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

Conley at a Hays County Commissioiners Court meeting in 2010. HAYS FREE PRESS PHOTO by CYNDY SLOVAK BARTON

by BRAD ROLLINS

Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley says Republican primary voters’ verdict in his race is a mandate to keep investing heavily in roads and infrastructure while modernizing Hays County government.

Conley, a Wimberley resident, won 2,604 votes (71.9 percent). San Marcos substitute teacher Sam Brannon won 1,017 votes (28.1 percent).

“I didn’t think this was just about Will Conley and Sam Brannon. I viewed it as a measurement of how citizens in our precinct and our county felt about the direction our Commissioners Court has been moving,” Conley said this morning. “We’ve taken a lot of criticism over the last several years from a small but very vocal contingent that has said over and over that the sky is falling. I think voters yesterday sent a strong message.”

Conley’s two terms in office — coinciding with the administrations of three different county judges — have been marked by an aggressive program of transportation improvements including a $207 million package of new and rebuilt roads approved by voters in 2008 after initially being rejected in 2007. The county has also spent or allocated $30 million on parks and open space acquisition backed by voter-approved debt.

During that time, the county borrowed tens of millions of dollars to build a new seat of county government on Wonder World Drive, which will end up costing about $61 million.

Those projects have come at a price. Brannon and his supporters pointed out that Hays County has the sixth-highest per capita debt load of any county in Texas, amounting to $1,800 per resident, and the highest debt load in the state when compared to appraised property values.

Conley and other county leaders protested loudly that those figures did not account for $133 million the Texas Department of Transportation is obligated to reimburse Hays County for road projects local residents paid for upfront. For some road projects, the county is actually turning a profit because the state is on the hook for more than the road cost to build.

When voters approved the 2007 parks bonds and 2008 road bonds, the county advertised widely that the project would result in a property tax rate increase of 6 to 7 cents per $100 in valuation.  So far, taxes have only increased 1.42 cents.

In addition, because many of the capital improvement projects were undertaken during a recession when construction prices were depressed, county taxpayers are on course to save $19 million on road projects and $10 million on the government center over the estimates used when the county committed to the projects, County Auditor Bill Herzog said. He said the court will decide in coming weeks whether to roll those savings into other road projects or use it to “buy down” the tax rate.

“In a few years, we’ll look back and say, ‘Everything could not have gone more beautifully with these capital projects and their financing than it has,'” said Herzog, who works for the county’s district judges, not the commissioners court. “I think people are quick to assume that our finances are like the federal government. We are not like that at all. We’re very conservative and our budgets are always balanced and we don’t deficit spend.”

Still, with austerity being the single most important Republican watchword in the last four years, it was hard to tell if Brannon would make in-roads with his anti-debt message. Tuesday’s results suggest he did not.

Conley said, “I’m honored that voters have given me the chance to keep serving them and keep working hard on improving the quality of life in Hays County.”

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30 thoughts on “Conley claims mandate for roads, capital projects

  1. 2600 votes does not a mandate make. Sounds more like voter apathy to me. I wonder, if we went out on the street today and asked 100 random folks, how many of them could even explain how the primary process works? Given that a 2011 survey found that 29% of our fellow citizens could not even name the sitting VP – its John Garner, by the way – I’m guessing less than half could nail it, much as I wish it were not so…

  2. I thought the campaign was about haircuts and family values.

    I pushed for the road bond package, was happy to see it pass, and am happy to see the much needed work being done. I’d still like to see the actuals vs. expected repayment projections, and an explanation of what our ultimate costs will be, how this debt impacts our finances while it is unpaid, etc.

    Also, I’m having trouble understanding what constitutes a mandate. 2600 votes for a candidate in Hays County is a mandate for roads. 2000 signatures on a petition against rezoning in San Marcos is a small, vocal group of busybodies. 2000-ish signatures on another San Marcos petition, this one about the booze ban, is a mandate.

    Just curious.

    At any rate, I’d love to see more road projects, more transparency, more checks on our fiscal responsibility, and less talk about stuff that does not matter (as evidenced by the fact that NONE of it was mentioned in this article. – Thanks for the vindication on that.)

  3. As I recall, the state is obligated to reimburse us *up to* $133 million, based on road usage. The article makes it sound like this is money in the bank, and I do not understand that to be the case.

    It seems kind of worrisome that you wrote “For some road projects, the county is actually turning a profit.” This sounds like you know where we stand on all of the roads, which makes me wonder how we are doing on the others, and why they weren’t mentioned.

  4. Ted,

    I’m going to try to dig up the info on the U.S. 290 reimbursement that I heard in court a couple months ago.

    I think it is the only road bond project that has been online long enough for the county to start receiving money back. But when they were making this presentation a while back, it was performing phenomenally well, with money coming in at the rate such that it would be paid off in a matter of two or three years (if my memory serves me) instead of the 20-year term for the “up too” part.

    Some of the roads, like FM 1626 and the Yarrington Road interstate bridge — which the county and TxDOT essentially traded out for FM 110 — haven’t been built or reimbursed yet. I don’t know about Ranch Road 12 but I will bet money right now that there is no way traffic count is going to come in less than expected on Ranch Road 12, especially with the tie in of Wonder World Drive.

    So I guess there is some uncertainty but I also know that when you compare that Williamson and Hays counties got with the “pass-through program” compared to the deals other got, the reimbursement rate was much better and with terms like quarterly payments instead of annual, etc.

    Anyway, the Report Card type thing you suggest on all the pass-through roads and whether they’ve been completed and whether the reimbursements have started is a good idea.

    See all this story that Wes Ferguson wrote in the Hays Free Press. It has lots of good information.

    http://haysfreepress.com/2012/05/01/challengers-questioning-hays-county-debt-load/

  5. I don’t have a transcript, but Commissioner Conley made a key point in his victory speech last night.

    It roughly went: If you worked for Brannon, it doesn’t matter anymore, it’s been forgiven and forgotten. We have far too much to do to live in the past.

    The voters had a choice. They chose to keep Will Conley. Respect that choice and work with, not against, Commissioner Conley to make Hays County the best it can be.

  6. I can no longer ride a bike. But, if new local roads & streets are built w/o allowance for alternate means of getting around (other than cars, that is) it will be a short term gain for a serious long term loss. We need for our citizens to be able to bike to work, to shop, to school, and to visit anywhere around town.

  7. Brad, thanks. I would bet that RR12 is on pace to get paid off early too. I hope that it is, because I’d like to see the same thing on the north side.

    That being said, I only know that it looks busy. I have no idea what the projected traffic was, what the actual traffic is, or what those mean for repayment. Ditto for any other road on the bond.

    RR12 has (I was told) embedded traffic counters. I suspect the others do, as well. We should be able to get that data easily. We ought to know what the projections were. We ought to know what we will get paid, per vehicle-mile.

    It is troubling that this data is not out there, easily accessible to all voters/taxpayers.

  8. Griffin, I did not work for Brannon, and I am not working against Conley. Sorry to disappoint you. These are questions I have been asking since we broke ground on the Wonder World extension.

  9. Ted, I didn’t mean to imply that, it was not directed at you or any one person. My point is that the Conley/Brannon race is over. However you feel, the voters have spoken. There is no need, and no support for continued negativity, from anyone. Keep positive and work towards positive results.

  10. For a number of years I’ve been carefully comparing roadways in neighboring counties as I travel through them, to San Antonio all the way North to Austin & Round Rock. Williamson, Travis, Caldwell, Comal and Bexar. I encourage all those whining about Hays County and the way we address our amazing growth & traffic… to do the same. In balance, you will find Hays County roadways and approaches to the population expansion well managed. I am overjoyed that voters understood Will Conley earned re-election on his record and service, people went to the polls & made a statement of victory for Commissioner Conley. I agree that we should now focus on the transportation plan being developed for the next 10 years and hope those who aligned with Brannon will join in.

  11. I have always hated when a candidate claims that winning an election gives them a “mandate”…..I especially hate it under these circumstances. I hardly think that beating a crackpot candidate in a (low turnout) primary and running unopposed in the general election is something to get too excited about.

  12. The only thng I read that Conley said ,was it sent a strong message, on the direction of the County. The headline says mandate. Conley point is voters time after time have confirmed the improvments being made in our community are a postive thing. He has lead on many of those issues. The road bonds and parks bonds were passed by the voters, voters have voted to re-elect him and others involved with these projects. Every member of our Commissioners Court supports these projects and works on them all the time. Hence his point, lets move on, work to resolve our issues, and build a better community. I am proud of him and happy he is my Commissioner.

  13. Once again, where does Conley say mandate? Those of you that hate Conley for whatever reason just need to get over it.

  14. Hey toto, where did I say “I hate Conley?” How do you know I was not commenting on the headline? Although to act as if winning politicians do not speak in terms like mandate on a regular basis is ignorant.

    And some of us happen to think it is a healthy thing when us citizens attempt to hold our political leaders to account, even if perhaps sometimes people get obsessive about it. Tough. If Conley or Doggett or Perry or any other of these other multi-term politicians had such a problem with it they would stop seeking power over and over.

    Politicians should be constantly on their toes and worried about what we think. They get to make rules that impact our lives. We don’t live in a banana republic quite yet. The day we all roll over and stop complaining to, and about, our rulers is the day we get there though. I’d personally like to put this off for as many generations as possible.

    Personally, I’d say those who try to stifle people speaking their piece about politicians need to “get over it.”

  15. I don’t hate Conley. The headline reads “Conley claims mandate” and as far as I can tell, comments were in response to that. I know mine was. If you have an issue with the accuracy of that statement, I suggest that you take it up with the author.

  16. Also, the first line of the story reads:

    “Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley says Republican primary voters’ verdict in his race is a mandate to keep investing heavily in roads and infrastructure while modernizing Hays County government.”

    Again, it sound like your issue is with the author.

  17. I’m not sure I understand what the question is. Conley’s direct quotation is in quotation marks. The word “mandate” is my characterization of what he said.

    From http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/

    “2
    : an authorization to act given to a representative

    From http://en.wikipedia.org

    “In politics, a mandate is the authority granted by a constituency to act as its representative. … Elections, especially ones with a large margin of victory, are often said to give the newly elected government or elected official a mandate to implement certain policies. Also, the period during which a government serves between elections is often referred to as a mandate and when the government seeks re-election it is said to be seeking a “new mandate””

    I think it fits.

  18. It seems like the question is whether others are allowed to disagree with your position. Some on here felt that there was not a mandate. I am inclined to agree, although I’d be all for a mandate for more road improvements. I just wanted to point out that the rezoning petition got as much or more support, relative to the total population, and your characterization of that was quite the opposite of a mandate.

    Somehow, this makes some people Conley haters, although it is not clear to me whether that is you, for introducing the word mandate, or others, for disagreeing.

    Apparently the election can be taken as a mandate against diverse viewpoints.

  19. I’d be more inclined to say it was a mandate on roads, if the campaign talked more about roads. That was my complaint from the beginning. IMO, it was a campaign about nothing, and I am very happy to see it returning to something. I just wouldn’t call it a mandate, as much as I would like to have one.

  20. “2600 votes for a candidate in Hays County is a mandate for roads. 2000 signatures on a petition against rezoning in San Marcos is a small, vocal group of busybodies. 2000-ish signatures on another San Marcos petition, this one about the booze ban, is a mandate.”

    Exactly ~ I can tell you one thing though, a vocal group of busybodies CAN get a LOT done 🙂

  21. Has Brannon made any sort of public comment after the election? I have not seen anything on has FB pages, just wondering.

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