity.
For large group meetings, the cities of Hudson Oaks and Aledo have offered the use of their meeting facilities, the report stated.