84° F Friday, July 28, 2017

In most cases, private enterprise handles most things better than do governments, save one — water and sewage service. However, if your municipality doesn’t own your water and sewage service, you’ve got a problem. When water and sewage are handled by privately business, citizens lose and consumers are gouged. Just ask the folks in Woodcreek, a tiny hamlet just outside of Wimberley.
Like Lakeway, Woodcreek was originally a privately-owned resort development that went bankrupt more than 30 years ago. When the smoke cleared, the courts had sold off all the developer’s assets, including its water and sewage facilities. Meanwhile, homeowners scrambled to find a way to save their community and incorporated in 1984. But with a tiny tax base that could only rely on property taxes, there was no way the fledgling city could purchase its water and sewage facilities. Today those rights are owned and administered by a private corporation and residents commonly see water and sewage bills that hare higher than their electricity.
Entities that have all the benefits of both government and private business have all the advantages over “citizen customers” because there is no differentiating between the two.
Hill Country residents have been learning that lesson the hard way with the scandalous behavior that became routine business at the Pedernales Electric Cooperative. It may be decades before we fully understand the depth of the corruption that permeated PEC, but fortunately for citizens, they had the ability to elect a new board. In the long run, that will benefit the consumer as well.
While there isn’t any reason to assume the Lower Colorado River Authority is mired in corruption, there’s plenty of reason to think they don’t understand the difference between citizens and customers. There is no recourse for citizens and no competition to benefit customers. Just witness how they are willing to sell off their water and sewage interests with little or no regard for citizens — although they have been behaving a bit better recently by at least lending an ear to the various community interests that would be devastated by such a sale. Residents all over this area could find themselves hammered by outrageous water and sewage costs.
Another problem with privately-held water and sewage service is that when a serious problem surfaces — like the terrible sewage spill that poisoned the water in Georgetown costing many lives in 1980 — citizens can hold their government accountable. But if water and sewage concerns are privately held, citizens have no such options.
Alas, PEC and LCRA are products of rural electrification, a rightly vaunted government program of the 20th Century that has now outlived its usefulness in the new millennium. For all the good the agencies have done, such government/business entities have serious inherent flaws because the two don’t mix well. At least PEC customers had the power to send its board packing. LCRA customers are not so fortunate, since the board is appointed by the governor. Essentially, there’s no real representation for citizens. Moreover, LCRA has virtually no accountability to anyone and is severely lacking in government oversight while operating what amounts to a monopoly. LCRA is in dire need of performance audit and reorganization from top to bottom. In that process, the LCRA board should become an elected body or it will always confuse citizens with customers, while being accountable to neither.
— Charles McClure


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