Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Want to vote in Walnut Creek SUD’s elections? Get annexed

SUD reaffirms that customers’ only way into the voting boundaries is by petition

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SPRINGTOWN — The May 4 election to select two new Walnut Creek Special Utility District board members is coming up, and district customers are being reminded that not all of them can vote.

Some residents realized this during the 2022 election as well. Though they all may be SUD customers, not all of them reside in the district, and therefore, not everyone can vote in the board of directors election.

“By election laws set forth by the state of Texas, only those customers living within the original Walnut Creek SUD district boundaries may vote for board members running for positions on the board of directors,” according to SUD General Manager James Blackwood’s statement at the March 18 meeting. “The district is well aware that the boundaries of the district’s CCN (certificate of convenience and necessity) are much larger than the original district boundaries. Voting boundaries are not controlled by Walnut Creek SUD. Legal precedence for the question of water district customers voting in the election was set by Gov. Greg Abbott when he was still the attorney general of Texas.”

The board discussed what could be done to address this discrepancy at the July 2022 meeting and was told residents could request to be annexed into the district’s boundaries, according to a previous article in The Springtown Epigraph. At that time, the district’s attorney Ron Freeman said residents who own the majority of the land value — either of a single lot or an entire subdivision — can request to be annexed by the district. He added that the SUD could deny petitions “if you don’t want to annex one person at a time or one person in a subdivision,” and the district can charge a fee to petitioners.

Blackwood reaffirmed at the March 18 meeting that single landowners or a group of landowners who live in the SUD’s CCN (the area where the district has a right to supply utility service) and receive water from the SUD can petition for annexation. He said the instructions for petitioning can be found in the Texas Water Code, Chapter 49, Subchapter J, Sections 301-302.

“The district cannot initiate the aforementioned petitions and cannot annex land into the district without the desire of the landowners shown through aforementioned petitions,” according to Blackwood’s statement.

Board member Jim Cox said an annexation fee would need to be considered because it will cost money to redraw the district’s maps to include the newly added properties. Ideally, developers building homes in the CCN could get their subdivisions annexed all at once and perhaps pass the fee onto the homeowners.

“Getting into it just tiny bit by tiny bit, it gets very costly,” Cox said. “We would, I think, have to consider that because we have to consider the cost of redrawing the line.”

During the March meeting, Walnut Creek SUD customer Jane Galvin lamented that people are buying homes serviced by the district while being unaware that they will not be able to vote in the SUD’s elections. Then, those people have to figure out the annexation process themselves.

“Disenfranchised voters in the United States is wrong,” Galvin said. “It's a constitutional right to be able to vote. We have to find a way to mitigate this.”

If many customers in the CCN petitioned to be annexed, that would trigger an election among the people in the district’s boundaries, SUD office manager Denise Taylor said.

“An election has to be held by the those in the district voting boundary to allow everybody else in,” Taylor said. “If it was a large number that wanted to come in, or even everybody else that wanted to come in, it would still cause an election.”