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Cotulla City Hall has handled community’s water billing since 2019
The residents of Gardendale will soon have an opportunity to vote on whether to allow a full takeover of their water supply corporation by the city of Cotulla, a move that was accelerated by a council vote last week.
The unincorporated community built its water well and tank in the late 1990s and ran water service lines to its residents after federal funding to La Salle County enabled the development. The infrastructure was put in place to help prevent the community from degrading into a so-called Colonia, with unregulated water supply from individual wells, and to bring it into compliance with the county’s model subdivision rules, established by the commissioners’ court in the same decade.
When finished, the Gardendale water supply system was celebrated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony hosted by the county’s elected officials and District 21 Senator Judith Zaffirini, who hailed the development as vital to the wellbeing and prosperity of the small community.
Cotulla City Attorney Steve Pena told councilors at a meeting Thursday, July 14, that he believes it is vital the community maintain a safe water supply system because, as he put it, the people of Gardendale work, shop and attend school in Cotulla.
“It is crucial to the city that people who live in outlying areas of the county and send their children to our schools and who use our services are healthy and don’t get sick,” the attorney said, “and don’t get anyone else sick.”
Cotulla City Hall has been the de facto operator of the Gardendale water system for three years, since beginning its plan to take over the dormant corporation in 2019. The community’s water service billing is handled by Cotulla city staff.
“Corporations get started, or they die off,” Atty. Pena told the council. “They have had some difficulty running it, and the city has been assisting with that.
“We did not have the votes to acquire the system last time,” the city attorney said, referring to an earlier plan by Cotulla to take over the Gardendale WSC. “There is basically no purchase price. If there is a debt [incurred by the corporation], the ratepayers continue to pay it. It doesn’t become an obligation to the city.”
“They don’t have any debt,” Cotulla City Administrator Larry Dovalina said. “We have been operating the system since 2019. We have been collecting their bills.”
Advantages to Cotulla taking over the small community’s water supply corporation lie primarily in its attraction to developers looking to expand commercial enterprise along IH-35, both in Gardendale and in the five miles between the community and Cotulla city limits. Atty. Pena told councilors that future annexation northwards by Cotulla – particularly in the area of the Joel Rodriguez Loop – will be advantaged by a water system already in place and operated by the city of Cotulla.
Consultant engineer Jorge Martinez, under contract with La Salle County, told city councilors last week that grants to La Salle have enabled the county to perform upgrades to and maintenance of the Gardendale water system.
“There is a potential to apply to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Texas Water Development Board to get bigger, extend to the other side of the interstate,” Atty. Pena said, adding that he believes areas on either side of IH-35 are ripe for development at Gardendale.
Cotulla’s operation of the Gardendale water system – assistance to the corporation – has been carried out as a neighborly gesture so far but will end on October 1 if the community’s residents vote against the takeover.
Cotulla Mayor Javier Garcia said he believes the plan is favored by the majority in both parties.
“It was the people of Gardendale who asked us to do this for them,” Mayor Garcia said last week.
“If you do this tonight, you will have a functioning water system out there,” Atty. Pena told the council of the takeover and the advantages to future development. “You acquire the asset. You will need public utility systems. Things around the city have grown because they are obtaining city services. If you approve the contract to buy [the water supply corporation], the people of Gardendale have to vote to do this. It’s a fairly simple process.
“The residents of Gardendale need to understand that if they don’t do this, the city can’t continue servicing them,” the attorney said.
“We have been friendly neighbors for three years,” Administrator Dovalina said. “It’s come time to decide if we are going to proceed or back away.”
“These people don’t just live there and never come to town,” Pena said. “They’re your neighbors. Everything they do affects us. Some of these people might not otherwise have full access to water. That’s why we do what we do.”
The motion to continue operating the Gardendale WSC until Oct. 1, pending the sale of the system to the city of Cotulla, was made by Councilor Manuel Rodriguez, seconded by Councilor Eloy Zertuche and supported by Councilors Alejandro Garcia Jr. and Tanis Lopez. Councilor Gilbert Ayala was excused from the July 14 meeting due to illness.
“Let’s have a meeting,” Atty. Pena told the council at the time of the vote to proceed with the takeover plan. “We have the ballots. You dissolve the corporation. Once the people have approved it, you take the ball and run with it.”