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BSEACD waives fees, passes budget

Tuesday, August 4, 2015 by Courtney Griffin

Because it might be more of a hassle than it’s worth, the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District board of directors decided at its regular meeting Thursday to waive a new permit application fee when passing next year’s budget.

Approved in a 4-1 vote with board member Robert Larsen dissenting, the decision will subsequently require the district to do some of its work for free.

The fee in question is associated with BSEACD’s newly created temporary permit application. The permit came about after House Bill 3405 immediately placed 170 square miles of previously unregulated territory under BSEACD’s jurisdiction. The territory includes a large portion of Hays County and water supplier Electro Purification’s controversial wells.

“We’re getting a lot of pushback, already, from smaller churches and schools … to the $500 application fee,” John Dupnik, BSEACD’s general manager, explained Thursday. “I feel like we need to soften this to make it as easy and painless as possible.”

Dupnik said that about 30 well owners are in the process of completing applications before the Sept. 19 due date. The lack of fees would cost BSEACD only an estimated $10,000, he added.

Dupnik explained to board members that the fee financially compensates staff for time spent processing the permit, but the regulatory process is also sticking existing Hays County well owners with a $400 meter installation cost.

Board President Mary Stone suggested setting up a payment plan, creating a waiver for nonprofits or somehow reducing the fee instead of waiving it entirely.

“I don’t like just doing it for free,” board Vice President Craig Smith agreed.

Dupnik said that a simple waiver of all fees creates a noncontroversial, fair process that eliminates future staff hours spent coaxing and explaining the cost to residents, as had recently occurred at an information session. Also, the effort to create new administrative processes for nonprofit organizations or collect even reduced fees is not worth the staff time when looking at the bigger picture, he added.

The district’s water use fees will kick in about a month after a temporary permit application is received. Dupnik explained that due to such fees, the new territory has boosted fiscal year 2016 funding projections by about $400,000.

BSEACD is estimated to take in $2.1 million in revenue next year, largely from fees associated with water use. The conservation district is expected to pump approximately 4.38 billion gallons out of its regulated aquifers.

Dupnik pointed out that most of the annual funding estimates hinge on Electro Purification’s actions, however.

“That’s not to say, for example, Electro Purification will choose not to pursue a temporary permit. … And that’s really what is driving the bulk of this revenue,” he said.

BSEACD will have a stronger grasp on its financial situation when money from temporary permit revenue solidifies after Sept. 19.

The district decided to hold off on several additional expenses until then, including hiring two new employees and remodeling its headquarters to better handle the increased workload post-annexation. The largest budget expense is personnel, which accounts for about 40 percent of total expenditures.

Larsen, who voted against waiving the temporary permit fees, explained that he dissented because he did not want to set a precedent of the district working for free.

Final approval for the overall budget was passed in a unanimous 5-0 vote.

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