Proposed bill brings all to table

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We’ve always supported fair and open government, believing that the people have a right to know and comment about any and all proceedings that could affect them and their families.

That’s why we support a bill — filed recently by state Rep. Myra Crownover, R-Denton — that would allow a county’s commissioners court to review any landowner’s request for a municipal utility district in a city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction, or ETJ.

Currently, landowners can bypass a county review and take their request directly to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

House Bill 738 also would allow county commissioners to submit recommendations and concerns to the TCEQ regarding a district’s creation.

Crownover said that she believes the best way to approach any issue is to ensure that all stakeholders have a place at the table.

“As Denton County grows, it is vital that we plan for that growth in an open, respectful and inclusive manner,” she said.

We agree. Bypassing county review takes away an important part of the process that’s designed to provide local control.

Under the proposed bill, any recommendations a county submits to the TCEQ would not be mandates, only suggestions for the state agency to consider, officials said.

A utility district is an entity created by a county, state legislation or the TCEQ and works like a school district. And, like a school district, has its own board members, boundaries and tax rate.

Creating a district takes several steps. First, a landowner submits a petition to the Legislature, and the Legislature reviews the petition followed by a city review, and then an election is held for residents to vote for or against the district.

If the city denies consent during its review, a landowner can petition the city to extend its infrastructure at the city’s expense. If the city fails to provide the petitioned services within 120 days, the applicant may petition the TCEQ for the district and the city’s consent is presumed.

Simply put, a city can either work with a landowner and reach an agreement that benefits both parties or the city can deny consent and allow the TCEQ to grant the developer a district without any input from the city or county.

That doesn’t seem right to us, and Precinct 1 Denton County Commissioner Hugh Coleman agrees. Coleman, whose precinct includes a number of utility districts, supports Crownover’s bill and said it would require developers to approach the county, which sometimes has to cover costs because the TCEQ does not allow developers to collect taxes for road maintenance.

The bill would only apply to districts created in a city’s ETJ, the area of land the state grants to a city to define a boundary for future growth of the city limits.

Officials said the bill would allow cities and counties to better influence their growth, and we believe that’s the way the system should work.

Everyone affected by a proposed project should be given an opportunity to comment prior to its approval, either by personal appearance at a public meeting or hearing or through their local elected representatives.

And we commend Crownover in filing such a necessary bill.

 


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