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

October 15th, 2010
Precinct 2 commissioner candidates talk county issues


Hays County Precinct 2 commissioner candidates Mark Jones, left, and Ray Bryant, right. Photos by Sean Batura.

News Reporter

As Hays County Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton (D-Kyle) runs for Hays County judge in November, his seat on the commissioners court has been thrown open.

The finalists are two men with governing experience within the precinct, which encompasses Buda, Kyle and the most eastern portions of Hays County.

Mark Jones (R-Kyle) is a trustee for the Hays CISD. Ray Bryant (D-Kyle) is a former Kyle City Councilmember who resigned his seat to run for Precinct 2 Commissioner.

San Marcos Local News asked each candidate to answer the same set of questions. Their responses, and the questions, are presented below, unedited except for punctuation and publication style.

San Marcos Local News: What are the most important challenges facing Precinct 2, and how should the commissioners court address those challenges?

Ray Bryant: There are a couple of issues, amongst many others. The two, I think, that are probably near the top of the priority list would be roads and water. And I just think that that needs to continue to stay at the table of the court so that that discussion doesn’t stop going on, that that discussion continues. We’re talking about roads, necessary roads. I think it’s important to say “necessary roads.” We don’t want to build roads just to be building them. But I think that we need to look at necessary roads that will allow us to have safe transit in our Hays County. I think we need to look at something that can address safety as well as dealing with congestion — that’s up there as well. We want people to be able to move fluidly throughout the county. And so, I think that roads need to continue to be discussed. Water is always, probably at this point in time, at the table of discussion. As you probably know, Hays County has and continues to have an issue with supplying adequate water resources to our citizens. And so, I think we just need to continue to look at all of our options that are currently here and to go out and find out if there are other options. This is not a negotiable issue — it needs to be dealt with. It needs to be resolved. I’ve had the opportunity to talk to numerous experts in this area. And everyone agrees that this is an issue that has to continued to be discussed. I know they are talking about the Carrizo-Wilcox (Aquifer), tapping into that. That’s going to be a huge cost, but I think we have some cities, currently, that are partnering — also with some investors — that are partnering to see if that can happen. That will solve some problems. I think it’s a good avenue to pursue, but my concern is it won’t address (residents) that aren’t already connected to the cities. It doesn’t — my concern is that I don’t think at this point it will help those that are on septic tanks that aren’t connected. So we really continue to have an issue that needs to be looked at and we need to dive into that pretty deep. Now, the plus side about that if we do look at the Carrizo-Wilcox, the upside is that it will take the strain off of the Edwards Aquifer and it will allow those that own septic tanks to maybe have a little more freedom to have a little more water because of the Carrizo-Wilcox. So that’s the upside, but we still have to look at some things. I know it’s been discussed that (we could) talk to some of the outside cities and neighborhoods to see if there are ways to connect to the cities, but that will be a cost at the neighborhoods’ expense. So, I believe we just need to sit down and talk to all the stakeholders, hear the stakeholders very closely and their concerns. You just can’t ignore them. Take the time, however much time it takes, to find out the concerns and some of the answers they may have. They may have some resolutions. But we need to partner with the stakeholders and resolve this issue.

Mark Jones: Well, the first one is going to be the water issue, making sure that we have sustainable water for the near future to accommodate the growth that we’re going to get. We’ve got to do it in a way that makes sense — it’s going to be a combination of conservation and also being able to get water to the areas that need it the most. The second thing would be our roads. Specifically, (FM) 1626 needs to be completed as quickly as possible. It should have be done years ago. It’s a safety hazard and it’s something that needs to be addressed very quickly. We’ve also got to do the (SH) 45 junction at (FM) 1626, so we don’t bottleneck when we get to Manchaca (Road). The third one would be jobs other than just retail jobs. Getting some industries in here, businesses in here, that have a little higher paying jobs where people can work and live in Buda and Kyle and in Precinct 2 without having to commute to Austin and San Antonio, or wherever they are commuting to work, and they can work and live in the same community. And then doing it knowing that there’s probably not going to be any new money coming. They’re going to have to do it within the budget that we currently have and the tax structure we currently have.

SMLN: In view of the county’s situation relative to Austin and San Antonio, the growth of recent years and the slow-down of the present times, what is the outlook for the county? Has that outlook changed in any permanent sense due to the economic downturn?

Jones: I think it’s a temporary slowdown. I know in the school district, in Buda and Kyle, we are still experiencing quite a bit of growth in our school system, and it’s still a good place to move and to live and to raise your family, so I don’t see it being a permanent issue of slowing down, but maybe it’s leveling off a little bit, and hopefully, when the economy changes, we will be back to where we were before. I just don’t see a real big change right now.

Bryant: We do have an economic issue as far as downturn here, this past year, certainly. But, fortunately, people are still wanting to be in Hays County. And that’s a good thing. I think we have a lot to offer. But I think we need to — I think growth is inevitable. Whether we want it or not, it’s inevitable. And so we need to be smart and try to manage the growth. So we need to manage it, we need to look at the budgets, we need to look at the growth, we need to look at what we can offer, how we can stimulate economic development, look at those issues, maintaining a reasonable tax rate. So, we just really need to come together. It’s a balancing act, but we really need to make it happen. We are going to continue to grow. So we have to ready for that and we have to be ready to manage that growth so it doesn’t continue to burst at the seams. I don’t want to be behind the curve. We want to be in front of it. We want to be proactive. We want to prepare for whatever is coming.

SMLN: As the county becomes more urbanized and more densely populated, how does that change the role of county government?

Bryant: Again, we’re talking about managing growth. And we need to be ready for the people that are coming and to find out and be aware of the needs of the people coming in, be it citizens or commercial business. We need to be ready to address that. Because everyone coming needs to want to be here and want to stay here. And it’s our job to [inaudible] that happens. I think people are aware that growth is coming. So I don’t think it changes the role (of county government). I just think we need to keep our nose to the grindstone. We need to be cognizant that the needs and the concerns of the Hays County citizens are addressed. I think we’re pointed in the right direction. I think we need to continue moving Hays County in the right direction. So, I don’t think the role has changed. I think the responsibility has always been there. I think we need to continue to look at that and roll up our sleeves, because the job is going to get bigger as the people move into Hays County.

Jones: The county just has to, as we get more urbanized, we just have to do a better job of planning for the future and maybe learning from other counties that have gone through this before, and learning from their mistakes, finding out what they did right and what they did wrong and making some best practices from what happened in Cedar Park, Round Rock, and the Williamson County area. All indications are that that’s the direction we are headed in as far as growth, and if we can learn from their mistakes and learn from their successes, I think that’s how the county — the commissioners court needs to go. I don’t have problem using somebody else’s ideas if they work.

SMLN: Does the county need more powers granted by the state legislature? What kinds of powers? How hard should the county push for them?

Jones: No, I don’t think the county, county government, needs any more powers than we already have. I think we’ve, in the past, may have over-stepped some of the powers. We’ve been overreaching and we’re not doing the things we were. County government was designed to be kind of inefficient and limited, and I think we have tried to overstep that. I am not in favor of that at all. I am very much in favor of smaller government that’s less intrusive.

Bryant: Well, being a former city councilmember in Kyle, we had a little more authority to make tough decisions that would benefit the city. And on the court, as you indicated, a lot of that is legislatively driven. And so, yes, I think we need to push the legislature to grant the court more authority, more power to make decisions that will benefit all of the citizens of Hays County. So, I just think that that needs to happen. We need to look at that and we need to make sure that we push that. I don’t think that should be tabled. I think we need to be talking to our state representatives and those in legislation to plead our case. I think that they are very much aware, but we just need to come to the table and see if we can come to an agreement. But yeah, the court needs more power to make decisions that will benefit the citizens.

SMLN: Should the county ever offer economic development incentives, and, if so, what kind of incentives and under what conditions?

Bryant: Well, I do think we need to stimulate economic development in Hays County. But you know, we don’t want to pay people to come here. We want people to want to come here, and we want businesses to come here. I think we are an attractive county right now. So, at this point, you know, I’m not sure exactly, I’m not privy to what has happened in the past on the court as far as offering incentives, and also whether they worked or failed. But I do know that I have been involved in that type of relationship on a city level. I felt, as a city councilman, that we no longer needed to do that. People began to want to come, we [inaudible] to pay people to be here. I’d be willing to listen to the rationale for paying people to come here. I’m not totally against that, but at this point, my first inclination would be to be careful with offering incentives.

Jones: I think it should be very limited, if at all. It depends on the circumstance and what type of incentive it was. If it was maybe just a delayed incentive where you delay the taxes on it for a year or two to get them kind of — but, as a county government, I don’t see that we have that much room to be bringing a whole lot of incentives, especially if it’s a competing business with businesses that have already been here and have been [inaudible] and paying taxes to the county. I don’t want to give someone an unfair advantage over someone that has already been here.

SMLN: What is the county’s role in the creation of jobs and wealth?

Jones: I think the main thing the county can do as far as job creation is making sure that our — trying to keep taxes as low as possible and run a government as efficiently as possible. If we can provide those basic services as far as police protection, law enforcement, fire and emergency services, and make it as easy as possible for businesses, to try without interfering — with as least amount of interference into businesses as we can, so that they can come in here and do what they do best, and just stay out of the way and let the competition take care of the job creation, creating jobs.

Bryant: I think that, as elected officials, we definitely need to be cognizant of the employment rate in the county. Currently, it is an issue, as it is nationally. And so, I really think that we need to help supply jobs to our citizens. Again, that’s staying close to the commercial businesses, talking with them, working with them, and trying to see what will best benefit the citizens. I think that will increase the employment rate here in Hays County. I’m not sure what we can do on a national level, but I’m sure we can do something here at a local level, and I think that should be a priority in trying to get people jobs.

SMLN: What is the county’s role in support of the economically disadvantaged?

Bryant: Well, again, not being on the court this time, I’m not sure how big a player the court is in working with the economically disadvantaged. I am aware that they are doing some work in this area, but I’m not sure how big that area is. I will say that I think it is an important piece. I think we need to take care of all of our people. We need to meet the needs, we need to partner with other organizations, and we need to insure that all of our citizens in Hays County are taken care of. There are people that are at a disadvantage in our county, and those people count, as well. It is our job to take care of all of our people and to follow up and to ensure that the loved ones of the economically disadvantaged [inaudible] as well as those that are actually involved — participants of the economically disadvantaged group. To me, that’s just very important. In my career, I’ve worked with the disadvantaged — mentally disadvantaged, mentally challenged, those that are financially challenged, those that are behaviorally challenged. That’s been a part of my career for 20-plus years and I will always champion getting the best I can for this group of people. I will always be a spokesperson for this population, and I’ll push that on the court, as well.

Jones: I think providing just basic services like we do through the health center, health services through the county. Make sure that their areas of the county are not neglected as far as roads and fire and police protection. And make sure that the same services are available to everybody in the county, no matter where they live.

SMLN: Within the last couple years, the county has passed new development regulations and a master plan. What do these initiatives address, and what do they leave left to be done?

Jones: The development regulations, especially in the PGMA (Priority Groundwater Management Area), they go a little too far. They make the amount of acreage that you have to have a well on too large, and that needs to be looked at again. I think that if elected, one of the things we need to do through the commissioners court is re-look at the subdivision regulations and go back over those. I do think there’s some room to make some changes in them. I think there’s a chance of having some unintended consequences from what they were intended to do.

Bryant: I have not had the opportunity to look as closely at this as I would like to, but I will say I’m aware that LCRA (Lower Colorado River Authority) is doing strategic planning at no cost, but I think from what I’ve heard is, it needs — the generalities in it need to be more specific. What little I’ve seen — again, I have not had the opportunity to scrutinize it as close as I’d like to, but I look forward to doing that — but my understanding is the generalities need to be a little more specific in addressing certain issues. At this point I don’t want to mislead you or give you the wrong answer, because I would love to have more time to just digest it in its entirety before I give you my real feelings about this. Hopefully, you’ll allow me to do that and the citizens of Hays County will allow me to do that, because once I do, I think I can better answer and make better decisions. Concerning the development regulations, again I’ve not had to review it as much as I’d like. I will be reviewing it. There’s a lot of [inaudible] I need to know and I want to know, concerning the regulations. I would hesitate to give you an answer just to give you one, because that’s just not who I am. I want to know what I’m talking about, and, at this point, I don’t have the information that I need to give you a clear answer.

SMLN: How should the county address its jail problem?

Bryant: Well, the jail is over 20 years old and currently has 362 beds, and I think 56 have gone to females. But we need to look at developing and funding a modern jail facility in Hays County. I know there are two options on the table. One is to build it from the ground up, and the other is to renovate the current jail. And after looking at all the information, I am very strongly — I’m a very strong supporter of renovating the jail, because it will give us what we need. It will give us an additional 15-plus years, so I’m really — plus it will save the taxpayers’ money. I’d rather look at $15-20 million versus 50, 60, 70 million dollars. And so, I really think that it will give us an excellent jail, but I think we need to really continue to looking at [inaudible]. The beds cost quite a bit, and also, if we can look at some alternatives to incarceration. There is the electronic monitoring device that I think we can push stronger and harder. I don’t think the jail is using a lot of this right now. The probation department can look at this, and this will save some bed space as an alternative to incarceration. We also need to look at pretrial service programs. This will keep [inaudible] on the jail also, and it will allow the probation department to provide community supervision. Because when that bed space is used, it costs. We need to look at that because [inaudible] the pretrial status consists of felons [inaudible] are bed holders, and the biggest population in and out within three days or so is misdemeanors. We also have  inmates going to the Guadalupe (County) jail. That’s costing us money upwards of about $500,000 a year. And so, with the renovation, we can keep and absorb that cost in-house, we can keep our inmates. But the other thing I think we need to look at is moving felons through the jail to the state (jail) expeditiously. I think right now sometimes they (inmates) sit longer than they need to sit. We need to determine where they’re going. Either they’re going home, or probation, or they’re going to the state facility. That decision, I think, needs to be pushed, and that decision needs to be made as quickly as possible. I know they are doing the best they can at the courts when they have these inmates, but if we can just at least look at this a little closer to see if we can move them a little quicker to their destination, this, again, will let us save money and bed space.

Jones: First of all, we have to have more communication between the sheriff’s department and the (commissioners) court. Including the sheriff and the people that work in the jail — we need to get some more of their input on what problems there are and what can be done, because they’re the ones that work in the jail every day. My problem with the current consultants (Broaddus and Associates) that we’re using is, I don’t know how much experience they’ve had building jails in the past. Their reputation is mainly been from building college campuses and college buildings. I think we need to have someone that has an experience of building jails but, at the same time, also listen to the staff that we have that work in that jail every day, and get their input, because I think they have the best idea of what the problems are. I would say (find) someone that has experience either renovating jails and also building new ones. We need to look at what would be the best option, whether it’s renovating the current jail or building a new one on that spot, or building a new one somewhere else. I wish we had taken more of a look — we’ve gone too late now, but I wish we’d looked at it more — of looking at building the jail and the justice center as one complex like they have in Williamson County and Bell County. I don’t think they gave enough consideration to that, because that would have saved a lot of — would have been a lot cheaper and a lot more efficient, from what I’ve been able to see. But that’s not a possibility anymore. So, I want to get some input from the sheriff, people that work in the jail, and also people have experience renovating jails and building new jails.

SMLN: What do you think of the county funding the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District? Do you support full Chapter 36 authority for that groundwater district, and why or why not?

Jones: As far as continued funding, that would be on an annual basis. I wouldn’t want to go farther than one year out. At this point, I would not be in favor of granting them Chapter 36. I just think that it grants more power than is necessary and that there are other mechanisms in there to protect the aquifer. And I just think Chapter 36 might be a roundabout way to stop growth in certain areas.

Bryant: I have not had the opportunity to review this in its entirety and to gain a full understanding in order to be able to answer this question. So at this point, I want more time before going to the court to be able to get well-educated in this area and to find out exactly where the court stands on this.

SMLN: What roads and transportation issues in the (county for judge, precinct for commissioners) need the most attention, in your view?

Bryant: First of all, I think roads in Hays County need lots of attention, but, in Precinct 2, I think that we definitely need to not lose our focus on (FM) 1626. It definitely needs to be rebuilt. This project [inaudible] consists of reconstructing 6.8 miles of the existing FM 1626. The existing road is a two-lane rural roadway with limited — or really no — shoulders and severe low-water areas. So, the roadway would have to be reconstructed as a five-lane rural facility and then the county would develop and work together to help develop this where it will alleviate congestion and bring about better safety. This is one of the roads that I think needs to happen. Because if this happens, the proposed improvements include widening (FM) 1626 to an overall pavement width of 80 feet. And that will consist of four [inaudible] lanes, two in each direction and 10-foot shoulders. So, it definitely would benefit to take care of that to allow our citizens to travel safely to their destination and back home. The other road I think we need to look at is (SH) 45. And I know most of this highway is in Travis (County), but a small portion is in Hays County, so we really need to look at it, as well to make sure that we make the right connections with that road, as well. These are important roads. We have others that also are definitely important, but if I could think of a couple, those would be the two that I would think of first that we must continue. We’ve had some opposition in dealing with these roads, and, I think, what we have more people, in my experience of talking with the citizens — that want this to happen. So, I’m pushing and promoting this to happen.

Jones: Number one is (FM) 1626 and getting (SH) 45 complete on the books.

SMLN: It would appear that the county is nearing the last allocations from its $30 million parks bond of 2007. How do you assess the success of the program? Should the county attempt to accommodate a shooting sports complex, one way or the other?

Jones: I think they’ve done some good things with it. I’m all in favor of green space and park areas. I know that they’ve had some problems with the Five Mile Dam Park, mainly because it’s — who’s got control over it, the county or the city. But, overall, I think they’ve done a pretty good job with how they used the proceeds from the bond. But as far as shooting complex, I think there’s enough interest in it right now that it probably does make sense, but I would want to make sure that it’s something that ought to be done through private industry first, and then we go from there.

Bryant: Well, I am in favor of a shooting range in Hays County. I believe that this is an Olympic sport. I think right now there’s a task force looking at this and I believe that proposal’s already been submitted. So we’ll see how that [inaudible] being proposed. But our law enforcement officers need a place to practice. Currently, many people that I know personally are going to Caldwell County to their shooting range. I just really believe we need to have that here. My understanding in looking at it is they have one spot identified in San Marcos. That could be the one they choose. I’ve heard of that one. My understanding is that the noise would be muffled and a sound study would be done. It would be a nice range consisting of archery, shotguns, rifles and pistols, and [inaudible]. Regional competitions and tournaments would also be held there. So, I think that it will really benefit the citizens in Hays County. I’m not sure — I think, right now, we need to look at seeing how this can be paid for, particularly maybe out of the economic development tax dollars. But we really need to — I’m in favor of this. I would like to see a shooting range come to Hays County. I don’t know how much money that would entail at this time. I think we’re looking at proposals, the county, and from there, I think, decisions could be made after they gather all of the appropriate information. We also have to talk to stakeholders, the citizens of Hays County, their issues and concerns, to see where they’re at. And also educating, for those that aren’t aware, on the dos and the don’ts of shooting ranges. So yeah, I would like to see that happen. I definitely want to see what my constituents or the stakeholders are saying. So far, what I’ve heard, personally, is that people want to see it come this way.

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