San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas
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February 5th, 2009
New times call for new data

This Martian Life: A column
By SEAN WARDWELL
Managing Editor

I can appreciate the value of having open space. Having lived in Boulder, CO, a city known for its open spaces program, I saw that helped the environment, provided local wilderness recreation and education, and it made an already scenic city even more so.

With Hays County in such an environmentally sensitive, area it makes sense to set aside land for recharge and other environmental concerns.

However, Boulder had something that Hays County does not, namely, recreation infrastructure. There were parks that families looked forward to going to, and they were wonderfully maintained. People got out of their houses. Kids played. Neighbors got to know each other.

So, I agree with those who say we need new criteria for scoring parks and recreation projects. Open space is important, but so are communities. Communities mean the difference between open space and empty space. Sadly, I feel that the concerns of communities and their need for more active recreation facilities are being shunted aside in favor of open space projects.

In 2000, 93 percent of respondents in a Hays County citizen’s poll indicated that land should be bought to protect aquifer recharge zones. However, I don’t see the sense in working with information that is almost a decade old at this point. Hays County, according to its website, has more than 130,000 residents today. The 2000 census indicated a population of about 98,000. We gained approximately 50,000 new residents in the last nine years. And if the corridor continues to expand, that number will do nothing but rise.

Ten-year-old data just doesn’t cut it – not for the times, nor the situation. Continuing to use this and proclaim it as being the will of the people is misleading and irresponsible. Data, like almost everything else, has a shelf life. Feelings and opinions change, and it’s reasonable to believe the current economic downturn might contribute to this.

The economy was much better in 2000. People had more recreation options and the county was much smaller. Now, we’ve expanded and question if we can afford enough gas to even make it to a park. Given that the only county park, Five-Mile Dam, is a ways out there for anyone not in San Marcos, that might be more than a flip remark.

Also, lets examine the “will of the people” here. In a county of almost 98,000 at the time, a survey was sent to 2000 households with a response rate of 47 percent. That’s 943 responses.  How can the opinion of 943 out of 98,000 citizens nine years ago accurately reflect the priorities and moods of a much larger Hays County today? It can’t, plain and simple.

It is also worth mentioning that the current parks master plan, written in 2002, has only been updated once, in 2006, and the changes to it were minor. The lion’s share of funding was still dedicated to open space acquisition.

In order for the parks and recreation process to have any legitimacy, the Citizens Parks Advisory Team needs to do another survey, preferably before any remaining funds from the 2007 bond election are disbursed. But I’m not going to hold my breath on that one. The need for new data is clear, though.

What’s also needed is a sense of reality on the part of open space devotees and less hostility towards active recreation. Yes, open space is important and needed to protect the recharge zones of the aquifer. But, for the moment, we need to focus our park resources on what will be of the greatest benefit to all the citizens of the county. I think that’s active recreation, but we won’t know for sure until we get a sense of what the people want today via a new survey

Ten-year-old data and economic catastrophes aside, a healthy annual review is never a bad thing, and I’m surprised a plan was allowed to sit for this long. Honestly, the data from the 2000 survey never should have been used in determining where 2007 bond money goes and I’m surprised that slipped through as well. There’s a level of intellectual honesty about these things and while the data might have been rock-solid in 2000, it speaks nothing to current attitudes towards the issue, or even to attitudes two years ago. It should not be used to judge current needs.

We need a new survey, a new plan and a new perspective that fits the times. I hope one day we can indulge in open space acquisition. For now, though, I think it’s more important to give people a place to take their kids.

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0 thoughts on “New times call for new data

  1. I agree with you that the county needs to update date.

    However, the same should be done when considering costs of county services as per the ratio of home property taxes.

    The county bases its determination of costs to property taxes on a 7 to 8 year old study of how much is paid for various services per property owner.

    Consequently, currently there is no legitimate basis or method for computing what happens when former property owners leave and new property owners enter into the county.

    I have discussed this directly via emails with Hays County Commissioners during the past 4 years or so and only Judge Sumter and Commissioner Karen Ford ever responded.

    Since we tossed away $10,000 on a study comparing what our commissioners make to those in other counties, I would think it is even more approriate to pay for a study that would contribute to updating costs of county services per each property owner that would help in determing more accurate county costs vs. property taxes.

  2. I totally agree with you this time, Sean, and given psterns pointing out the amount of money that was thrown away in doing a previous study, I would add that there is way too much money being put into studies and nothing resulting from them. It really doesn’t have to cost that much, it’s just greed. Also note that we live in a town who wants a shooting range, and calls it family recreation. I have also spent alot of time in Boulder and this “I want to shoot my pow pow” mentality doesn’t exist there. We’ll never be as progressive, or as beautiful as Boulder, unfortunatley.

  3. People have a choice where they live. If you live in a municipality, you pay taxes that pay for the services you consume, including parks.
    If you choose to live outside the city limits, you are not paying city taxes, and you can’t assume to have the same services and facilities as those who do.
    Buda has received a huge chunk of the 30 million dollar parks bond money for active recreation parks. The Buda EDC wants another few million for some ballfields on the west side of town. But Buda will not pass a parks bond or raise taxes to fund these great projects.
    Is that fair to the people of San Marcos who understand the value of these services and facilities and support them with voter approved tax increases?

    The word ‘recreation’ appears nowhere in the language of the bond:
    “The issuance of $30,000,000 of Hays County Tax Bonds for parks, natural areas, openspace, and related projects, and the conservation of water quality, aquifer recharge areas and wildlife habitat, and the levying of a tax in payment thereof.”

    This money was to be used for conservation, not ballfields and social services complexes.
    So far only about 8 million of the 22 million allocated has gone towards conservation.

    The Hays County Parks Master Plan will be revised, or even completely rewritten, and new data will be generated. It will be very interesting to see if or how much County tax payers have changed views on funding these types of projects.

    One more thing- the Hays County Master Plan is not the Dead Sea Scrolls. Yet some ignore it as if it were- an interesting document but to old to be relevant.
    We can’t hit a moving target, and that’s what has happened here.

  4. update- i just received the draft letter from CPAT to the Court. CPAT unanimously voted for this proposal at our meeting last Wednesday.
    Among the proposed recommendations is this:
    “Allocate $50,000 of the remaining park bond funds to a NEW Parks and Open Space Master Plan;”
    Want a new Master Plan? Contact your commissioner in support of the CPAT recommendation.

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