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

January 5th, 2010
Liz Sumter's blog: Courthouse Connections

Commentary: Courthouse Connections
Hays County Judge

As your County Judge, I’ve declared 2009 the busiest and most productive year ever. This was the year the legislature was in session, county-wide studies were completed, and implementation began on a number of efforts.

It was an interesting legislative year with much activity and hope, but there were no major successes to report. The 15-county Hill Country County Coalition worked hard to get its bill through the legislature only to have it die in committee. Had the bill passed, we could have moved toward regulating density based on water availability, instituting buffer areas for incompatible land uses, and implementing road impact fees. The good news, however, is that the coalition has re-affirmed its commitment to try again with their first meeting scheduled in February.

The county was successful in securing state and federal grant funding for a regional drainage study that will identify areas that are at risk for damage due to flooding. The study will also allow us to mitigate those damages in advance. Onion Creek and its tributaries will be the first area studied; the Barton Springs area will follow.

On the transportation front, our first pass-through road section was opened in Dripping Springs on U.S. 290, and I expect to see our first reimbursement check from the state in the late spring of this year. Additionally, three projects in Hays County were selected to receive federal stimulus money — the Buda Main Street Bridge, the RR 12 center turn lane from Pioneer Trail to the San Marcos Baptist Academy, and the Buda Truck Bypass Bridge.  We may also be awarded additional money later this month for improvements for the intersection of SH 21 and High Road.

It was nearly one year ago that I put together a committee of experts and citizens to assess the feasibility of an Alternative Dispute Resolution Center (ADR) for the county. Today, we have an ADR up and running. This center will provide low cost to no cost mediation services for citizens who cannot afford the $200.00 an hour rate that is typically charged by private sector mediators. Hays County is now the 40th Texas county to institute an ADR system.

I remain concerned about healthcare issues in our county and committed to increasing both the quantity and quality of service in that area. The first Federally Qualified Health Clinic (FQHC) opened in January 2009 in San Marcos; the second one will open in June of this year in Kyle. Communicare Health Centers of San Antonio is our partner in this effort. Without Communicare and other private sector health service providers, Hays County would not be as far along as we are today in meeting the healthcare needs of our citizens.

Looking ahead and planning for the future remains a top priority.  The national economy is not yet on steady ground yet, so we must continue to find ways to reduce our operating budget, while becoming more efficient. This year, I will be evaluating our data/voice services, energy usage, software age and capabilities, and grant opportunities. I believe we can become more efficient, save tax dollars and maintain our level of service.

As I begin looking at my 2010 calendar, I can’t help but reflect back on all the entries in my 2009 calendar. 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 294 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 50 regional, board and committee meetings, as well as numerous workshops and presentations in conjunction with 50 or so commissioners court meetings.

I hope you know that my door is always open to you, as are the weekly commissioners court meetings. As I always make a point of saying, my office is in the county courthouse, but the citizens own the building.

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