A clandestine payment in the hundreds of thousands of dollars planned and then canceled for two employees renewed the public’s interest in the water district. That, plus the lack of federal funding for a flood control project that officials say will help Fort Worth’s economy, prompted a Fort Worth Report reader to pose the following questions. Here, we try to answer them:
- What is the water district’s mandate?
To provide water, flood protection and recreational opportunities while being a good environmental steward. It is a wholesale water provider to dozens of cities in an 11-county area. It provides water using a system of lakes and pipelines. It owns four lakes/reservoirs: Bridgeport, Cedar Creek, Eagle Mountain and Richland-Chambers. It also stores water in Lakes Arlington, Benbrook and Worth. In addition to providing water, it protects Fort Worth from flooding by managing 27-miles of levees built by the Army Corps of Engineers. And finally, the water district manages the Trinity Trail System, which spans more than 100 plus miles, as well as Eagle Mountain Park and Twin Points Park in northwest Tarrant County.
- Does the water district operate as an extension of the county, the state, or is it separate?
The water district is a special purpose taxing district established by the Texas Legislature decades ago. Click here to see if you live within the taxing district and are eligible to vote for who is on the water district’s board of directors. There are five, at-large water district board members serving four-year terms. The next water district board election will be in 2023. The board typically holds public meetings once or twice a month to discuss and vote on whether to approve various water district transactions. Click here to read the board’s agendas and watch its meetings. The board also delegates some of its authority to the general manager to run the district day to day.
- Where does the water district’s money come from? It assesses a 2.87 cent tax per $100 valuation on those living within the boundaries of its special purpose taxing district. This raised nearly $22 million in 2020 and is dedicated to flood protection. The sale of water; meanwhile, generated about $123 million that year. Water district spokesman Chad Lorance said it does not make a profit selling water. It charges only what is necessary to provide water to its customers and anything left over goes toward water supply projects. Royalties from the water district’s oil and gas wells, which were about $6 million in 2020, go toward recreation and special projects.
- How does the water district general manager’s salary compare to the salaries of other top government officials? How does the water district GM’s salary compare to the salaries of the rest of the staff?
Fort Worth City Manager David Cooke’s salary is $354,326 and Tarrant County Administrator G.K. Maenius’s salary is $357,305. Like Cooke and Maenius, the water district’s GM, Dan Buhman, serves at the pleasure of elected officials. On May 18, the board unanimously approved for Buhman a base salary of $350,000 with the potential of a performance bonus. The GM hires, fires and sets the salary of the rest of the water district’s employees after the board approves the budget, of course. The next highest-paid water district employee is Robert Thomas, a deputy general manager paid $274,622.40 annually, followed by JD Granger. Granger serves as the executive director of Panther Island/Central City and earns $242,216 annually. The lowest-paid employees are reserve patrol officers and seasonal park attendants, whose salaries are about $18,000 and $14,000 respectively. The water district has 360 employees, according to a list the district provided to the Report last month.