San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas
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February 12th, 2008
County road issues coming to a head, and a vote

NEWS COMMENTARY by BILL PETERSON
Senior Correspondent

Tuesday figures to be another dramatic moment in the endless saga of state roads in Hays County.

In a ten-page missive issued through various agents in Precinct 2, Commissioner Jeff Barton, a Kyle Democrat, announced that he will ask for a straight up-or-down vote to front state road improvements by the issue of revenue bonds at this week’s meeting.

Barton wants to issue revenue bonds, which don’t require voter approval, to at least fund engineering so the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) can move the projects on its schedule, which calls for projects to be bid in May. Hays County Judge Liz Sumter has come out in favor of a May bond election, in which case the county couldn’t hand funds over to TxDOT until June even if voters approve.

Without laboring through the long history of the county’s pass-through financing agreement with TxDOT, the basics are straightforward.

TxDOT is willing to expand FM 1626, build a loop in southeastern San Marcos (SH 110), finish improvements to US 290, turn the access roads on Interstate-35 through Buda and Kyle to one way, improve overpasses and turn-arounds on I-35 through Buda and Kyle, and re-route SH 150 in eastern Kyle.

However, TxDOT lacks the funding or the borrowing authority to start those projects. So, Hays County would have to front the costs for those improvements. TxDOT promises to reimburse the county up to $133.2 million over the next 20 years.

The county would have to borrow the money. The county could issue general obligation bonds, which require voter approval. Or, the county could issue revenue bonds with TxDOT’s promise of repayment as security. Barton will call for the county to issue revenue bonds, which don’t require voter approval, because, he says, the county simply doesn’t have time to execute the technicalities necessary for a May bond election.

Barton’s plan calls for issuing revenue bonds to start the work in TxDOT’s time frame, then call a bond election for November to fund the rest. The extra time before a November bond vote would enable the county to assemble a bond committee and account for other transportation developments in the next few months.

Quoting Barton’s letter:

Some are arguing against revenue bonds, arguing that we can wait and put everything to a vote in May […] But failing to issue revenue bonds now – even if it’s only for engineering and utilities, and maybe right-of-way acquisition – means critical delays, time in which traffic will grow worse, environmental clearances may expire. It means more time for the state to change its mind and back out on the deal. (We have painstakingly negotiated a deal with the staff at TxDOT, but we still have to get approval from the Texas Transportation Commission, the five-member body appointed by the governor. We’re supposed to go before them later this month. If our message to them is “keep on waiting, we’ll have an election and let you know” … well, it might not blow the deal but it sure gives me stomach acid thinking about everything that could go wrong.)

Almost certainly, Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley, a San Marcos Republican, will join Barton in voting to issue revenue bonds. Just as certainly, County Judge Liz Sumter, a Wimberley Democrat, and Precinct 4 Commissioner Karen Ford, a Dripping Springs Democrat, will vote against it. That puts the frequently vacillating countenance of Precinct 1 Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe, a San Marcos Democrat, clearly on the hot seat as the swing vote.

It figures to be an intense morning of conversation among the commissioners before a full house in San Marcos. The stakes are high and, at this late hour, the outcome remains uncertain.

BILL PETERSON is editor of www.HaysHighway.com where this story was originally printed. It is reprinted here through a news partnership with Newstreamz.com.

RELATED IN NEWSTREAMZ

» Texas 130 turnpike setting off land rush between towns in transition 02/11/08

» Plans for Texas 21 could include toll lanes 02/06/08

» Sumter blasted in Buda over roads 02/05/08

» County gives initial approval to new road plan 01/31/08

» A quick-reference guide: Long road to road deal 01/31/08

RELATED BY THIS WRITER

» FM 110: Ingalsbe says she will recommend city take over road 06/16/07

» FM 110: Ingalsbe at center of indecision on loop, roads package 05/31/07

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0 thoughts on “County road issues coming to a head, and a vote

  1. Pingback: QUOTE OF THE DAY : Newstreamz

  2. Hays County Commissioners Still Trying to Force Road Bonds on Taxpayers

    Commissioners Court Meeting Today Tries to Force Vote on Revenue Bonds

    February 12, 2008

    Dear Hays County Commissioners and Community Members:

    I know by now the commissioners are tired of hearing from me, since I have been communicating my distaste for road bond packages and for developing large expressways through our beloved Hill Country, but I fear I must speak out again since the commissioners court is meeting today again on the issue.

    Commissioner Jeff Barton has both some good intentions and some NOT so good intentions with his ongoing push to approve any number of road bond packages that will support the building of large roadways and/or widen existing ones. It is public knowledge that many developers and road companies who would profit immeasurably from such plans have been contributors to Barton campaigns.

    While it is true that we in Hays County must develop plans to build new and/or improve existing roadways, the methods proposed by Barton and some of the other commissioners are at least highly questionable.

    There appears to be a rush to approve plans and financing in an abrupt haphazard manner. There are other options available that have not been fully analyzed and proposed.

    There also appear to be “deadlines” held over our heads by TxDOT, a.k.a., the State, which truly can NOT be taken seriously. The reason we can NOT take TxDOT too seriously is because of the past history of our dealing with this agency. TxDOT promises many things, but follows through on little of its promises.

    The latest proposal by Barton to approve revenue bonds is a veiled attempt to override last year’s vote by county taxpayers to reject the proposition for the Road Bond Package. Clearly since that time, Jeff Barton has been attempting to divide the county into an East/West “Civil War” that would put neighbors against neighbors. Barton believes that his area of Hays County wanted the road bond package but the other part is the one that voted-down the proposition.

    What Barton believes does NOT really matter because the entire county will bear the taxes for the bonds if approved, NOT just his section of the county. Consequently, Barton’s latest try at an “end around” play is to appease his special interest constituents rather than the majority of Hays County taxpayers.

    The county commissioners court has the authority to approve revenue bonds WITHOUT VOTER APPROVAL!!!

    However, the voters already determined that they do NOT want such bonds nor do they trust any sort of dealings with TxDOT.

    There is a VERY good reason why TxDOT is being scrutinized and questioned by the Senate Finance Committee and why it is being reviewed by the Sunset Advisory Commission. Simply stated, TxDOT has stated many things and too many of those things have been lies or have NOT come to fruition as promised.

    Why should Hays County, without more careful consideration, enter into further agreements with TxDOT when even our state legislature does NOT trust the agency?

    In conclusion, at this time commissioners should NOT enter into any agreements with TxDOT until that time when the agency is cleared of all wrongful doing. In addition, while it is true that Hays County roadways need improvement, there are other, more practical and less costly ways to do so. We need to take the time to explore some of those more carefully before “jumping into bed” with this runaway agency that may be overhauled soon so that it performs in the best interests of the Texas community.

    I urge citizens and commissioners to oppose approving the revenue bonds desired by Jeff Barton and also to avoid entering any new agreements with TxDOT until the agency has been cleared of any wrong-doing (which of course it won’t be).

    Sincerely,

    Peter Stern
    Driftwood, TX

  3. I witnessed the same lunacy in the mid-80’s when Austin voted down their 700 million dollar road bonds stating that they were against growth, if we don’t build the roads the people won’t come. Well we can see how successful that indolent strategy went. People came by the hundreds of thousands any way and Austin has an infrastructure built for 350,000 people.

    We are going to grow dramatically over the next two decades. Being unable to travel from one side of the county to other due to poor infrastructure will only serve those who wish to keep growth out. Survey says! That doesn’t work they will come anyways. Prepare now, plan now because tommorrow will get here faster than you know. Keep our quality of life and our roads built to handle the growth.

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