Chris Holtkamp of the Lower Colorado River Authority, left, and Hays County Judge Liz Sumter, right, have a discussion at this week’s meeting of the Hays County Commissioners Court. Photo by Sean Batura.
By SEAN BATURA
Hays County’s commissioners court voted unanimously on Tuesday to accept a planning document intended to guide decision-making for the next three to five years.
Work on the Hays County Strategic Policy and Implementation Plan (SPIP) began in 2009 and included months of focus groups, town hall meetings, Internet surveying of residents, internal county assessments and coordination with other governmental entities.
The SPIP identifies short-, mid-, and long-term recommendations tied to six broad categories of work that include water and wastewater, transportation, growth management, economic development, quality of life, and internal projects tied directly to basic county governance.
Whether commissioners begin implementing the SPIP next budget year depends on what they decide in their deliberations before they adopt the fiscal year 2011 budget in October.
“We’ll certainly start walking around to the cities and introducing (the SPIP) to them and asking them for their support, either signing on or a supportive resolution,” said Hays County Judge Liz Sumter (D-Wimberley). “Because a lot of partnerships are with the cities, obviously, and ISDs (independent school districts) and ESDs (emergency services districts).”
Comprehensive planning by the county necessarily requires cooperation from other jurisdictions, because the county’s authority, as a governmental subdivision of the State of Texas, is limited to matters of transportation, public health and law enforcement. Counties in Texas do not have land use, zoning or water planning authority.
Sumter spearheaded the effort to create the SPIP, which, she said, was one of her campaign goals when she first ran for office in 2006. Sumter said commissioners opted not to create a SPIP two years ago because they did not want to spend the approximately $500,000 she said it would have cost.
Sumter said the county did not pay for the recently-completed SPIP because Texas State, the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) and Pedernales Electric Cooperative (PEC) provided their services for free, and the public meeting places were donated for the county’s use. Others who worked on the plan included county employees, some of whom worked after regular business hours on the project.
“I called LCRA and I knew that they had done some planning for small communities in the area, and we had our first meeting, and I talked with Texas State University — (President) Dr. Denise Trauth — to help out with that,” Sumter said. “She was very helpful, and some of the university students helped out with facilitating (public meetings). We formed a committee of citizens and from them we were able to even pinpoint other groups that might be helpful in the process.”
Sumter said regular county residents will probably not see big changes resulting from implementation of the plan.
“We’ve been doing pretty much what (attendees of the public meetings) were asking us to do, the court was fairly aligned with that already — improvements in transportation, parks,” Sumter said. “I think one of the bigger changes that may be seen is our economic development positioning and policy. We don’t really have a policy that allows us to do economic development, so there is a recommendation to form a committee for those policies for the court’s consideration. And that’s something I hope to do in the next month or so, is actually get that on the agenda.”
At a commissioners court workshop on June 8, LCRA Community and Economic Development representative Chris Holtkamp said the county “definitely needs” an economic development policy, though he said “the idea with economic development was not that the county take ownership of it, necessarily.”
Last year, the county offered incentives to Grifols, US Foodservice, Seton Hospital, and H-E-B.
“I really think what you have here is a very well-rounded summary of where we’re at at the moment, what’s going on right now, what might be going on in the next few years, and then what are the things we have to be thinking about three or four years from now, or maybe we should start thinking about them now so that something can be done,” said San Marcos River Foundation Executive Director Dianne Wassenich. “So, I really hope you’ll look on this plan as kind of a guide for the coming years to just check back in on and improve on. Maybe it will be time in another three to five years to do this exercise again and see where we are and how that compares to the plan we’ve already done.”
Holtkamp said his organization would be willing to do an update to the plan “whenever y’all need us to come back and do it.” Holtkamp said Bay City has updated a similar plan three times since 2001.
SPIP planners conducted a leadership charrette in May 2009, which involved bringing together leaders from the cities, school districts, emergency services districts, and others to discuss common needs and cross-jurisdictional issues.
SPIP planners held a series of focus groups across the county, aimed at a range of diverse constituencies, including environmental groups, economic developers, senior citizens, school district boards, neighborhood groups, developers, land owners, and social service providers. Planners asked attendees the following questions to facilitate dialogue and gather information:
● What are the top issues facing your organization?
● How is your organization responding to growth?
● What new facilities are you planning in the next 3– years?
● How can the county assist you with your projects?
● What other issues are facing Hays County?
According to the SPIP, the focus group meetings were “very well attended” and resulted in identified community concerns such as the need for water management, transportation improvements, economic development, and general management of growth in the county.
SPIP planners conducted an Internet survey and facilitated four town hall meetings, one in each commissioner precinct, to provide an opportunity for citizens to express opinions. Questions asked of town hall meeting attendees included:
● Why do you live in Hays County?
● How can those qualities be maintained and enhanced?
● What is the County doing well?
● What challenges do you see facing Hays County?
● What should be done to address those challenges?
● Are you willing to stay involved and active in addressing these challenges?
Additionally, SPIP planners led participants of the town hall meetings in an exercise to determine what residents are willing to spend on current county activities and on future programs. Sumter said land preservation was a common theme brought up by attendees of the public meetings.
“It’s amazing how much people were willing to put in extra in their tax bill to actually go out and buy sensitive land areas and preserve that land,” Sumter said.Email | Print