Athens Review, Athens, Texas

December 24, 2013

City to disband AMWA

Second reading of ordinance to be held Jan. 13

Rich Flowers
The Athens Review

Athens — Reacting to a dispute in which the Athens Municipal Water Authority filed suit against the city, the Athens City Council voted to disband the AMWA, Monday night.

The ordinance abolishing the Authority contends that all of its services and functions can be performed by the city and it is in the best interest of the residents that it do so.

The ordinance states that the city shall “immediately assume and will become liable for any outstanding bonds or other obligations of the authority.”

Cash and other investments of the Authority will be transferred to the city as well as any tax revenues. A final reading of the ordinance is scheduled for Jan. 13.

“We have met several times with AMWA and we have tried to come to some understanding with them and unfortunately they decided that they needed to move on with legal action,” Mayor Jerry Don Vaught said.

The AMWA Board voted unanimously Dec. 10 to sue the city, claiming the city had wrongfully charged the AMWA with bills the municipality had been obligated to pay.  

Council member Carol Barton said the original board members, in place when the Authority was established in 1957 would be upset at the actions of the current group.

Councilman Aubrey Jones added that AMWA was created for a special purpose which had been accomplished years ago.

“It has done what it was set up to do,” Jones said.

In 1957, during a time of prolonged, severe drought, Citizens of Athens asked the Texas Legislature to authorize the creation of the Authority to ensure that residents would have a secure water source.

AMWA issued bonds needed to develop Lake Athens and operate the lake and treatment plant. In the ensuing years, the Authority provided the bulk water to the city which in turn was responsible for delivering the water to homes and businesses in the city.

In a statement, released on Monday, the council contends that AMWA has always used city staff to do the day to day work.

Since AMWA has no employees other than its paid director, Wylie Pirkle, city employees have maintained and operated the water treatment plant.

According to the statement, AMWA has a cash reserve of approximately $4.8 million in bank accounts and certificates of deposit.

In addition to the lawsuit, the council objects to AMWA’s recent voted to rent meeting space despite having free use of City Hall for all of its board meetings. The council calls the office space “a further unnecessary expense.”

AMWA filed suit in 173rd District Court on Dec. 10 concerning bills presented to the AMWA the authority contends were the responsibility of the city.

According to the complaint, AMWA brought the matter to the attention of the city, but AMWA continued to be billed for upkeep, maintenance, operation and repairs of the properties it owns, prompting the suit.

“This is an action that the AMWA regrets is necessary,” the suit states, “but is one that we believe is required under our duties of the AMWA district.”