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Mountain City to Kyle: It’s not no, but let’s talk

Tuesday, May 19, 2015 by Kim Hilsenbeck

Residents and guests packed into City Hall in Mountain City on Monday evening to hear more about the proposed interlocal agreement with Hays County and the City of Kyle involving a transfer of extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ). Located in Hays County, Mountain City and its much larger neighbor, Kyle, are situated about 20 miles south of Austin.

Emotions ran high at the council meeting because the deal, as written by Kyle in conjunction with Hays County, would allow Kyle to absorb the ETJ where the Anthem/Clark Wilson development is planned. In exchange, Mountain City, which has about 650 homes, would gain some infrastructure improvements, including the ability to connect with Kyle’s water and wastewater services. Hays County would also fix and pave Mountain City’s roads.

Anthem is a proposed development of 2,200 homes with an entrance on FM 150 West. The developer, Clark Wilson, signed a contract with Electro Purification (EP), a private water firm that also has contracts with the City of Buda and Goforth Special Utility District. Wilson submitted a request to the Texas Legislature for Anthem to be a Municipal Utility District (MUD).

Nearly all in attendance at the meeting unequivocally opposed any agreement with Kyle.

“The council should oppose this,” one Mountain City resident said during public comment. “And if this were put to a vote with the citizens of this town, it would be resoundingly defeated.”

“Everything that I came to Mountain City for is being taken away through this effort,” former Mayor Rick Tarr said. “We stand to gain nothing — nothing. I don’t know what the council is going to do, but I certainly hope they would consider what they’re doing today and the unintended consequences that are going to happen if this goes through, OK? Thank you.”

Beth Smith, both a resident and former longtime mayor of the tiny town (as well as the mother of the current mayor), submitted a letter to be read by a council member. Smith was out of state on a planned trip.

“Please don’t relinquish any ETJs that Mountain City holds,” she wrote. Smith did not see the rationale for Mountain City or Hays County to be involved in the interlocal agreement. “Since Mountain City has an agreement with Anthem, I see no reason for Hays County to be involved in this MOU. Shouldn’t it just be Mountain City and Kyle and Anthem?”

The council then broke for executive session. While the council met privately, local residents talked about the proposal.

“The question I have, does it make any difference to the mayor whether we’re opposed to it or not?” a man said. “I would hope she would listen to the citizens and not make a decision on her own.”

Following a roughly 45-minute executive session, council members returned to the dais. Mayor Tiffany Curnutt and the council did not vote on the interlocal agreement. However, they decided to authorize Curnutt and Mayor Pro Tem Phillip Taylor — who was absent but volunteered by his fellow council member, and father, Lee Taylor — to meet with Mountain City’s legal team to put together a counteroffer.

“There is no positive about this — it’s all negative,” Mountain City resident Sandra Grizzle said.

Would there be any positives to the agreement for Mountain City? Has anyone thought about it from the other side of the issue?

The answer throughout the room was a seemingly unanimous no. One woman told the reporter, “Stop asking ridiculous questions.”

“It’s clearly obvious that this proposal is not being well received,” a man said. “I love Mountain City, except for city council.”

He went on to express his dissatisfaction as many around the room nodded in agreement. “They just never listen to the citizens. And it just bugs … me that we have to endure this as citizens of this town. This (issue) should be brought up as a vote. And it’s not even being considered as a vote,” he said.

As elected officials, do you feel they are representing you?

At least 10 people in the audience simultaneously yelled, “No!”

Why don’t you vote them out?

The man who spoke earlier said that, occasionally, newcomers will sit on the council when there is a vacant spot, but that “the rest of the council will shun them and won’t talk to them.”

Tarr’s issue is that Mountain City residents are ignored even when they speak up to council: “The idea that citizens can be invited to a council meeting and allowed to speak and then totally ignored as if they said nothing …. It’s just totally ignored, it’s a waste of time and it’s an insult to us as citizens.”

Is this a pattern?

“It sure is,” a man said. “Every meeting I’ve been to on this issue, and the meetings I’ve been to in the past several years, it’s been this way.”

“Don’t you think the council should vote what the people want?” a woman asked.

Resident Pauline Tom said, “This is at the very heart of why Mountain City exists. Mountain City was created because the people who lived in Mountain City Oaks didn’t want to have a city coming in around them and taking them. And so the whole process went through to become a city.

“About that same time, the ranches that go westward … asked to please come into our ETJ,” Tom continued. “We made a commitment to them, I think. And to put a huge chunk that’s called Anthem (that) may or may not happen, and let it belong to the City of Kyle, that’s not what Mountain City has been about.

“This is particularly upsetting that the city would entertain letting go of even the buffer around Mountain City. Kyle would touch Mountain City with nothing in between.”

Another resident said, “If this goes through, we will be Kyle.”

There were a few audible groans from the audience.

“I’ve been here for over 30 years,” the resident continued. “The reason Mountain City is an incorporated city is for one purpose and one purpose only, and that was to keep Austin from grabbing us. We did not want to belong to Austin. We don’t want to belong to Buda … or Kyle. We’re an independent city — that’s what makes us unique.”

At that, several people broke out into applause.

Another man said he moved to Mountain City 22 years ago. “We fought and fought and fought to keep our independence. And now we’re going, ‘Oh, we’ll just give it away.’ For what? Street repair?” he said.

A man in the front row who moved in a year ago said he wanted a place “where the city wouldn’t come in on us.”

He added, “It really gives me a sick feeling to think somebody that’s lived here 30 years, someone’s going to shovel a spoon in their mouth. I can promise you, I don’t want anybody shoveling a spoon in my mouth.”

If your council moves forward with the deal with Kyle, would any of you consider moving?

Only one woman, who has lived in Mountain City for 18 years, raised her hand. But a man in the audience said, “We’d consider getting rid of the city council.”

Another woman said her concern was that without signs about the issue that had been posted by a neighbor, she might not have known about it. Not everyone gets the (community) email or newspaper, she said. Holding the interlocal agreement in her hand, she added, “It’s just very hard to understand. I just wish it could be explained better somehow.”

“The part of an agreement that you don’t understand is the part that you’re going to be taken advantage of,” a man said. “And this whole (contract) is very hard to read and understand. It really means to me that we’re going to be taken advantage of.”

Photo by Kim Hilsenbeck

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