By CASSIE MCKEE, Four Points News
River Place residents are preparing for a jolt on their upcoming water and wastewater bills, as rates are expected to double beginning October 1.
The Austin Water Utility takes over the water and wastewater service from the River Place Municipal Utility District on October 1, as part of the Strategic Partnership Agreement approved by the City and the MUD in 2009. It is one step in the process of the community being annexed by the city of Austin.
The current cost of these services from the city of Austin is more than twice what the MUD charges, according to River Place MUD President Jim Casey.
Casey, 79, has served as the MUD president since 1997. He said in 2008, the board received notice that River Place was going to be annexed by the city of Austin, effective Dec. 31, 2011.
“Out of the blue, we got this notice for the annexation,” Casey said. “There was no warning. The MUD is going to change enormously because of the city annexing us.”
After receiving the notice, board members of both the MUD and the HOA as well as many in the community did not think it would be good for the community to be annexed so soon, Casey said. The board hired a consultant and began working with the city, lobbying for a longer time frame. They were successful – the city eventually agreed to not annex the community until Dec. 31, 2017.
“The city of Austin realized, after we helped to give them some more information, that it would be a benefit to them too because we would be paying off our debt in the meantime,” Casey said. “We have $15.25 million in bonds that we’ve sold to build the infrastructure and pay for our plant. So we’ll have that paid off by 2018.”
Casey said once the city makes a decision to annex a community, there is little that can be done to stop it. He said the Lost Creek MUD in west Austin faced a similar battle and ended up going to court with the city.
“They ended up losing and it cost them a whole lot of money,” Casey said.
He compared a fight between the River Place community and the city of Austin to David and Goliath.
“We’re just a kid with a slingshot,” he said.
Casey said many River Place residents are not happy about the annexation.
“They’re not happy but it would’ve been much sooner,” Casey said. “It would’ve been Dec. 31, 2011, that they would’ve paid double.”
Taxes to go down slightly
On the positive side, due to decreasing bond debt and a fiscally-conservative board, River Place residents should begin to see slight decreases in their ad valorem tax rates beginning in January.
“Our taxes in the meantime will be stair-stepping down,” Casey said. “Next year the tax will go down a couple cents per hundred (dollar valuation). Each year thereafter it will adjusted downward. The bond indebtedness is being reduced, and also one of our cultures in the River Place MUD is to watch our money. We don’t throw things away.”
Once River Place is annexed in 2017, it will receive public safety services by Austin Police Department and Austin Fire Department.
The Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) approved by the River Place MUD and the city of Austin in 2009 declares:
- Full purpose annexation of the MUD by the City on December 31, 2017 including all City services and taxing authority. In late 2018, tax bills for properties in the former MUD will include City property taxes due. Residents will no longer pay MUD or Emergency Service District (ESD #6) taxes. If approved by River Place voters, residents will begin paying a Limited District tax for certain services as described in the fourth bullet below. School District boundaries are unaffected by changes to city limits.
- The City, in accordance with state law, will assume any remaining drainage, water and wastewater debt on December 31, 2017 upon full purpose annexation.
- The City service plan for roads and other infrastructure, fire and police will be adopted as part of the SPA.
- Upon full purpose annexation by the City and subject to voter approval, the MUD will convert to a Limited District with an initial term of 10 years for the purposes of: Maintaining and operating recreational facilities in the MUD, e.g., parks, the nature trail, etc., maintaining non-Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan property in the MUD, and providing solid waste services with single stream recycling. The overall cost to homeowners will be much less than if the City handled the above. Further it is anticipated that the quality of the parks will remain excellent as it has been during the past fifteen years.
- Limited purpose annexation of the MUD by the City took place in 2009, including zoning and voting privileges. Therefore residents of River Place can vote in City elections for Mayor and City Council but are not assessed the City ad valorem taxes.
- The City assumed ownership of River Place MUD’s water and wastewater infrastructure in 2009.
- The MUD will continue to operate and maintain its water and wastewater utility systems until October 1, 2014 at which time the City will assume operation and maintenance responsibilities. Billing for water and wastewater service will convert to City rates at that time, an increase of approximately twice that of the current MUD rates.