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Bill to dissolve Water District #3 will force Brand to play defense during mayoral campaign

The fight for control of Hidalgo County Water Improvement District #3 is headed to Austin — again.

State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, said he plans to introduce a bill that would allow the city of McAllen to dissolve the tiny water district. The fight will pit Hinojosa

The fight will pit Hinojosa against District #3 board President and General Manager Othal E. Brand Jr., who is running for mayor of McAllen, in the middle of his campaign.

“It just seems like Othal Brand uses the water district as his own company,” Hinojosa said. “Not really to serve the citizens of McAllen.”

Brand said the bill is pure politics.

“Truthfully, I believe he’s doing that for no other reason than to keep me busy during the campaign when he’s supporting Javier,” Brand said, referring to City Commissioner Javier Villalobos, who is also running for mayor.

Founded in 1921, when the city of McAllen was just six years old, District #3 pumped water from the Rio Grande to local farmers. During the past 100 years, however, most of District #3 urbanized.

District #3 still serves a few farmers and homeowners who flood-irrigate their yards, but its biggest customer is the McAllen Public Utility.

From 2008 to 2011, payments from McAllen accounted for 91% of all District #3 revenue, according to a report from the State Auditor’s Office.

“We don’t have any more farmers or ranchers that are serviced by the water district. Maybe two or three at the most,” Hinojosa said. “And, quite frankly, McAllen can provide them water free of charge and still save money.”

Farmers and other District #3 customers should be allowed to choose whether or not McAllen controls their water supply, Brand said, adding that he occasionally asks them about the proposed takeover.

“The first time I did it, 100% of the farmers said: ‘Hell no,’” Brand said, along with about 90% of customers who flood-irrigate their yards. McAllen and District #3 clashed frequently when the city expanded Bicentennial Boulevard north from Nolana Avenue to State Highway 107 along the District #3 canal.

Disputes over land ownership and fees to cross District #3 property soured the relationship between Brand and City Hall, which sought help from state lawmakers. Since the 2005 legislative

Since the 2005 legislative session, Hinojosa has introduced at least four bills that targeted District #3 for dissolution — and two more that proposed general processes for dissolving water districts.

Many appeared dead on arrival. Senate Bill 978, which Hinojosa introduced in 2011, went the furthest.

Othal Brand hired a lobbyist who was very close to Gov. Perry,” Hinojosa said. “And convinced Gov. Perry to veto the bill.”

After the dispute over Bicentennial Boulevard, the hard feelings between District #3 and McAllen gradually faded.

Mayor Jim Darling said McAllen didn’t ask Hinojosa to file the latest bill.

“It was not city-initiated. He’s a senator. He can do what he wants to,” Darling said. “And, ultimately, I would take this to the utility board to see whether they support it or not. Because, really, the whole issue outside of Bicentennial and how he treated us, the whole issue is we’re the 95%, 96% customer and we ought to control our own destiny.”

Hinojosa announced the bill Monday with a public notice published in The Monitor.

“Specifically, the bill would allow the City of McAllen, Texas to hold a public hearing on the issue of dissolving the District and taking over the District’s operations and obligations to serve. Upon certain findings that the City would be able to continue to provide service to all customers, the bill would allow the City of McAllen to dissolve the District by ordinance of the City Commission of McAllen. Upon passage of the City of McAllen ordinance by two-thirds vote of the City Commission, the bill would transfer all rights, responsibilities, assets and liabilities of the District to the City of McAllen,” according to the public notice. “The bill would allow citizens in the District to petition for suspension of the District dissolution ordinance and require the issue to be placed on the ballot of the next regular election held within the City of McAllen.” While the actual bill hasn’t

While the actual bill hasn’t been filed yet, Brand said he found the process deeply problematic.

Voters in District #3, not the whole city of McAllen, should decide whether or not the district should be dissolved, Brand said, adding that anything else may be unconstitutional.

“A good little tussle over right and wrong every once in a while, I’m OK with,” Brand said.

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