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January 14th, 2009
Courthouse Connections:
A look back at 2008

Courthouse Connections: A Column

As your County Judge, I am particularly pleased to pass along this 2008 in review. I thought 2007 would be a hard year to top in terms of accomplishments by the commissioners court, but I believe we have done that.

On the environmental front, the court dedicated funds from the May 2007 park bond to purchasing Jacob’s Well in the Wimberley area and purchasing a conservation easement on more than 2000 acres at the Dahlstrom Ranch in the Buda area. Both locations have significant water quality and quantity benefits attached to them. Additionally, the court moved the Regional Habitat Conservation Plan toward its final draft. I expect the plan to be approved by the court within weeks, after which we will forward it to the federal government for final approval. Finally, your commissioners court stood by its position that it is inappropriate to discharge treated effluent into a stream that flows into Barton Creek. Accordingly, the court rejected a settlement offer in a case that would have resulted in such a discharge. The case is now pending final action at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

The court’s commitment to water resources continued on a number of fronts, not the least of which is our decision to undertake a county-wide water and wastewater facility planning study. I am extremely proud of all the municipalities, private/coop water companies and river authorities that offered both letters of support, financial and in-kind commitments toward the study. Additionally, your county government has applied for a regional drainage study grant (through local, state and federal funds). If the study funds are granted, the three to four year study will identify areas that are at risk for damage due to flooding. The study will also allow us to mitigate those damages in advance.

On the transportation front, a road bond package totaling slightly more than 2 million dollars was overwhelmingly passed by voters in November. In an effort to produce quick, cost effective results, the court has adopted a process whereby each Commissioner will be responsible for the roads within his/her precinct. The court has an ambitious schedule to complete the majority of projects within three years and to be finished with all of the projects within four years.

One of my personal goals continues to be that of creating a government that is characterized by maximum transparency and accessibility. In line with that, I am pleased to report that the weekly commissioners court Agenda is now paperless, and the entire agenda packet can be viewed via the Internet. In an effort to further expand the accessibility goal, I hope I can bring the commissioners court weekly meetings to viewers in a live, real-time format via the Internet. Finally, a Public Information Officer will soon be on board to assist in getting even more information out to you about our county projects, initiatives and programs.

I remain concerned about healthcare issues in our county, and I am committed to increasing both the quantity and quality of service in that area. Even though the County did not receive the Federally Qualified Health Clinic (FQHC) grant that we sought, our commitment to open a clinic by January of this year will be met. I appreciate Communicare Health Centers, our San Antonio partner, and all of the other healthcare partners involved in moving forward with opening the first FQHC in Hays County, January 29th of this year. I will continue to be involved in regional conversations and resolutions of our healthcare needs and push to bring a more diversified system of service to Hays County citizens.

Looking ahead and planning for the future is another of my top priorities. Although commissioners court did not move forward with a county-wide strategic planning effort, I will continue to press forward with this issue. Because the economy has slowed to some degree, this is an ideal time to plan for Hays County and its future. If we are to manage our future growth in a comprehensive manner, we need a strategic plan for water, transportation, parks, infrastructure, and economic development – just to name a few important issues. It is also imperative that we have such a plan if we are to take advantage of any possible state and federal infrastructure dollars.

As I begin looking at my 2009 calendar, I can’t help but reflect back on all the entries in my 2008 calendar. As was the case during my first year in office, the weekly commissioners court meetings were far outnumbered by meetings that frequently took me out of the courthouse and into areas throughout our county. For example, I logged in more than 220 meetings with citizen groups and public ceremonies. I also counted some 30 presentations or meetings with city councils and independent school districts throughout the county. I attended 63 regional, board and committee meetings, as well as more than 40 workshops in conjunction with commissioners’ court meetings. I look forward to seeing you in commissioners court someday soon.

ELIZABETH SUMTER is the Hays County Judge.

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