Wednesday, August 13, 2008
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By Charles O'Dell
One thing you can say about county commissioners Jeff Barton (Pct 2) and Will Conley (Pct 3) is that they are persistent, and they won’t take no for an answer from our voters.
This past February, Hays County commissioners’ court created the Transportation Bond Advisory Committee (BAC) and approved funding, “to seek voter approval of additional bond financing for needed roadway improvements in the County.” The key word here is “additional.”
The BAC, comprised of nine citizens appointed by the commissioners’ court was charged with evaluating and prioritizing transportation (road) projects for possible inclusion in a road bond scheduled for this November general election. The key word here is “possible.”
At the core of this November 2008 road bond are two of the original TxDOT Pass-Through Financing roads, FM 1626 and FM 110, that voters turned down in the May 2007 road bond election. The other Pass-Through project, a five lane expansion of RR 12 between San Marcos and the Junction (Wimberley), was ditched and in its place a section of US 290 and various projects along and over I-35 were added.
The current cost guesstimate for these state and federal Pass-Through projects is $167,031,520 (TxDOT Contract No. PT 2005-013-001 Attachment C-1 [Budget]). These costs would be financed through county bonds and paid for by local property taxes. TxDOT promises to repay the County, not the taxpayers, up to $133 million over twenty years, assuming they have the funds.
While each of the four county precincts will share equally in property taxes paid, Pass-Through road expenditures show a different pattern:
Share of New Pass-Through Package Expenditures
Precinct 1 San Marcos……..18%
Precinct 2 Buda/Kyle………77%
Precinct 3 Wimberley……….0%
Precinct 4 Dripping Springs…5%
These figures and the May 2007 road bond election results bring into focus the Call for Projects recently made by commissioners’ court to school districts and municipalities across Hays County soliciting local road projects to include in the November Pass-Through road bond.
The Pass-Through package has to be sweetened for voters in Precincts 3 and 4.
Forty local road projects were nominated and the BAC hired a consultant firm to hold a Public Involvement Meeting in each county precinct the last week of July to, “determine which of the candidate projects should be included in the bond package on the November 2008 ballot.”
I attended the Wimberley and Dripping Springs public meetings facilitated by the consultants. At the Wimberley meeting, consultants and BAC members may have outnumbered public participants. In Dripping Springs the public turnout was sufficient to outnumber consultants, BAC members and public officials, barely. The purpose for these meetings is to get citizens to “prioritize” the local candidate road projects using previously determined criteria. Results of these efforts in each of the four public meetings will be summarized and certain local road projects will be included in the November 2008 road bond.
Will the highest priority local road projects be included in the road bond? Not necessarily. Remember the two key words: “additional” and “possible". The additional local projects are to sweeten the Pass-Through $167 million road bond. Out of the forty projects recommended locally, only some are possible add-ons to the Pass-Through bond. Which ones? That will be decided by BAC and that mix will be recommended to commissioners’ court. If the recommended mix isn’t sufficiently balanced to sweeten the Pass-Through bond, commissioners’ court will tweak the mix. So what happens to the public process to prioritize the local projects?
Keep in mind that the number of local road projects included in the Pass-Through bond will be limited also by how much larger commissioners’ court is willing to make the road bond. Will it be $200 million, $225 million or higher? Who knows? And who knows what each of the local road projects would cost to complete?
The county’s transportation advisor, Mike Weaver of Prime Strategies, will likely provide some by gosh and by golly estimates to help the court decide which local projects will fit within a court defined upper bond limit (the amount above the $167 million Pass-Through cost).
Wait, there’s more.
Commissioners Barton and Conley got Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe (Pct 1) to go along with them and the court approved $19.5 million in special tax bonds that don’t require voter approval. It appears these funds are being expended to keep the Pass-Through project work continuing and to pay for the BAC consultants, Prime Strategies and other public relations efforts by Barton.
Remember, only the local road projects were identified for citizens to prioritize for “possible” inclusion in the November $167 million Pass-Through road bond. It has been suggested that all of the local road projects in all four county precincts could be completed for far less than just the $167 million state and federal Pass-Through road projects.
Personally, I don’t appreciate elected officials resorting to pandering, trickery and misinformation in trying to circumvent previous election results. Scrap the state and federal Pass-Through projects on which voters have already spoken, and give us a much smaller road bond that we can afford in these hard times, and complete all of the forty local roadway improvements needed in the County.
As co-founder of Hays Community Action Network (HaysCAN) in 2003, Mr. O’Dell strives to carry out the mission of ensuring open, accessible and accountable government. He is a long time and close observer of the workings of the Hays County Commissioners Court. He earned a degree in Agricultural Education and a Masters in Ag Economics at Texas Tech, and, later, a Ph.D. at The University of Maryland while employed as a Research Economist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Washington, D.C. Texas born and raised on a family farm, O’Dell is a Hays County Master Naturalist and a board member of the Ethical Society of Austin.
Posted by RoundUp Editor at 10:30 AM