“Taxation without representation,” this phrase has been uttered so often throughout American history that is has almost become cliché. Tremendous efforts have been made to prevent this statement from bearing validity today. Be it city, county, state or federal government, elected officials and their opponents have made it a point of dramatic emphasis to ensure their constituents remain well represented. However, despite a political system so dense with officeholders that the average voter is unsure who represents them and in what capacity, the problem of taxation without representation still remains prevalent in very impactful ways; particularly in Bexar County.
In Bexar County, CPS Energy has been granted monopoly status by the State of Texas as an electrical provider. The theory in disallowing competition in the CPS Energy’s service area is that it will be required to provide fair electrical rates, not always competitive, to their customers without the fear of competition which may result in rampant marketing rather than quality service. Additionally, while not required to focus on the growing foot-print of its customer base, the electrical provider is allowed to engage in constructive planning to prepare for growth and demand in accordance with market and population trends. The intent of such a program is truly well-intentioned; however, is the execution? CPS Energy, despite being the electrical provider for Bexar County, is owned and operated by the City of San Antonio. Decisions made and planning measures considered are subject to the approval, and ultimate veto, of the San Antonio City Council. So what of the other 28 or so suburban cities in the CPS service area?
Because of the necessity for significant electrical capacity for commercial as well as residential growth, suburban cities in Bexar County are ultimately subject to the buy-in of the San Antonio City Council for the implementation of growth-ready infrastructure. In fact, without representation on a CPS board, the reality of any type of added infrastructure for participating municipalities depends largely on whether or not that infrastructure is beneficial for the City of San Antonio. Why add three phase power with significant customer capacity for a new industrial sector or transportation hub in Von Ormy, when improved property values, employment numbers, mean income, etc. will benefit that City rather than the City of San Antonio who again owns and is responsible for CPS Energy? To allow competition where it can be stifled is a poor business strategy; the prevention of potential negative business strategies, ironically being the very reason the State authorized a monopoly for CPS Energy. To further illustrate this point, take the termination of the CPS CIED Fund.
Despite a 30-year contract being signed by all municipalities within the CPS Energy service area, ie Bexar County, holding that the energy provider will pay 1% of all funds collected from a City’s residents towards economic development for the City, CPS Energy decided to terminate this agreement unilaterally. There was no discussion, litigation, or compromise, simply a “this money no longer exists.” Not only do questions of the legality of such a program abound, CIED funding represented a guarantee that the consideration of added infrastructure projects for participating municipalities would be had. Since the termination of CIED, there is now no such guarantee. At a recent conference CPS Executives stated that a City’s desired infrastructure expansion would need to fit in with CPS’ over-arching plans… which are necessarily San Antonio-centric. Clearly, a regional board would resolve a significant number of these issues, namely project consideration. CPS unfortunately, is not the only culprit in this ‘no representation’ game. Take San Antonio Water Systems (SAWS).
Bexar Met laid claim to a number of unfortunate issues, representation however was not one of these. Providing service to Greater Bexar County precluded from SAWS service, Bexar Met’s water planning has been stated as being a far-reaching plan that was well poised for development and increased consumer demand for several decades. Unable to handle its own rapidly increasing demand, SAWS began to turn an eye to Bexar Met’s seemingly bountiful resources. Offering neither representation nor oversight, SAWS lobbied to have the issue of dissolution of Bexar Met voted upon by Greater Bexar County… including the City of San Antonio who, as County Seat, represents far more than a lion’s share of the population and hence voting power. With little surprise, the proposition was passed and SAWS has since acquired Bexar Met’s water rights and already shown indifference to non-San Antonio customers charging higher rates with little promise of reason. Likewise, in the City of Von Ormy, with decaying infrastructure and undersized lines for service-demand, SAWS continues to delay talk of improvements citing capital needs elsewhere (those being keeping up with San Antonio’s wish to develop its far west-side). Despite advocating and pleading with SAWS for the extension of a modern sanitary sewer line similar to that offered to Union Pacific’s Intermodal Yard and Schlumberger, the water provider continues to insist to Von Ormy’s leaders that such a project will needed to be funded up front by the City. Offering no impact fees, credits, or delayed payment options, absent any representation or significant influence on the water provider, Von Ormy is subject to the whims and interests of the City of San Antonio.
Even beyond utility services, one need not look any further than the highway to see an additional venue in which rural residents in general, Von Ormy residents in particular, lack representation. The Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) works closely with TXDOT to analyze traffic growths, heavy-use areas, and mitigation plans to alleviate significant traffic. With the growing complications resulting from the Eagle Ford Shale Play, traffic in small communities such as Pleasanton and Von Ormy are experiencing unprecedented amounts of congestion from business participating in that area’s operations. Despite inflated traffic counts and, unfortunately, ever-increasing fatalities resulting from passenger vehicle-18 wheeler accidents, the MPO board continues to focus on the log-jam of urbanized areas such as US281-LP1604. Amazingly, this argument of safety over convenience continues to be carried out at the time of this writing.
The battle for representation of largely rural areas continues to be an uphill battle. For its part the City of Von Ormy has decided to face these challenges head on. Taking a stand against CPS’ termination of the CIED fund and insistence against regional representation, Von Ormy has appealed to the Public Utilities Commission and is negotiating a higher franchise tax payment to offset the loss of CIED without attacking CPS’ status as a monopoly. In regard to SAWS, Von Ormy continues to invite the provider to the negotiation table for sewer services but has turned its sights towards representation on the Texas Water Development Board for planning water needs in South-Texas in general, SAWS in particular. Even with the MPO board, an additional seat representing “largely-rural areas” has been requested and is currently being negotiated with the powers that be.
As with the original 13 colonies and those who carried the flag of equitable representation, residents of Von Ormy are poised ready to fight the good fight and attain the voting rights and influence its residents not only deserve, but fought to incorporate the City to achieve.