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Legal fees push BCRAGD proposed tax rate just over rollback rate

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

Budgeting for anticipated legal fees led the board of the Bandera County River Authority and Groundwater District to propose a budget that will increase local taxes. General Manager Dave Mauk offered a $723,400 proposed budget to the board during a called meeting held Thursday, August 20.
That's an increase of $112,138 over last year's (2014-15) budget and most of that is for legal fees, Mauk explained. The proposed 2015-16 budget allows for $75,000 for the district's attorney and $25,000 for scientific consulting and legislative lobbying.
BCRAGD is currently involved in a legal hearings procedure in which Flying L Guest Ranch Ltd. is requesting a variance. The ranch's pumping permit is currently 301.37 acre feet per year, and they want that changed to 2,096 acre feet per year, which is 10 times the amount of water pumped by the entire City of Bandera per year. That number is based on the amount of water the ranch's wells could pump if they ran non-stop. The issue has been in contention since early 2014 and will most likely continue to put money in the attorneys' pockets for some time to come.
"Our job is to protect the water rights for everyone in Bandera County," said Board President Don Sloan, in defending the need for budgeting for legal fees.
Board Secretary Jerry Sides added, "If we don't put in money for attorneys' fees, Flying L will win."
The proposed tax rate to support the budget is .034739/$100. This rate will add a little over $7 to the average resident's annual property tax bill. That's about $1.50 over the rollback rate, Mauk said.
BCRAGD will hold a public hearing on the proposed tax rate as required by law on Sept. 4 at 9 am at the district's offices at 440 FM 3240 in Bandera.
Under the Texas Water Code, qualified voters of the district can petition for an election to be held to determine whether to reduce the operation and maintenance tax rate to the rollback tax rate.
"We hope taxpayers will not mind paying about 15 cents a day in additional property taxes to keep from buying their water from the Flying L in the future," Sloan said.
A legislative mandate also caused the budget to reflect setting aside $10,000 in anticipation of a sunset review audit due in five years. The 2015 session of the Texas Legislature voted to force all of the state's river authorities, whether they have a quarter million dollar budget or a multi-million dollar budget, to undergo the review. The audit will cost each district an anticipated $100,000.
Mauk said that when smaller river authorities like ours objected to the unfairness of the mandated audit and its cost, the general response in Austin was, "Well, if you can't pay for it, then maybe you need to be consolidated into a river authority that's big enough to handle the expense."
The audit bill was originally proposed as a way to have some checks and balances on large river authorities, like LCRA, whose boards are appointed by the governor. Somehow, it got extended to include river authorities like BCRAGD whose board is subject to review by voter.
The proposed BCRAGD budget and tax rate for 2015-16 were unanimously approved by the board, with Sherry McLeod absent.