San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

January 29th, 2008
County puts parks on hold

Editor at Large

SAN MARCOS – Hoping for fresh order in their parks funding process, the Hays County Commissioners Court decided Tuesday to place a moratorium on new projects until April 1.

The moratorium is somewhat conditional, as projects presently in the pipeline can choose to stay in the present process if their sponsors believe they can procure funding that way. However, the failures of well received projects to force approval votes by the Citizens Parks Advisory Team (CPAT) has compelled commissioners to make adjustments.

“I think we have found that we need different scoring criteria for different kinds of projects,” Precinct 1 Commissioner Debbie Gonzalez Ingalsbe (D-San Marcos) said.

Precinct 4 Commissioner Karen Ford (D-Dripping Springs), who put the moratorium on Tuesday’s agenda, proposed five different kinds of projects as a starting point for deciding which projects will receive funding from a $30 million parks bond approved by voters in May 2007.

Ford’s suggested categories: 1. Acquisitions for preservation of open space, habitat and water quality; 2. Acquisition of new parks and recreation facilities; 3. Funds for new parks development; 4. Funds for restoration and open space management; 5. Funds for the redevelopment of existing public lands.

Ford added that “I want to continue to talk about how we might divide the pie,” so county funding could line up with the preferences set forth by county residents, who overwhelmingly favor open space and water quality preservation.

The commissioners also have authorized negotiations to reach an agreement with the Trust for Public Lands (TPL), a San Francisco-based organization that would offer professional assistance to CPAT. Nan McRaven, TPL’s Texas office director, said she hopes to bring national expert Sandra Tassel before CPAT within two or three weeks so she can advise about funding and approving projects.

As with seemingly few projects among the commissioners, broad agreement about the need for a moratorium and new scoring criteria prevailed. The necessity came up when a project to make football fields available for the San Marcos Police Athletic League and a proposed 2,400-acre development rights purchase of Dahlstrom Ranch property scored too low with CPAT.

Richard Salmon, the county’s grants administrator, told commissioners that county staff had suggested at least two scoring sheets and a means for dealing with special cases when the bonds were approved.

The only disagreement among commissioners concerned the length of the moratorium. Ford wanted an indeterminate length, though she said the moratorium would probably be finished in three months.

“I want to spend the time to do it right and not rush the process,” Ford said.

However, Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton (D-Kyle) said a three-month moratorium isn’t very short and motioned for a 60-day moratorium. A brief scuffle ensued concerning which motion was actually on the floor. Following a short recess to sort out the parliamentary issue, Barton prevailed and the court set the moratorium’s conclusion for April 1.

“I think timelines are good just to keep people on schedule,” said Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley (R-San Marcos).

Barton said after unanimous vote that he would be happy to extend the moratorium past April 1 if that necessity becomes apparent.

So far, the county has approved two projects for a total of $2.5 million from the $30 million in bond funding. About 20 more projects are presently in the process, seeking approval.

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