Thursday, June 17, 2010

Attending a MUD Meeting in The Woodlands

As clear as Woodlands Texas MUD?  Attending a MUD (Municipal Utility District) meeting isn’t that bad! Yes, there are some technical parts of the discussions and yes, there are financial parts of the discussions, and yes, it is not the most exciting thing a person could do.  I can say there were very few things I did not understand, but then again I have a background in drilling wells and finance.
Anyone can attend a MUD meeting. It is healthy to experience one, for both the board of directors and you.  Showing interest connects the board to its customers and its customers to the district. I sure don’t advocate going to every meeting, but I do recommend that every resident attends at least one, preferably for the district providing water service to their home.
The MUD #60 meeting I attended this month addressed a resident’s issue with soil erosion and received reports from the various agencies affecting MUD business. Of high interest to us, is the implementation of the San Jacinto River Authority Groundwater Reduction Fee. This will be fully communicated to all Woodlands residents by Jim Stinson and staff in the JPA. Residents will likely incur an additional fee of $0.50/1000 gallons of water used, starting with their October bill. Concurrently, all the MUDs need to develop a higher well contingency fund for replacing a well, should that be needed. The cost of a well has increased substantially since the last raise of contingency fund collections.
An hour spent at a meeting can be an eye opener. Minutes for a Woodlands MUD are not as accessible as those for the county or the township. They are available per the Texas Open Records Act. A copy can be acquired at a meeting or from the district’s secretary. Current agenda is posted at the utility district office near Grogan’s Mill and Lake Robins.
Operations of a MUD
Each MUD has its own budget to manage.  Each has its own assets to manage. Each district has authority over a defined geographic area. Here in The Woodlands, for efficiency purposes, maintenance and financial services are aggregated and shared among the districts. This practice helps them to keep operating costs down. Each MUD is responsible for its entire service process. All MUDs here have an interlocal contract for those shared services to the Joint Powers Agency (JPA), a nonprofit created for this purpose. The district scope of authority is limited to the reclamation, drainage, acquisition, and distribution of water.  It includes the streams and ditches associated with water runoff, as well as the infrastructure required to provide those services.  A MUD has no limit on capital investment. The Board of Directors consist of five elected residents of the district. Every even year (e.g., 2000, 2002, … 2010), there can be an election on the first Saturday of May. If there are no challenging candidates, incumbents are automatically elected and there is no election. Each board elects representatives to serve on the Joint Powers board. Taxation is by the MUD. Those elected represent the tax dollars paid by residents in the MUD district. Taxation is driven by capital expenses, i.e., sewage facilities and wells. Bi-monthly water bills are for sewage, water and cost of operation. Now we head into a new era, where surface water will begin to play an increasing role in our potable water supplies, raising the cost of water to the district. For many people, watering lawns likely will eventually be cost prohibitive.     
Some but not all resident issues with drainage or water supply can be addressed by the board. Sometimes, residents work directly with the JPA to resolve problems. For example, I recently assisted a resident, to resolve a long standing serious problem with sewage flooding in her home. The JPA came up with a solution that should fix that problem.
In 2010, there were no challengers to the board in this district. To challenge an incumbent, one must follow a procedure outlined in the charter. Contact your local MUD representative for timing detail and procedure.


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