EARLY — A pair of suspenseful roll call votes by the Early City Council Tuesday night ended the council’s flirtation with building a new water treatment plant. The votes steered the city instead toward installing a pipeline and buying treated water from the Brown County Water Improvement District.

After a lengthy discussion before a crowded council chamber, council members voted 3-1 to reject building a new water plant, with Councilman David Gray voting yes. The council then voted 3-1 to begin negotiating a contract with the water improvement district for installing a pipeline and becoming a customer for treated water. Gray cast the lone “no” vote.

The Zephyr Water Supply Corp., which currently buys treated water from Early, has indicated its desire to participate in the pipeline plan with Early. Zephyr water board members attended Tuesday night’s meeting, and the board’s president, Richard Gist, urged Early council members to vote for the pipeline.

Early’s share of the pipeline is anticipated at $5 to $6 million, and Zephyr’s share is expected to be about $2 million, Mayor Bob Mangrum said.

“I feel like the city has taken a positive step,” Mangrum said after the council meeting. He said the city’s potential for economic development will be increased because of the pipeline’s superior capacity.

The Early council was on the verge of entering a contract with the Brown Counter Water Improvement District a few weeks ago. Some of the council balked when council members realized the city would be required to pay a back debt service on $20.49 million bonds the City of Brownwood guaranteed for the construction of the water district’s new treatment plant.

As of June 2008, the back debt service for Early and Zephyr combined is just over $78,000, with Early responsible for two-thirds of that amount, Mangrum said. He based the amount on figures provided by Dennis Spinks, the water improvement district’s general manager.

The total debt service Early and Zephyr, over the 20-year length of the bonds, will reach just over $17,000 a month beginning in 2010, according to figures from the water improvement district.

Some council members chaffed at the back debt requirement, saying it was unfair to Early’s citizens to ask them to pay a back debt when they had not been receiving any services. They also stressed the importance of maintaining the city’s independence by building a new water plant and being in charge of its own water.

Mangrum and other proponents of the pipeline had said while the costs associated with the pipeline and new water treatment plant would be about the same, the pipeline would be the better choice.

The water district has offered to provide the labor for the 24-inch pipeline, which will have a capacity of 10 million gallons a day and will last 50 years, pipeline proponents said, while a new water treatment plant would give 25 to 30 years of service.

At the June 10 meeting, council members seemed to favor building a new water plant, with only Councilwoman Janice Bush favoring the pipeline option.

But a roll call vote that night on whether to build a new water plant stalled when Councilman Benny Allcorn abstained. Allcorn said he wasn’t ready to vote, and the motion was tabled.

Tuesday night, Bush repeated her call for the pipeline option, saying it’s in the city’s long-term interest. “Our (current) water treatment plant is not going to make it much longer. We’re running out of time,” Bush said.

Gray said he’d had numerous conversations with citizens who, with just two exceptions, supported a new water plant.

“My telephone calls have been different,” Allcorn said. He said most of the citizens he’d spoken with urged him to vote for the pipeline.

Mangrum called for a roll call vote on the motion that had been tabled two weeks earlier: to build a new water plant.

“I will vote ‘no,’” Allcorn said, followed by “no” votes from Bush and Drew.

The affirmative vote quickly followed on negotiating with the water district on installing the pipeline and buying treated water.