Local GOP wants vote on water issue

·3 min read

Jun. 11—Ector County Republican Party Chairwoman Tisha Crow says the party is launching a petition drive to have a proposed $95 million bond issue for rehabilitation of the current water treatment plant placed on a future ballot.

The petition drive comes days after Odessa City Council voted 4-3 to approve the use of certificates of obligation to pay for the water plant project. Certificates of obligation require only a vote by council.

"The vast majority of Odessans believe we need serious repair to our water treatment plant," Crow said. "However, they also believe they deserve the right to determine the debt they take on, or if they want their water bills to increase."

As of June 10, the group has 45 days to collect 2,798 voter signatures, or 5 percent of the total number of current registered city voters, which is 55,950, Ector County Elections Office voter records show.

Crow said an announcement will be made next week informing voters where they can sign petitions. A special political action committee is also expected to be formed to help pay for the bond election campaign effort.

Council members Mari Willis, Tom Sprawls, Steve Thompson and Detra White last Tuesday voted in favor of pursuing a certificates of obligation bond to pay for the major rehabilitation of the water treatment plant. Mayor Javier Joven, Mark Matta and Denise Swanner voted against it because they favored the idea of having voters decide the issue.

A successful petition could sink the council's decision to pursue COs, city officials say. That's because the city must still schedule several public hearings this summer before a final binding council vote is taken on July 27.

Joven has repeatedly questioned city officials' claims that the current 60-year-old facility is in dire straits and if not fixed immediately could leave Odessans without water.

City administrators have said using COs would result in lower interest rates and allow work on the plant by the end of the year.

If the Republican Party does collect enough valid signatures, the earliest date that could be scheduled is May 2022, city officials say. The cost of the election would be about $100,000, Joven has said.

Joven recently said he did not want a vote on his pet project, which is making Odessa a sanctuary city for the unborn, because of the price tag of an election.

If voters defeated the certificates of obligation request, the city would not be able to pursue a CO for three years, Assistant City Manager of Administrative Services Cindy Muncy has said.

Ector County Utility District President Tommy Ervin told council last week that any delays in addressing the water treatment plant could leave Odessa residents without water and end up costing the city millions more.

Ervin said in February freezing temperatures almost shut down the plant.

"That plant, many of you don't know this, came very close to crashing," Ervin said. "If any lil' ol' thing goes wrong at that plant, a lot of Odessa will be without water.

"What I know about that plant is it needs to be replaced. It needs some major renovations done to it — electrically; pipe-wise. There's 23,000 people living in West Odessa who depend on (council) to make the right decision at the right time."

Ervin added: "That plant's going to fail. I don't know if it's going to fail in February of 2022, February 2023 or February 2024. But it's going to fail. And when it does, it's going to be ugly."

The proposed rehabilitation project would include extensive upgrades to the current plants electrical and computer systems, chemical feed and filter systems and chemical storage facility, Public Works Director Tom Kerr has previously told council.

Muncy said the $95 million COs would be paid back with water and sewer funds. If CO dollars are used it would likely result in a monthly increase in residents' water rates. She estimated the increase will be $3.68 per 5,000 gallons used.