Ex-county judge applies for water advisory committee
Former County Judge Rick Davis is one of three applicants for two positions reserved for unincorporated area residents on the city’s Waterworks Advisory Committee.
The Hot Springs Board of Directors ratified the creation of the seven-member committee in December, about a month after it adopted rate increases to cover cost overruns on the Lake Ouachita water supply project. Several people who spoke at the Nov. 15 meeting asked the board why the state-mandated committee had yet to be formed.
Legislation requiring municipal water providers to form nonvoting advisory committees if 20% or more of their customer base resides beyond the corporate limits was signed into law almost two years ago. The city has said about half of the roughly 36,000 meters it serves is in the unincorporated area of Garland County.
Davis owned an underground utilities construction company and worked for the city’s utilities department prior to being elected county judge in 2010. His application listed as references the general managers of the Kimzey and North Garland County water utilities.
Davis was outspoken about city water policy during his eight years as county CEO. He got the quorum court to appropriate $100,000 for a lawsuit the county considered bringing against the city after a 2013 policy restricted utility connections and extensions in the unincorporated area.
The 2019-20 quorum court moved the $100,000 to the general fund a few months before City Manager Bill Burrough and current County Judge Darryl Mahoney presented an agreement to lift the restrictions. The city agreed to relax its policy in return for a per capita share of county sales tax growth. The quorum court and city board ad
opted the interlocal agreement in early 2021.
“While I may not have agreed with all decisions related to the water system in the past, it is imperative that the current water project be completed for the benefit of the service area,” Davis said in his application. “It’s too far along to delay or stop now.”
Burrough told the board the new rate schedule was needed to service more than $40 million in additional debt for the over-budget project. Increases adopted in November followed a series of increases phased in from 2018 to 2021 that’s servicing the $109 million bond issue the board authorized in June 2020 and $20 million 2018 issue.
A petition to refer the rate increase ordinance to a vote of the people that began circulating in November threatened to upend the supply project, but it was withdrawn after Burrough said new connections and extensions inside and outside the city would be suspended if signatures in support of the petition were brought to City Hall.
Davis said he plans to connect to the regional water system once the new treatment plant the city is building off of Amity Road begins putting water into the distribution system. The city has said 2025 is the earliest that the almost $40 million plant can be completed.
“I have a water service ready to connect, however, until the treatment plant is completed there is not enough flow within the newly installed 36-inch line on Albright Road for me to feel comfortable connecting at this time,” he said in his application. “I will connect when the new water plant is complete and pumping sufficient flow.”
Forrest Spicher and Steven Dubriske also applied for the two unincorporated positions on the advisory committee. Five applications were submitted for the five incorporated area seats. They included former city directors Randy Fale and Carroll Weatherford and former City Finance Director/Treasurer Dorethea Yates.
The city board will interview applicants before its March 28 agenda meeting. The application period closes Wednesday.