Drain LSGCD swamp, its wasteful budget
To the editor:
Michael Stoecker (small business owner and private citizen) had a very informative letter to the editor published by The Courier on Jan. 9. His letter included a review of the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District budget by the accounting firm of Crowl & Associates. The report they submitted was included with Stoecker's letter to the editor and detailed excessive, inappropriate and unnecessary spending by the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District.
In the Jan. 12 edition, The Courier published a response "submitted" by four LSGCD board members (Rick Moffatt, Jim Stinson, W.B. Wood and Gregg Hope). Government bureaucrats never like to be challenged, especially when they get caught with their hands in the cookie jar or when they are not acting in the best interest of those they are supposed to be serving. It's not surprising that these LSGCD board members responded by attacking a small business owner who is trying to protect his business and stand up for the legal water rights of property owners.
I attended an LSGCD board meeting where discussions were held to finalize the 2018 budget. What I observed was very consistent with the review by Crowl & Associates. I want to believe most of the employees of the LSGCD are good folks and doing their best at the job they are given. However, they or the public are not well served by the majority of the current LSGCD board of directors.
In 2016, LSGCD revenue was reduced due to needless water reduction regulations. Rather than reduce expenses, they raised the rate on water by 25 percent. This is the same type of approach to the 2018 budget. None of the board members listed above showed any real interest in reducing expenditures in the 2018 budget and used their majority to limit and disregard good suggestions that were raised by LSGCD board member Webb Melder (former Conroe mayor). Meaningful staff reductions or review of salaries were never really on the table. It was clear that their interest was in protecting the status quo and continuing to fund their pet projects, including lots of advertising, travel and entertainment.
The pending lawsuits were used as the excuse for raising their fees. The suits and legal expenses could have been prevented or settled if the LSGCD had admitted they had not disregarded well established property rights and their use of erroneous studies to justify passing unnecessary regulations. Of course, this would not have supported their ongoing assistance to the San Jacinto River Authority to develop a near monopoly on supplying water in Montgomery County. This is one of the main reasons the LSGCD is fighting Stoecker's lawsuit so aggressively. If he wins, the SJRA will have competition for supplying water.
As far as the status quo "core programs" referenced in the LSGCD board's letter, most if not all are funded far in excess of what is appropriate. Per the LSGCD charter, they do have a responsibility for "education." This doesn't mean it is OK to spread propaganda based on bad science to justify their actions and that more money and time should be spend in this area than in managing groundwater in a cost effective manner. The LSGCD response did not address the excessive salaries, travel and entertainment budgets exposed by Stoecker's study. You can't defend the indefensible.
For years, the LSGCD has paid for countless studies to consultants to give them results to allow them to expand their power and control of our water supply. The key goal of the LSGCD was to identify affordable, alternative sources of water. The LSGCD has not only failed to achieve this goal, but they have facilitated the SJRA monopolizing water supplies and raising their "fees." This had resulted in many families being strained to afford water without sacrificing other basic needs. During the past year, Sen. Brandon Creighton and Reps. Will Metcalf and Cecil Bell recognized the failures of the LSGCD and were able to legislation passed to change the board members to elected positions.
As bad as the LSGCD has been, it is important to realize that the SJRA water fees are much higher and is a much bigger problem. The current practice of the Governor appointing SJRA board members has resulted in an organization that is broken with leadership that should not be trusted. After the unprecedented and delayed release of water from Lake Conroe by the SJRA during Hurricane Harvey unnecessarily destroyed millions of dollars of property and endangered hundreds of lives, our state representatives met with SJRA General Manager Jace Houston (also LSGCD board member) to investigate the SJRA's actions. Little was published about the meeting and no apparent action has been taken since then. What little information was made public indicated the SJRA had acted recklessly and was unrepentant for the pain they had caused. I understand that Sen. Robert Nichols, as the head of the Senate Sunset Committee, will lead a review of the SJRA in the coming year. Hopefully, his committee will address restructuring and reforming the SJRA. The current board members should be removed from their positions and new board members elected. The new board's first priorities should be to replace much of the current management and by ordering an outside financial audit.
Stroecker closed his letter with the following: "Thanks to recent legislation, the entire board of LSGCD is up for election in 2018. The five-person majority that is responsible for this fiscal mess is Rick Moffatt, Jim Stinson, W.B. Wood, Gregg Hope and Jace Houston. Make sure we replace them." We have to ensure good candidates are found who will act in the best interest of the residents in the area "served" by the LSGCD and elect them. Time to "drain the swamp."
Gary Blackburn, Conroe