Mayor sits down to confront development issues
Leslie Rutherford | Editor
Mayor Tim Handren published a long post on his public Facebook page on Monday morning in an attempt to untangle and clarify the complexities surrounding Water Control and Improvement District 3, which is currently slated to provide water, sewage and other infrastructure to a BoerneBak II, LLC development near Scenic Loop Road. However, as development and water continue to be contentious topics in both the City and County, Handren asked to sit down with the Hill Country Weekly to further provide context to the ongoing development negotiations between City Council and WCID 3, that has been a recurring item on the City Council agenda since May.
By simplest definition, a WCID is a specialized district created by the state legislature to provide water, sewage and other infrastructures to large areas of development. In understanding the power wielded by these quasi-governmental institutions, Handren points out that “part of the challenge, part of what’s frustrating is that density control is state legislated.”
Currently, density and development controls in both Boerne and Kendall County are firmly tied to water and sewage provisions. Essentially, both the Mayor and the City Council know that, with the autonomy provided by the state-created WCID, developers have every capability to move forward without the input or involvement of the City.
It’s an ideology that has been on display at the state capital in recent weeks as audio recordings surfaced of Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen deriding local city and county governments. On the tapes, Bonnen can be heard stating, “Any mayor, county judge that was dumb ass enough to come meet with me, I told them with great clarity, my goal is for this to be the worst session in the history of the legislature for cities and counties.”
Handren has made no secret of his feelings toward such remarks, releasing a joint statement with Fair Oaks Ranch Mayor Garry Manitzas and County Judge Darrel Lux in which the three officials called Bonnen’s statements “absurd” and a demonstration of his “total disregard for elected mayors and county judges across the state.”
Handren went a step further when speaking with the Weekly, shaking his head as he explained, “When you have that sort of attitude at the state level of ‘we’re going to stick it to the cities and counties, and we’re going show them that the state is in control’; well, we’ve got to have state officials that can represent what they govern at the state level, but not at the expense of the city and county, and that’s what’s been going on with this last legislature. You have to get a majority of House and Senate officials to align around the fact that management by local, elected officials is actually okay; and right now, I don’t know which of those guys is on which team across the board.”
While changes at the state level may be slow Handren believes that, in the meantime, the city and county must effectively utilize the limited power of development agreements to advocate for their citizens and mitigate the impact of increased traffic, rising student populations and the strain to city and county resources.
“We enter into these development agreements to say ‘hey, you need to be a responsible citizen, and we need to look at the impact you’re going to have on the community, and you can’t just turn a blind eye toward this. You need to participate in solving some of these problems.’ And if you can start there and have an agreeable conversation, then the city residents don’t bear the full responsibility of all the economic impact.”
While the Mayor states that both WCID 3 and BoerneBakk II, LLC have been forthcoming and “very reasonable” in these latest negotiations, he concedes “they absolutely have the power to move forward without us.”
Handren also recognizes that, as Boerne and Kendall County continue to grow exponentially and the state continues to impede local governmental power, local, elected officials need to start examining measures to increase control over development. As utilities are the crucial factor in exercising such controls, Boerne Utilities may present the closest available solution to the development conundrum.
Handren questions, “Is it policy, is it law or is it practice that Boerne Utilities have not extended beyond the city limits?” The Mayor believes that, while a few antiquated, internal policies may exist within the company, the issue is primarily practice, practices that developed due to a lack of costly infrastructure.
“If we were to expand our water and sewage to WCID 3, we could put a monetary cost on that and say that it would cost millions and millions of dollars. How do we recoup that?” he asks.
As government officials gear up for the 2020 election year, Mayor Handren is attempting to answer that question. He plans to include a line item in next November’s bond election that will secure funding to expand Boerne Utilities’ infrastructure, thereby securing local government control over long-term development.
“Let’s put our vote where our mouth is and say ‘do we want to set aside millions of dollars for expanding our utilities so we can control outside our area?’ Because if you say ‘no,’ then all those developments are going to happen independent of what we want.”