Hays County Precinct 4 commissioner candidates Ray Whisenant, left, and Karen Ford, right. Photos by Sean Batura.
By SEAN BATURA
In 2006, Karen Ford (D-Dripping Springs) won election as Hays County’s Precinct 4 Commissioner, beating incumbent Russ Molenaar (R-Dripping Springs).
Now, Ford is being challenged, as Dripping Springs business owner and former Dripping Springs ISD Trustee Ray Whisenant (R-Dripping Springs) has thrown his hat into the ring.
San Marcos Local News asked an identical set of questions to each candidate. Published here are the questions and answers, unedited except for punctuation and publication style.
San Marcos Local News: What is the most important challenge facing Precinct 4, and how should the commissioners court address that challenge?
Ray Whisenant: First of all, growth is an overall consideration. It’s going to be pretty important for Precinct 4, as well as Hays County, generally. You’ve got your operational needs of the county that you always have to meet. There’s still infrastructure needs, and, of course, water. It’s my opinion that we want to do the best we can to maintain a level of service that protects the public, keeps them safe and healthy, and a lot of those things either directly or indirectly affect that. But I think growth is the driving issue behind any of that. And, of course, water is going to be one of the more important issues involved in growth.
Karen Ford: As with much of our county, I think the biggest issue facing Precinct 4 is water. And having enough water to grow the way that we know we will be growing in the next 10, 20, 30 years. [inaudible] long-term issue. I think that one of the ways that we’re addressing it even now is trying to focus on another source of water, which is rainwater, and educate people about rainwater and the value of it and the benefits of it and the goodness of it, so that more people will look at that as a viable source of water — for residential and even businesses — for potable uses and non-potable uses. At our Precinct 4 office in Dripping Springs, we collect rainwater and use it for landscape irrigation. It cuts down on our water bill and lets us slowly release that captured rainwater so we can use it in the dry period. The rainwater revival that we have coming up in October is a production of the water conservation working group that I put together last year, of staff folks, other political entities, the groundwater districts, nonprofits, and citizens who are enthusiasts, to really talk about how we can look at the water issue from an education/conservation and alternative use of groundwater. I think the commissioners court can better incentivize those things, and we’re looking at ways we can do that from a programmatic standpoint. I think the other thing we have can do is restrict growth and development that is solely dependent on the groundwater in an effort to protect and preserve groundwater, an effort to protect and preserve springflow. Those are important things for our area. We know that as the economy picks back up and we see development coming back it, it is likely that development will foot the bill to bring other surface water sources to other parts of our precinct. I would suspect that the first thing that may happen is that the LCRA (Lower Colorado River Authority) waterline from Hamilton pool will eventually come down RR 12 and supply those subdivisions that are dependent on groundwater now that have trouble with water, as well as build new developments and eventually connect with that LCRA waterline that’s coming down U.S. 290. So there will be eventually other surface water. It will be expensive. We will continue to try to educate and motivate folks to look at rainwater as a very viable source.
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?
Ford: I think it’s just a little hiccup. The state is still strong, not the way other states may be. The community certainly is very desirous in terms of its economic activity, center of government, center of education. We will continue to grow. I don’t think the outlook and the projections are going to be far off. When the economy comes back, we will continue to grow. We have brought new jobs to Hays County in the last four years with Grifols and with Seton and with US Foods. Those are three terrific examples of good businesses to attract other businesses, good industry sectors that attract other good businesses. The location, the position between Austin and San Antonio, is certainly a growth position. We will be, our challenge will be not just be a bedroom community, but to attract those businesses that help fuel our economy at the same time. We want to be a place where people can find great places to live and, also, great jobs. So, I think that’s our outlook and I think that’s still going to be the future of Hays County. I don’t see any long-term problem from this current situation right now. Now, people are suffering, but relative to the rest of the world, we’re in pretty good shape, and I think we’ll continue to be a booming economy very shortly.
Whisenant: In the years prior, different courts have had the financial advantage because the economic circumstance of growth and the fact that they had a continually-expanding tax base, stable or increasing values. So that made it a lot easier to fund growth, to keep up the minimum required county duties. I think in the economic picture that we’re seeing this year, there’s been a slight decline in, or at least an absolute slowing of growth. Maybe even we’ve shrunk a little bit in terms of taxable values. So, that has its relation and direct affect on the abilities of a county to raise revenue at a given tax rate or even an effective tax rate. So, given that trend, I personally feel like for the next two to three years, you’re going to see that make a — I would say slow recovery is my optimistic opinion. If things are not as optimistic as I consider it, it could be a slight or more shrinkage in the value and, therefore, the revenues. I’m hoping we can hold our own and continue to slightly grow as the economy improves. But, I think, nationally, it’s going to be a little slower recovery. I think, statewide, we’re going to see ourselves with a distinct advantage in terms of our state economy is growing as strong as any state economy currently, in terms of literal size and [inaudible] in terms of those considerations. But we’ve been a working society in Texas, and I think that’s going to help in the upcoming period.
SMLN: As the county becomes more urbanized and more densely populated, how does that change the role of county government?
Whisenant: The changing role of county government is something that I’m certain will come with — there’s going to be urban areas in Hays County, like any other county. I think the fact of Interstate-35 and the fact of U.S. 290 probably lends those two corridors to more dense growth and at least what you would call — I’m not sure I would even consider that area in Dripping Springs along the 290 corridor as urban, but it’s absolutely suburban growth. Along I-35, that area has always been destined to be an elongated metropolitan complex. I know that in my economic courses at Southwest Texas State University in 1970 and 1971, the projections then for the I-35 corridor were that it would be a [inaudible] city at some point in the early part of this millennium. I think county government is going to be more involved in some of the considerations of long-term planning for development. Because of a given number of features, I think it can be done as long as it’s done with the [inaudible] that the people that we’re regulating would be continuing to govern, have a true basis and believe in property owners’ rights. That there’s going to have to be some generalizations made about development throughout the county on a long-term basis. We’ve been seeing some activity in the municipalities in Hays County, the town hall meetings, the extended planning for areas within the little municipalities, that give them the need for being able to make decisions that are going to affect things on a little more long-term basis. That may even involve some additional legislation for counties to give them some expanded authority in those terms. My personal opinion is this should be something that should be done on a see-how-it-works basis, on a minority consideration as opposed to a majority consideration. Meaning that, let’s do a little of this to start with and see how we can handle it and move to greater control and make sure of ourselves that we need it or we regulate it in a different way, if that’s necessary.
Ford: We will still be looking at playing the role or having the role that we do now. It may be diminished in some areas, like law enforcement. If we have a lot of urban growth and a lot of police departments start taking over for those communities and cities that have grown enough to support a police force, then we will be more relegated as backup to those and covering the parts of the county that are not incorporated. We’ll always have to have roads. We will continue with our road and maintenance program. I think the role of county government is still as important and as critical in an urbanizing situation because we still have — unless the rules of the Texas Legislature change — the budget still supports a lot of services throughout the county. That is our court system, that is our tax assessor-collector’s office, that is our district clerk’s office, that’s our county clerk’s office, that’s our fire marshal, who covers the whole county. It will make it more important for us to look at the importance of preservation of open space and contributions for recreational space. That is a quality of life issue that is important to preserve in a growing county, in an urbanizing county — that we don’t just have [inaudible] rooftops. That we still have places to get out and enjoy and look at view sheds and walk through and learn from them. The reasons that many of us came here in the first place, attracted to a rural area. If you promote that, preserve that rural aspect and that cultural aspect, I think you’re doing a valuable service for the future of a community. So, I think that’s one of the roles of our county government that we can continue to play.
SMLN: Does the county need more powers granted by the state legislature? What kinds of powers? How hard should the county push for them?
Ford: I wouldn’t say powers, necessarily, but I’d say yes, we need increased authority in some areas to better govern and manage the growth that we are facing. For the past three years, I’ve been a part of the Hill Country County Coalition, which is a gathering — not a formal group, but a self-directed gathering of county commissioners, county judges, county attorneys from 15 counties in the Hill Country — who talk about issues of growth and managing for the public’s safety and welfare and what additional tools we need to better do that job. And the three things that we came up that we put into legislation that (State Representative) Patrick Rose (D-San Marcos) carried last year [inaudible]. We’re going to work on a legislative effort until these things get addressed. The three things that we asked for is the ability to set density limits on growth so we can look at areas that could be more densely populated in the respective counties that need a little less density to put less pressure on the resources. The second thing is what we call some rules to prevent incompatible land uses. Right now, counties can give setbacks from the roads, we have the ability to set [inaudible] from a road closely you can build something to a road. The incompatible land use (authority) would, in effect, give us the ability to have setbacks on all sides of a property for something that might be perceived as incompatible. The example that everyone gives is the ability to prevent a rock crushing plant, or cement plant or something from coming in and getting built right next to a neighborhood. Where you have air quality and noise issues, and water issues. So, the ability for the commissioners court to have some controls for incompatible land uses, I think, is important. The third thing is what we call infrastructure recovery fees, also known as impact fees. That when development comes and — let’s give an example: of putting a big development with 250-500 homes out on a small road, that the county then needs to upgrade that road to accommodate the new traffic. We would actually have an ability to have an impact fee or an infrastructure recovery fee on that development to help pay for the upgrade to that road to accommodate the new cars that their development would put on that road. We don’t have that ability right now. That would be a fair — an important thing to have so that our current taxpayers are not footing the bill for new development, that the new development foots its own bill and the folks that are coming here are paying for the upgrade needed to accommodate them. Those are the three areas of increased county authority that Hill Country County Coalition has focused on, and those are three areas which I think we certainly support.
Whisenant: As far as having more ability to govern or plan on a longer-term basis, under the current statutes, those powers are very limited. I’m not sure they should be all-out powers of the county, but I think they should be expanded some because those laws and statutes were written and have served well for the time that didn’t mirror the types of considerations we have now. What type of powers, I think they should be generally regulatory. In terms of pushing for them, I think it’s something that needs to be addressed. Even if you press moderately hard, it may take the state legislature a couple sessions to accomplish something that would be meaningful to begin with. But I can see in the next, or in the following legislative session, I think we need to see that addressed. Or at least discussed at length and considered, because until they are willing to consider it, I’m not sure they’re ever going to discuss it. My small experience — I don’t have a lot of experience with the legislature at the state level, but I do know that sometimes it takes a little time to get things accomplished in a manner that’s constructive.
SMLN: Should the county ever offer economic development incentives, and, if so, what kind of incentives and under what conditions?
Whisenant: My opinion on economic incentives, I think, are just like any other business incentive. If the county has the ability to offer these incentives, they have to consider it in terms of revenue and tax base, and after considering, whether just like any business would, whether that type of investment is something they have the ability to make and the ability to sustain the commitment that they make. Because what they’re actually doing to some extent is serving as a little bit of a financial option or financial method for development. Now, the main thing that I’d like to see in that, it’s like any business circumstance — if it’s a win-win, it’s pretty easy to tell. I think if you don’t compete with other municipalities or jurisdictions for growth and the type of growth you’d like to see for your community, you’re going to find yourself at a distinct disadvantage. So, I would consider incentives, economic incentives, but, quite frankly, I’d like to consider those things on a one-per-case basis. Blanket types of incentives, in certain cases, I think lend themselves to too broad of an interpretation or application. Incentives in terms of infrastructure, I think, have to be approached very cautiously. Tax abatements is something that should be considered equally closely. Because all those could affect the ability of the county to maintain its basic mission and deliver the minimum things required to its citizens.
Ford: Well, we have, like I said, given some incentives in the past four years. I would say incentives — it’s really more of a tax break for a certain limited period of time coming in. We did that for Grifols and we did it for Seton and we are doing something for US Foods, too. What we did for Seton, actually, was agree to build a road for them, and the same thing for US Foods — that we would build a road up to a certain standard. They are actually paying us back out of their tax bill. So, I think when you’re looking at companies that are coming here that are going to bring good jobs and are investing heavily in their own infrastructure, that we certainly should look at how we can help them. I do not think counties should incentivize retail or residential growth. That’s going to happen on its own. We don’t have to incentivize that. We want to bring good jobs here and good companies that will be a foundation for our tax base. I have also said that I felt like it would be good for the county to have some rules or some criteria of when we do and when we don’t incentivize a company, some really clear set of criteria that we might consider for incentives. I know there’s different ways to do it and I don’t think we’ve explored all of those in my first term, but they’ll definitely come up. You have TIRZ, tax increment refinancing zones, and things like that. I think it should be a limited authority. I don’t think we should go crazy with it. I think we should look at the long term on what the impact is going to be and the unintended impact and not strap ourselves too much with giving away a lot to get a little. So, I do believe in it. I do think there needs to be a firmer policy and some guidelines for commissioners court. And I do think it’s important if we’re going to attract and grow and be able to depend on balance of commerce and industry against our level of residential growth.
SMLN: What is the county’s role in the creation of jobs and wealth?
Ford: I think the best we can do is try to make sure that we have an [inaudible] and an environment of, and an economy that is not strapped with so much debt and that we do look to balancing residential and industrial/commercial growth. I also think we need to have a balance of keeping some of our fine ranch land in place. If a farmer or rancher wants to fill their land with a mall, then they can do that, but those are the three things that really kind of, you want to balance on. If you have too much residential growth, you’re going to always be trying to play catch-up in serving that growth with a limited tax base. You really try to balance it with commercial, industrial and farm and ranch land. Those are the ones that help provide a good tax income but don’t require a lot of services. Keeping up a sound economy is going to be imperative.
Whisenant: The role of the county in terms of the creating of jobs and wealth is a very basic economic consideration. I think if you’re going to go out here and make a good investment with the taxpayer’s dollar, that’s good government. I do not consider circumstances of a speculative nature or front or rear-loaded deals as county obligation or responsibility. And economic development is what creates jobs. Government itself, in my opinion, is not a job-creating circumstance, and but I think there is some basic responsibility, there is some basic opportunity [inaudible] private enterprise and government can create circumstances that are beneficial to the community overall.
SMLN: What is the county’s role in support of the economically disadvantaged?
Whisenant: There are moral obligations as well as practical or economic considerations. Generally, I think you’ll find the public, and I think you’ll find most everybody involved, are always more willing to help somebody willing to help themselves. And if there’s circumstances that don’t meet that criteria, then I think you’ll find they fall under the areas of maybe people that are physically or mentally-challenged and the public role is always going to be necessary there. There may be some economic opportunity there for private enterprise. The only problem that goes with that is that it requires as much or more regulation. Regulation usually creates jobs, but it creates demand that sometimes are only met by the government side of society.
Ford: Some of that is mandated by the state in terms of our health care requirement for indigents, low income. And so we’re mandated by the State of Texas, but we also receive grants from the State of Texas. Those grants are not guaranteed every year, but, so far, they’ve been there. We do have a requirement from the state to see that a certain percent of our budget should go towards serving our low-income and indigent folks. The other way that we choose in Hays County to do that is through social service funding — grants to social services groups. That is something we don’t have to do. That is something we choose to do through our support of the food bank, our support youth-oriented programs to help youth at-risk, our support even of libraries, which give access to books for folks who maybe can’t go down to Barnes and Noble. We fund the Hays Caldwell Women’s Center, that’s an issue that affects all income levels. I think that’s just another way that we choose to serve those populations, is through our social service grants.
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?
Ford: The (creation of the) development regulations was a long time coming. It was not done quickly or flawlessly. There was a lot of stakeholder input into those, we have a good consultant leading that. And I think we spent probably — the county spent four years developing those. I think that we’re seen to have a very complete and comprehensive, aggressive set of regulations. I won’t say that they should be done and nobody looks at them. I’m hoping that those regulations continue to be dynamic. Where there are unintended consequences and problems caused by them, I think that we should look at those again. I think that there may be areas where we could even do more to incentivize development that is low-impact development. We have some incentives for that, but maybe not enough and not enough education for low-impact. But I see it as a dynamic process, a document that will continue to shift and grow. Or diminish if need be. The strategic plan, I think, is a good start for us to hear from our citizenry, of the amount of public surveying and public meetings, that give a sense of what people want and what they like to see their tax money spent on, how they want to see their county grow. We want people to feel pride in where they live and feel like they have a role [inaudible] holding on to quality of life issues that are important to them. So, I think it becomes a road map. I think it’ll be interesting to see how this next court values and uses that strategic policy plan. It was a product that was driven bravely by the current county judge, and with her leading the court, I’m hoping that we will take up the mantle and continue to look at that blueprint for the county’s growth.
Whisenant: I think, for the most part, by necessity, the county is required by statute and by practical application of their authority to try to regulate in the unincorporated areas. In my opinion, the regulations and site development ordinances most recently passed probably has some things in it that are a little more stringent than they need to be. Sometimes the adage “If you’re going to do a good job, do it all the way” is not a bad rule to follow, but if you’re doing that and creating an economic disadvantage for yourself, sometimes those decisions have to reconsidered or at least considered in the light of a period of operation compared to their overall economic impact on the community and the government. Specifically, public statements I made in regards to that during the period of time they were considering those, I feel like probably the six-acre minimum lot size probably could have been more like five acres because at least it held us in some in some reasonable economic parity with surrounding counties. I’m not sure that people like to hear the term “compete for growth,” but I think there’s some consideration of the fact that people are going to look at where they’re going to move to from a given spot they’re at because of economic considerations, and if the cost of living, the cost of building a home, the cost of buying and owning the land is higher than someone that’s reasonably close to us or, say, three to five miles, 10 miles further down a major thoroughfare, I think that will put us at some economic disadvantage. The other thing is the environment. The environmental stewardship of any governmental body has to be taken in prime consideration. This is the only planet we’ve got to live on. We need to do our best to try to take care of it in a responsible manner, try to practice some environmental stewardship as we move forward.
SMLN: How should the county address its jail problem?
Whisenant: I my opinion, currently the county is doing a reasonably good job of trying to address that problem. Given the fact of possibly some slowing of the economy, which, I’m certain, will have some affect on crime rate, whether it will result in a decrease in crime is still yet to be judged. It appears that by general statistics Hays County is somewhat lucky from the standpoint that our growth is slowed, but we haven’t seen an increased crime rate. I think that the studies done by the court at this point generally lend good credence to the fact that the jail facility can in the near future be expanded to meet demands and hopefully give the taxpayer time to catch a breath and/or take the opportunity to do more studies to make decisions on a long-term basis for that facility, which may mean an additional facility at some other site. I think the current plans probably mean we’re going to have optimized opportunities at the current site and the property adjacent to it.
Ford: Well, I think we are addressing it. And unfortunately, because there hasn’t been money spent to address these problems in the past, we are having to pay money to fix the problem now. I think we’re looking at, certainly, a lot of the upgrades and repairs, we are also going to grow our bed capacity on-site. I am glad we were able to look at that in a cost-beneficial analysis and see that it makes economic sense for us to stay where we are, build, improve, and bring up to date, so we have better working conditions for our corrections personnel and better situation for inmates so that this does not put us out of compliance with our state jail standards. So I think that the decisions that have been made are the decisions that are sound economically and take us fairly into the future.
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?
Ford: I have supported the county funding a portion of the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District (HTGCD) in the past. And until they have a funding source separate from that, I suppose we will continue to provide some funding for them. I am involved in a stakeholder group of about 20, 25 folks from all aspects of this groundwater issue who are discussing how we can have a financially-sustainable groundwater district. And so we are expecting that at some point we don’t want the groundwater district to depend upon the county. It’s not the way groundwater districts in other areas are. And it was a result of this particular enabling legislation sort of hamstringing our groundwater district in this area. And yes, I would like to see Chapter 36 authority to be afforded to this groundwater district. Even in our stakeholder discussion, there are some powers that are awarded by Chapter 36 that are not deemed important, necessary, or vital to the thriving of a groundwater district, and certainly not ones here, and so there may be, I think there’s some agreement on maybe more — definitely more — of Chapter 36 authorities, but possibly not all of them. So, I think we’ll see some things come out of this stakeholder group, a consensus from a diversity of viewpoints and backgrounds, that will see some legislation in 2011 that will help our groundwater district become more autonomous, because I think they should be. Even with Chapter 36 authorities, there is still the need to educate constituencies about what those are, what the limits of those are and to — if we are going to have any type of ad valorem, that it goes to the voters. So that’s what we’re looking at right now.
Whisenant: In terms of supporting full Chapter 36 authority for the district, that’s not what I supported when it was originally set up. I think, given the circumstances and what has happened over the last nine years, what we’ve got to work with right now is a district that’s seen a change in the leadership of it. I think the general public needs to gain some more confidence in the leadership of the district and the direction of the district before they give them additional authority. I think the effort through the stakeholders committee that’s currently now meeting in regards to that exact question has been very positive and well-guided by Dr. Sansom of the River Systems Institute. I think there will be some be some good information and recommendations coming out of that that I think stand a positive opportunity for the general voting public to be considered and approved. I think the majority of Chapter 36 is going to be instituted. I think you’ll probably generally see a lesser role of the county government in the operation of the HTGCD. Considerably less in those terms. I there is a chance you may see a very limited ad valorem tax come out it. I think the first question to be answered even now is, the TCEQ has issued a statement, and I guess to some extent based that information received from the previous leadership of the district and by a resolution of the county court, that it should possibly be abandoned and/or combined with portions of Travis and Comal County into a more regional groundwater district. I do not favor that. We have legislation, we have a local district that was approved by local referendum, and I think we should continue to make additional strides in having that become more active as well as effective method of local control.
SMLN: What roads and transportation issues in the county need the most attention, in your view?
Whisenant: I would have to say, first of all, the completion of the current projects on U.S. 290 through Dripping Springs in terms of traffic control, that’s where the most prominent traffic — and, I think to some extent, the [inaudible] safety concerns are, currently. Ranch Road 12, that will have to eventually be addressed. I think now is as good a time as any to begin planning it, in terms of transportation aspects from the Ranch Road 12/32 intersection at least to the county line. I think the more immediate needs, there’s Elder Hill Road, County Road 170 that runs from Ranch Road 12 to (SH) 150, it has to be addressed for safety issues. And the reason being, that road, because of the changes in traffic in west, south west Austin, has met that thoroughfare from Ranch Road 12, (SH) 150 [inaudible] highly traveled by. A majority of people out of Wimberley are in jobs in Austin because they go across there a short distance up 150 and a short distance down (FM) 1626 to Texas 45 and basically up the south end of Mopac. A lot of people drive that road. I’m a little ambivalent about the improvement of it. I hope that we can do things through the constabulary to [inaudible] speed limits on it. The road is not as safe as it should be, especially for the types and numbers of vehicles that travel it. There are a number of smaller county roads in north Hays County that are going to need some attention. The majority of them are in pretty good shape. They’ve currently doing some work on what’s known as “Creek Road.” There’ll have to be some more work done on that. There are a couple of smaller, shorter sections of more obscure county roads that are going to need some attention in the future. McGregor Lane out to Fitzhugh is pretty good. But McGregor Lane to [inaudible] into Blanco County is going to eventually need some more improvement.
Ford: Now we’re trying to get underway and get our bond roads designed and completed as quickly as possible. Those were the priorities in our area. There are certain roads that I feel need some attention. We are still working on — have had to go back and reduce the scope of a bond road on 2001, when that bond ran out of money. But we still needed to do improvements to Mt. Gainor Road, and we are doing those now with what’s left in that 2001 bond. We know that Elder Hill Road is going to need some serious improvement over not only the base of it, but the drainage on it and things like that. That’s probably a road that will be in our program in the future. It’s a long road and lots of people from Precinct 3 use that road as it cuts through to the Wimberley area, Wimberley Valley. So, at some point, we’ll be looking at some things in this next budget in this next fiscal year, to start looking at some design and some improvements on that road. For the most part, I think the Precinct 4 roads are in pretty good shape. I will tell you that under county maintenance, we have about 750 miles of roadway throughout the county that are maintained, and about 325 miles of those are in Precinct 4. So that’s more miles to manage and maintain and keep up with than any other precinct in the county with the same size [inaudible] and sometimes even breadth, and I think we do a pretty good job out here. We’re always welcoming citizens to call us with road issues and road needs, and we will take care of those as quickly as we can. But the focus for the next year or two is going to be to finish those bond roads, get the center lane on U.S. 290 in the middle of Dripping Springs going west, get that underway and done as quickly as we can.
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?
Ford: We are down to I think the last $3.4 million to allocate to recreation and open space/water quality land. I think that we have basically done — the process has not been always perfect [inaudible]. Everybody hasn’t agreed on every single thing, but in the end, when we look back, I think we had a pretty good program. I fully expect to have the Dripping Springs Harrison Ranch Park project, which is going through its scoring with the Parks and Open Space Advisory Board (POSAB) now. I feel confident that it will score well and we’ll bring it back and ask for the full funding of $1.7 million. I’m glad we were able to find a property that had really good habitat, the opportunity to have a large number of acres for us to get credits for our mitigation bank for our habitat conservation plan, and to be able to purchase that property at a very good price. We have not closed on Nicholson Ranch, but there’s nothing that leads me to believe that we won’t. So, I think we ended up with a good balance of recreation and open space/water quality projects. Dahlstrom Ranch is a shining example of Hays County, where a lot of entities came together and made something important happen for not only water quality, but for ranching cultural heritage. And also that public access portion of that is [inaudible] there and unheard of, and I’m thankful that the (Dahlstrom) Family was willing to work with us to do it. As far as the shooting sports complex, I have always said publicly and to some members of the Shooting Sports Task Force that I didn’t feel like in this bond there was a place to purchase property for their complex. I think what they have talked about and discussed will be something that could be a benefit to the county in bringing that type of tourism here and folks into the county from other places to spend money and compete and train and do those things. So, I’m not opposed to a shooting sports complex. I come from a gun-toting family, so I’m not an anti-gun person at all. I did not feel like what they were asking for had a part, a place in this current bond as it was presented to the voters. I would like to see in the future — if they have not found another avenue to find land — that we might find a good parcel of land and we might consider for some tract that they can use their grant to develop that as a complex. There’s not enough money left in our bond right now to accommodate what we’ve seen them put forward as their needs and wants and desires. I know that the Trust for Public Land is a land trust that works with entities to help connect people to the land. I think they are willing to work with the Shooting Sports Task Force to help them find a piece of property and find some funding for it. So, I hope that they will be willing to work with the Trust for Public Land in the interim between now another bond [inaudible] to do that. As far as another bond election goes, what we did find in this count is that there is a lot of need and a lot of fabulous projects and property, and that people are willing to have bonds to support those kinds of things and even say “I will accept a tax increase to support that.” So, I suspect that there will be another parks and open space bond passed sometime in the future. I think it really depends on our economy right now. I don’t see coming back in the next year, or maybe two or even three. But maybe, in four to five years, it will be time for another bond.
Whisenant: Of course, I’m going to answer this question with a slight tilt towards Precinct 4. When it came to my attention in my attendance at the court — there was not a lot of information brought from the POSAB or from the commissioners themselves that was particular. So when the question was asked, “What dollars have been spent where?” it became fairly apparent that if the people of Precinct 4 didn’t do something, be a little more proactive through the municipalities, through groups and/or the commissioners, that there was going to be a fairly large difference between the funds that the other precincts had received out of that bond issue compared to Precinct 4. In terms of the dollars that have been spent out of the bond, in regard to what I was familiar with, in terms of the expressed or voted intent of the bond, I think it’s been fairly good. If you take all of the individual projects and look at them separately without placing them in context of their position in the precinct, I think the overall outcome of the bond is not bad. I would tend to agree with (Hays County Precinct 2) Commissioner (Jeff) Barton (D-Kyle) that hindsight is always better than foresight — I feel like there was some basic in the allocation and/or the scoring, the evaluation of projects and/or even — it appears the communication between the court, between the citizens committee (POSAB), I think, could have been better. And maybe some of the types of things are having to be considered on a short-term basis that have been extenuated and amplified by the current political situation, that — I think that, hopefully, voters will take what’s going to be done by the court at this time as an indication that, “Yes, we did the best we could. It may not be a perfect job, but at least we accomplished a number of the things we wanted to accomplish out of the stated reasons for the bond.” The court’s reopening of the call for projects, especially in the area of recreation, I think was probably one of the better considerations by the court at the current time and under the given circumstances. The outcome of that has a greater opportunity now of being somewhat, or being a little more fairly based than a continuance of the methods that I think really exemplified who was getting something done and making themselves heard compared to those who were maybe waiting to make a proposal, who were waiting to hear what the opportunities were. Even the citizens board changed names once during this process. Maybe the leadership of committees could have been a little more proactive [inaudible]. Maybe there was a little bit lacking in terms of guidance from the court, some of the county departments associated with that. But at this point I’m not going to point a finger at anybody, but it’s not hard for any of the people involved to see what the current circumstance is. And I think we heard most of the commissioners, I think we heard a couple people from the citizens committee, and we definitely heard from the citizens about their opinions in regards to shortcomings or our lack of consideration and/or [inaudible] communication about the scoring form or application of the bond funds. I will continue to support a shooting sports complex. I think there is a larger segment of the community and/or county than most people realize that have an interested in that, that want to see it done properly, that want to see it done safely. And, quite frankly, I think the most recent proposal, any area that it’s in, creates a good opportunity for a number of things — having a safe shooting sports complex, having it in an area that is highly accessible, having it in an area that gives some additional or added benefits to the type or [inaudible] piece of property that’s going to have to be purchased to provide the location that gives enough suitability, that adjacent property owners and communities can feel good about it. I feel like there maybe there should have been more interest. Maybe the shooting sports group really hasn’t really spent that much time approaching the City of San Marcos. But at the current location they’re considering, I would think there would need to be somewhat of a cooperative effort between Hays County and the City of San Marcos because, as a Precinct 4 resident, I don’t have any problem driving there to participate in it. But as far as the maintenance and upkeep and management of the complex, given the location, if it’s done well, it will be an economic plus for the San Marcos area. I understand that when it’s an economic plus for San Marcos, it’s also going to be an economic plus for Hays County. But the problem with that is, the general benefit to the county is going to be much less than the overall benefit to the municipal area. One of the good things about the current location is it’s one of the few locations that they could find that adjacent property owners, the municipality, the county, would consider using that type of use for it.Email | Print