By KAREN FORD
At the end of my first year in public office, it’s time to look back at what has passed, celebrate successes, reflect on lessons learned, and set goals for the year ahead. It has been my great pleasure to serve as your commissioner on this savvy, hardworking Hays County Commissioners’ Court. Each day presents a new challenge, a fresh opportunity and a chance to meet Hays County citizens and make new friends. Let me share a few highlights of the past year.
Early in my tenure I was proud to make the motion calling for a $30 million parks and open space bond election. In May 2007, I was overjoyed when Hays County voters overwhelmingly approved the bond by nearly 68 percent. The court quickly formed a citizen-led committee, called the Citizen Parks Advisory Team, or CPAT, and charged it with developing criteria for scoring proposed projects and making recommendations about the projects to the commissioners’ court. In December, the county gave the City of Dripping Springs the first matching grant funds of $775,000. With its other community partners, Dripping Springs will soon begin development of a public park on Ranch Road 12 North, just across from the Dripping Springs Elementary School—a beautiful 64-acre property at a great location.
The Lance Armstrong Foundation’s LIVESTRONG Challenge celebrated its tenth anniversary this year with a bicycle race in Hays County that raised $3.8 million for cancer research. With both the start and finish lines in Dripping Springs, this event gave us a chance to showcase our scenic county roads and local hospitality. We expect the Challenge ride will be back in Hays County next October, and we’ll be ready again to lend support where needed.
Development of the 2008 Hays County budget was a fascinating process for this new commissioner, and I applaud our county judge and our auditor’s office for putting together an excellent first draft. In August and September, the remaining court members and the public had time for input. Our county was faced with some long overdue improvements, and after lengthy and public discussion, we agreed on 3/4-cent ad valorem tax increase — representing a marked investment in public safety, road equipment and personnel. The Hays County ad valorem tax rate (property tax rate) for fiscal 2008 is 45.74 cents.
I supported the sheriff’s office budget request to fund a second four-person patrol unit in Precinct 4 in response to rapid residential and retail growth in the Dripping Springs and Driftwood areas. Further, our county will realize both financial and service benefits through the purchase of our own hot-mix asphalt equipment and materials. Finally, we focused on county employees and made provision for staff merit rewards for performance and goal accomplishment, not simply for longevity. I also worked hard to make sure we funded two new key positions in this year’s budget: an environmental compliance specialist and a senior planner. The 2008 county budget is just under $86 million with 30 percent of expenditures going toward law enforcement and the jail, 31 percent for road improvements and capital projects, 15 percent administration, 10 percent judicial, and the remaining 16 percent for health care, debt service and other.
During the year, it has been my pleasure to represent Hays County on a number of regional boards and committees, including the Clean Air Coalition of Central Texas, the executive committee of the Clean Air Force, and co-chair of the Open Space Committee for Envision Central Texas. I am also active in our county’s Regional Habitat Conservation Planning process, having recruited members to the Citizen Advisory Committee, attending the monthly meetings, and working closely with our consultant team. I continue to serve on the board of the Hill Country Alliance and am very happy to be a new member of the Dripping Springs Rotary Club and the Dripping Springs Women’s Club.
Although the $172 million transportation bond did not pass with voters in May 2007, our Court has been careful to preserve partnership opportunities with TxDOT in a way that makes sense for all Hays County tax payers. A citizen-led Transportation Advisory Board was formed with a charge from the court to look at both short-term and long-term transportation needs in the county. I remain active with Precinct 4 citizens in work on key transportation priorities, and I suspect a new road bond package will come before voters again in the next year.
In Precinct 4 we will continue to resurface, repair and stripe county roads. And we’ll continue to work with homeowner and property owner associations and neighborhood groups to see that private roads are brought up to county standards and into our maintenance program. We have developed a strong and open working relationship with the cities of Dripping Springs and San Marcos as well.
In 2008 we will see new subdivision and water quality rules in Hays County as we come to the end of a year-and-a-half stakeholder process to review and rewrite the county’s 1997 subdivision ordinances. I am committed to help move the court and the county toward a comprehensive planning process, and I will keep my fingers crossed on our application for a substantial regional water and waste water facilities planning grant.
We will break ground in early spring on a new Precinct 4 office in Roger Hanks Park, which will include a demonstration site for rainwater collection, all-native landscaping designed by LCRA, and an onsite wastewater treatment and irrigation system. As I promised when I campaigned, I will continue to focus on water and wastewater issues in this county.
I am grateful for the number of citizens who have visited and called our precinct office in the past year. I appreciate your keeping your eyes and ears open and letting me know when something out there needs county attention. Precinct 4 is the largest in the County at about 172,000 acres and more than 300 miles of county-maintained roadway. I am here to serve, to lead and to represent you in Hays County affairs. I look forward to the years ahead with a deep sense that our community can grow and at the same time preserve our bountiful natural resources. This continues to be my commitment to Hays County.
Hays County Pct. 4 Commissioner KAREN FORD was elected in November 2006. She can be reached at her Dripping Springs office: (512) 878-7268.