New sewer system causes stir in Wimberley over fears it digs financial hole

A new sewer plant will soon replace the old facility at Blue Hole Park. (KXAN photo)
A new sewer plant will soon replace the old facility at Blue Hole Park. (KXAN photo)

WIMBERLEY, Texas (KXAN) — A new sewer system that will only service half a city has some in Wimberley saying their leaders are digging a financial hole that will be hard to climb out of. The plan has been in place for years, but when an agenda item popped up this week claiming the city lost $68,549.50 for not following federal requirements, it shot up another red flag.

According to the city council agenda, in 2012 and 2017 City Council members authorized two agencies to provide financial services to enable to city to obtain a $5,255,000 city of Wimberley Sewer System Revenue Bonds.

According to city staff, the city owes almost $70,000 for the services and anticipated to pay with funds from the Texas Water Development Board loan.

“However, the city did not follow the federal requirements to hire these firms, because the city did not solicit Request for Qualifications (RFQs) and did not interview qualified firms that submitted RFGs,” reads the city council agenda.

The city of Wimberley operates with around $1 million in its general fund. City staff recommended the city pay for the services through the fund.

“This project is a lot of money. It’s the biggest amount of money that the city has ever spent on anything that we have ever done,” said City Council Member Craig Fore.

In total it’s a $7.5 million project and will create a sewer system for downtown businesses.

The mayor says the almost $70,000 was money well spent. “Even if we didn’t have a reserve fund to go to draw it from that we have already established, I would still advocate that we would pay it because we’ve incurred the debt, we’ve enjoyed the services that we are being billed for and it’s time to pay the debt,” said Wimberley Mayor Mac McCullough.

In regards to not following federal requirements, McCullough says it was all miscommunication. The money was never supposed to come from the TWDB loan.

“The new city administrator didn’t know that we had established those funds in a separate account to pay for that. So, when he put it on tonight’s agenda he was unaware that we had previously, five years ago had discussed how we were going to pay for that,” said McCullough.

Council members will now have to decide if the money will be pulled from the general fund or a separate sewer account. It’s a mistake that has the community questioning if the city can handle the large project.

“There really aren’t enough funds in the budget to fund a project of this magnitude. So, my fear is that we are going to spend all of our money on a sewer and ultimately have to have an ad valorem tax or a property tax going forward to pay for the other services that the city should be providing,” said Fore.

The entire sewer project will be funded by a $5.5 million loan from TWDB, a $1 million grant from the Economic Development Administration and another $1 million grant from a private donor. City leaders plan for the sewer to be complete by the end of the year.

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