Richard Hayes: Vote for gas utility

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 “The most important political office is that of the private citizen.”

— Louis Brandeis,

associate justice, Supreme Court of the United States, 1916-1939

The Denton Comprehensive Plan designates the area surrounding the airport as the primary industrial business zone in Denton.

In that area, Denton has many great companies including Peterbilt, Target, Aldi, Tetra Pak, Mayday Manufacturing and Victor Technologies International.

Importantly, there could have been more but for a lack of sufficient commercial natural gas infrastructure.

Congratulations to the City Council for adding to the May 11 election an initiative on whether the city should form a gas utility to sell natural gas to commercial customers in the airport area.

The area is roughly described as bounded on the north by U.S. Highway 380; on the east by North Interstate 35 and I-35W; on the south by FM2499; and on the west by C. Wolfe Road.

The wording on the ballot will read, “Shall the City of Denton be allowed to own, acquire, construct, maintain, and operate a gas utility in order to provide gas utility services to non-residential customers in that area of the City near the Airport Industrial Park.”

One may vote “Yes” or “No.”

Inadequate commercial natural gas infrastructure prompted the discussion by the business community and the city of a municipal-owned commercial gas utility because Atmos Energy and CoServ, the two local natural gas suppliers, both declined expansion of the gas infrastructure in the area surrounding the Denton airport.

For years, potential new employers have investigated locating their companies near the Denton Enterprise Airport. During the last five years alone, the chamber and city have not been able to respond to inquiries from companies with projects totaling $1.4 billion in ad valorem tax base about locating in the area because of insufficient commercial natural gas infrastructure to support location of new industry.

Complicating the problem is that during times of peak gas demand (cold temperatures), existing commercial and industrial customers have faced curtailment of their operational gas volume.

There have been numerous times over the last decade that the large commercial and industrial users have had to dramatically decrease or cease operations due to lack of existing private infrastructure for gas distribution.

In an effort to address the problem, the Denton City Council sought and obtained passage in 2011 by the Texas Legislature of H.B. 1230, which allowed the city to construct and operate two new utilities: 1. a combined heat and power utility plant and 2. a gas utility.

The bill included specific language that superseded the city charter requiring that any new utility be first approved by a majority voters.

There was substantial consternation that the City Council circumvented the language of the charter, which provides in Article XII, Section 2.01 that: “In additional to such public utilities as it may now own, the City of Denton may own, acquire, construct, maintain, and operate any other public utility that may be approved by majority of the qualified voters of the City voting therefore at an election held for that purpose.”

I was one of those who took to task our elected officials for disregarding the city charter by going to the Legislature instead of to the residents of Denton.

“Government is a trust, and the officers of the government are trustees; and both the trust and the trustees are created for the benefit of the people,” said Henry Clay, former U.S. senator and speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

I was not against the concept of a gas utility.

I was against disregarding the charter and residents’ approval.

Cities belong to the residents. What happens in our city is a public concern. What happens is a resident concern.

With the rightful call for an election, the residents now have the opportunity to vote on the issue of creating a gas utility as required by our city charter.

I strongly encourage the residents of Denton to vote on May 11, not only “Yes” for the commercial gas utility, but to also vote for the candidates of their choice in the four City Council races that are on the ballot.

Why vote “Yes”?

The gas utility will: 1. insure existing industrial users will have a stable gas supply and allow them to expand; 2. create new long-term high-paying career opportunities; 3. lead directed growth with infrastructure in the area that our comprehensive plan has designated for good clean industry; 4. generate city, county and Denton school district ad valorem taxes, which in turn will support governmental services and education; and 5. increase private sector employers.

The city of Denton’s population is growing fast.

However, our city’s growth industries are government based. Seven of the eight largest employers in Denton are government (the University of North Texas, Denton school district, Denton County, Denton State Supported Living Center, city of Denton, Federal Emergency Management Agency and Texas Woman’s University) and their land, facilities and equipment are tax-exempt.

The utility will build a more balanced tax base.

An ideal tax base mix is for the commercial/industrial tax base and residential (single family and multifamily) tax base to be roughly equal.

As we stand now, only 34 percent of the Denton tax base is comprised of commercial and industrial, real and personal property.

Building of the business tax base is important to all communities, but is critical to the city of Denton in that single-family residences and multi-family units make up 66 percent of Denton’s tax base.

The utility will lessen the ad valorem tax burden on homeowners by increasing the commercial/industrial tax base; and create new supporters of local charitable and philanthropic causes.

No one is born a good citizen. Citizenship is work. Citizenship is a daily duty, which requires informed decision making, community involvement and voting in all elections. This gas utility initiative is an important step in strengthening Denton.

Celebrate citizenship by voting “Yes” for the commercial gas utility during the election on May 11.

RICHARD HAYES is a Denton lawyer and past chairman of the Denton Chamber of Commerce and Denton County Republican Party.


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