By ELIZABETH SUMTER
From my vantage point as your County Judge, I am pleased to report that 2007 was a very productive year. Your Commissioners’ Court closed out the year with a host of accomplishments — some of which you may already know about, but others which may have escaped your attention. By way of review, here are some of the major achievements of 2007.
On the environmental front, your Commissioners’ Court put forth a 30 million dollar park bond package that received overwhelming approval from the electorate. Following passage of the park bond, the Citizens Parks Advisory Team (C.P.A.T) was established to oversee the allocation of bond funds to various projects. The Dudley Johnson Park in San Marcos was the first project to receive funding; Harrison Park in Dripping Springs was the second to receive funding. Consistent with the Court’s interest in protecting our natural resources, interim subdivision rules that will strengthen water availability requirements were approved. Additionally, your Court approved funding for flood control measures for up to twenty low water crossings and increased funding that will be leveraged to obtain additional grant funds for another sixteen locations.
Working to address our roads and transportation issues, your Commissioners’ Court has taken several affirmative steps in response to the defeat of the road bond package in the May 2007 election. First and foremost, the Commissioners’ Court formed the citizen-based Transportation Advisory Board to develop a county-wide transportation plan that allows for maximum citizen involvement. Equally important, the county has formed the first public-private partnership for road development with Zachery American Inc. with the goal of completing badly needed improvements to FM 1626. The road and transportation challenge remains a top priority for me. The safety of our citizens and the economic wellbeing of Hays County are directly tied to this challenge, and in 2008 I will continue to give this issue my full attention.
In terms of governmental administration, I am pleased to report a variety of important initiatives. For example, the Court selected a site (off Wonderworld Dr.) for a new government center. The Environmental Health Department and the Road and Bridge Department have now been reorganized into one department known as Resource Protection, Transportation, and Planning. This important step will result in a more centralized or one-stop-shopping approach to development activities. We also began moving toward a county-wide planning effort for water and wastewater issues through partnerships with municipalities, Ground Water Districts, as well as private and co-op water companies.
In the realm of economic development, the Commissioners’ Court played an active role in brining Seton Hospital to the Kyle area. The Court was also instrumental in bringing The Lance Armstrong Ride for the Roses event to the Hill Country ─ an event that generated important tourism dollars.
My continued concern about the healthcare issues in our county served as a catalyst to move forward on a Federally Qualified Health Clinic for Hays County. If we are successful in this effort, we will be able to serve a larger number of citizens, both uninsured and underinsured and offer dental and mental healthcare — something the county has not been able to provide in the past.
To fund the administration of all county government activities, taxes were raised by three-quarters of a cent. The additional revenue will fund a variety of programs including the following: an additional 4 person patrol team for Dripping Springs; one specially trained mental crisis officer; an increase in the amount and quality of materials for road repair; a web master to enhance the county website; an additional planner and environmental compliance officer; and funding to the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District. Additionally, your Commissioners’ Court added a Collections Department to collect fees and fines for the courts. This is expected to increase our revenue by several thousand dollars. On a personal note, I have been performing judicial duties which have not been performed by a County Judge in Hays County for over two decades, and this will also generate additional revenue for the county.
Looking ahead and planning for the future is another of my top priorities. Accordingly, I asked the Court to consider initiating a county-wide comprehensive planning effort. This request was unanimously supported by the Court, and we expect this important planning effort to get underway soon. Similarly, I’ve worked in conjunction with other county officials to establish a county-to-county coalition involving fifteen counties. Presently known as the Hill Country County Coalition, this association will be working to lobby the state legislature on important issues and to resolve common challenges. The Court has expanded on its regional participation by joining as board members with the Austin/San Antonio Light Rail Commuter District, Envision Central Texas, Clean Air Coalition, Clean Air Force, Austin/San Antonio Corridor Council, and County Executives of America. I personally serve on the board of the County Executives of America and Envision Central Texas in addition to many other regional boards in the area.
As I begin looking at my 2008 calendar, I can’t help but reflect back on all the entries in my 2007 planner. A quick review reminds me of more than 135 meetings with citizen groups and public ceremonies I attended during my first year in office. I also counted some 34 presentations to – or meetings with – city councils and independent school districts throughout the county. I attended 115 regional, board and committee meetings, as well as 51 workshops in conjunction with the Commissioners’ Court. All of that was in addition to the 50 or so weekly Commissioners’ Court meetings, as well as a number of unscheduled responses to emergency situations such as floods and fires. I am thankful that somewhere along the way I was able to find time to relax and reflect about the importance of county government. I hope that 2008 will be as productive as 2007 and that we will see even more citizens involved in the process of local government.
ELIZABETH SUMTER is the Hays County Judge.