By SEAN WARDWELL
Hays County commissioners may not know exactly what they want from the present state legislative session taking place in Austin, but they do know what they don’t want.
“I’d like to get through the session without any unfunded mandates,” said Hays County Judge Liz Sumter (D-Wimberley).
Commissioners share that sentiment as counties are asked to bear more financial burden while the state provides less funding as it makes more demands of county governments.
One example raised by Hays County Elections Administrator Joyce Cowan is the effort to establish a voter verifiable paper trail. Local officials agree that it’s a good idea. However, the financial burden to the county would run anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million due to lack of state assistance.
Sumter, and commissioners also are closely watching efforts to cap property tax appraisals. Multiple bills have been filed this session to reduce the maximum appraisal rise from ten percent to seven percent.
“I think what will be especially important is capping revenue and (property tax) appraisals,” said Sumter. “When you cap appraisals even more than now, then you limit the county’s ability to help the state.”
Counties regularly work with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to help fund highway and roads projects. Capping property tax appraisal rates at a lower rate would make it harder for cities and counties to raise funds.
Despite his support for appraisal caps, Hays County Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley (R-San Marcos) acknowledges that caps could cause problems for county government.
“It limits the budgets of county and city government,” Conley said. “You have to have some funding to mandate.”
Officials are keeping a close eye on efforts to establish municipal rail service along the Austin-San Antonio corridor on Interstate-35. Precinct 1 Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe (D-San Marcos) and Conley both are on the board of the Austin-San Antonio Intermunicipal Commuter Rail District, and have been working with legislative leaders.
“We’re very interested in (commuter rail),” said Sumter. “That is a priority of ours.”
County authority is another item of strong interest. Commissioners are working with the Texas Association of Counties (TAC) attempting to win enhanced authority for dealing with local issues.
“It would grant counties more authority on buffer zones and impact fees due to transportation,” Sumter said. “We have been having talks with (State Representative Patrick) Rose (D-Dripping Springs) and (State Senator Jeff) Wentworth (R-San Antonio) about this.”
Enhancements might be in the works for the Hays-Trinity Groundwater Conservation District (HTGCD). Sumter hopes to give the district full authority under Chapter 36 of the Texas Water Code. When the HTGCD was set up, it was only granted the authority to charge $300 per new well and $300 for public water supply connections.
If HTGCD is approved for full authority, it would would be able to regulate existing wells, 50 percent of which are not currently under its authority. Approval would bring the district in line with other water districts around the state.
Said Sumter, “We’re hoping to get them up to par with everyone else.”
Commissioner Ford is taking an interest in incentives for businesses that use collected rainwater. Ford and Conley have met with Rose on this issue. Last year, Rose set up a local pilot program. He is hoping to expand it to public buildings.
Ford said commissioners and staff members will follow legislation related to their areas all session. A draft list has been compiled of priorities for each person. They will report back to the court and a committee headed by Ford and Conley.Email | Print