Monday, February 8, 2010

Water Could Lower Tax Rate

Water is an issue in Milam County and will continue to be an issue in the future. No, I am not referring to the abundance of rain that we have had in recent months, but to the groundwater that lies beneath the southern half of the county.

Since taking office in 1999 water has been an issue, and our water has been in the cross-hairs of water entrepreneurs across the state. That was one of the reasons that the Commissioners Court lobbied during the 2001 legislative session for the creation of the Post Oak Savannah Groundwater Conservation District.

The district was created to protect our water resources. The board has recently come under fire from some citizens that feel they are not doing their job and conserving our water. This is based on the fact that the board has issued a number of permits that amount to a whole lot of water that could eventually be moved out of the district.

While the district has some control over groundwater within the district state law prohibits the district from preventing the export of groundwater from the district. While they can control the amount based on permitting, they can not totally ban the export of water.

The water issues in the state are very complicated. While we have local groundwater districts we also have regional planning groups. These groups are in charge of working with local to districts to formulate a plan that will manage the aquifers in the state on a regional basis.

The bottom line is that while some folks want all the water to stay in the district it just ain't gonna to happen. So what are some options or plans? Well, if you look at it from a regional basis, by the district permitting now they are actually saving, or dedicating the permitted water to a use. It might be leaving our district, but is is still under the control of the district and the local management plan.

That being said we will be loosing a valuable resource. So is there anything that the county could expect in return? I say yes. The water will be going to areas of the state that will benefit from economic development resulting form the availability of our water. The development will increase their tax base and allow for the lowering of that area's tax rate.

Currently the state has in place a severance tax on oil and gas. I would propose that we define a way to implement the same thing on water for counties. This income from the export of water from a county would then be dedicated, by law, to the reduction of property taxes. I call it the Vowell fee after the gentleman who gave me the idea.  Even though we would be loosing our water we would still be benefiting from the use of our valuable resources.

During the last legislative session I visited with our state representatives about this idea. It was a bit late to get it into the legislative process, but this year it is going to be one of my priorities during the session. I can't tell you exactly what will come out of the process. However, my main goal would be to ease the tax burden on local taxpayers.

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