Concern surrounds Agua SUD’s potential deal with management company

PALMVIEW — About 20 employees at the Agua Special Utility District may suddenly find themselves working for another company.

Agua SUD is currently negotiating with another company, RGV Water Works, to take over management of the district’s water and wastewater facilities and operations. Part of the deal would include keeping the employees that work in that department.

The change was due to turnover, according to interim General Manager Richard LeFevre.

“Here in the Valley, operators are hard to come by,” he said, explaining that Texas Commission on Environmental Quality requires a class A- or B-licensed operator for each wastewater plant. “A lot of the larger utilities like the city of McAllen or the city of Pharr — they offer better benefits, they put more money. …We train them and then we lose them.”

The turnover comes at a big cost to the company, he said, and the management company would take on the responsibility of keeping licensed personnel and ensuring they’re in compliance with TCEQ.

On the same day he was brought on as interim general manager, the Agua board of directors authorized LeFevre to negotiate the possible deal with RGV Water Works — the only company that applied for the job.

Board Director Homer Tijerina voted against the measure, during that meeting which took place on Sept. 22, and said he was concerned about their employees and wanted to be sure they would be taken care of.

One employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of fear of retribution, stated the employees were not kept informed about the deal or why it was happening in the first place.

“We really haven’t gotten a specific reason,” the employee said. “It’s just been … so they can manage it, that they don’t have to have the responsibility of running the water and wastewater, but it’s never been a real specific answer.”

A handful of employees appeared at that September meeting to inquire about how they would be affected should the deal go through.

A representative for the company, Roberto Salinas, assured them that they would work to maintain the same benefits that they had with Agua SUD.

Aside from being listed as the agent for RGV Water Works, Salinas is also the public works director for the city of Mission.

The company is fairly new, having been established in November 2015. In addition to possibly landing a deal with Agua SUD, the La Joya school board agreed to hire the company for consulting services for their wastewater treatment facility during a Sept. 13 school board meeting.

School Board President Oscar “Coach” Salinas, said their services had to do with permitting and making sure they were in compliance of TCEQ.

Salinas made clear that he was not associated with the company in any way, only that he recalled their desire to work with Agua when he was their outreach coordinator.

LeFevre stressed that nothing was set in stone with the company.

“We haven’t decided, we’re still in the negotiations phase,” he said. “It’s our fiduciary responsibility to make sure that we have what we want (and) we have a qualified company.”