The Agua Special Utility District launched a new website last month.
Agua SUD created a new website and switched the domain name from AguaSUD.org to AguaSUD.com.
“Right now we’re going through a transition period from our current website to a new one,” said board President Homer Tijerina.
The switch may save Agua SUD more than $3,500 per month.
Agua SUD paid $4,500 per month to McAllen-based KM International for “website development and management consulting services.”
In 2019, when KM International filed a public information report with the Texas Secretary of State’s Office, the company listed Karina Cardoza, a public relations consultant, and Mike Robledo, a political consultant, as managing members.
KM International also charged $2,250 per month for “public awareness, education and communications consulting services.” Tijerina said the utility board was concerned about the cost.
“We tried to negotiate with KM International on their current contract five times,” Tijerina said. “But they didn’t want to negotiate, so we had to terminate their contract.”
Citing “budgetary concerns,” Agua SUD terminated the contract on Feb. 26, according to documents released under the Texas Public Information Act.
Agua SUD hired another website developer, Tijerina said, and will pay about $825 per month.
The old Agua SUD website, AguaSUD.org, went offline in April.
Agua SUD had posted meeting agendas, audits, check registers and other information on AguaSUD.org to comply with state law.
Chapter 7201 of the Special District Local Laws Code requires Agua SUD to “maintain and update monthly an Internet website with current information concerning policies, monthly financial information concerning revenues and expenses, and monthly summaries.”
The law doesn’t include any penalty for noncompliance.
Agua SUD launched a temporary replacement at AguaSUD.com, which offered links to utility board meeting agendas and the bill payment system.
It went live without the check registers or financial information required by law. Tijerina said that information could be added as soon as today.
“AguaSUD.com is undergoing major upgrades,” reads a notice on the website. “We appreciate your patience.”
Utility board Director Lloyd Loya said the lack of compliance with state law concerned him.
Loya was the board president until November, when voters elected two new utility board members aligned with Tijerina.
“At the end of the day, when we were there, we were always in compliance,” Loya said.
Loya said he also received complaints from utility customers who didn’t know about the new website and couldn’t pay utility bills online.
“It’s a big inconvenience,” Loya said, especially during the pandemic, when reducing in-person contact became a public health priority.
Utility board Director Cesar Rodriguez Jr. said nobody told him about the switch.
“We don’t have the majority, so you’ve got to talk to them,” Rodriguez said.
While the new website remains a work in progress, Agua SUD doesn’t plan to stop with the required financial information.
Tijerina said he wants to make utility board meetings accessible to the public by streaming the meetings online and archiving them for anyone to watch later.
Before the pandemic, anyone who wanted to watch utility board meetings needed to attend or submit a public information request for a copy of the video. Agua SUD had the ability to post the videos online but never did.
Tijerina said he’s exploring options to change that.
“That’s something that we have discussed,” Tijerina said, and it’s under consideration.