I t has been a long political season and most of us are probably ready for it to be over. Here at home, we have two bond propositions on the ballot for the citizens of Hays County to consider. These propositions are the culmination of several years of work. Relevant stakeholders have helped develop these plans, which are meant to address basic responsibilities and services that are inherent to a Texas county. Both propositions are an effort to address public safety in our community. Your commissioners court unanimously voted to present the questions to you, the voters, on the November ballot.
Proposition 1 is a public safety facility plan that addresses current and future needs for our 9-1-1 emergency communications, emergency management, law enforcement, and jail facilities in Hays County. All of these facilities and services are near or even exceeding capacity. Our 9-1-1 emergency communications and law enforcement centers are located in a facility that is over 40 years old. These vital services are being used more and more each day in one of the fastest-growing communities in America. The plans for these facilities were developed with input from stakeholders in fire, EMS, law enforcement and emergency service agencies across our county who lent their professional knowledge to develop these plans.
Hays County’s jail facility has been used 365 days per year for 28 years. It isn’t just at capacity. Our needs have exceeded its capacity. In this year’s budget, Hays County has budgeted $1.53 million to pay other counties for inmate overflow. We reformed our justice system years ago, with the help of our law enforcement community, the criminal district attorney, our clerks and judges within Hays County. These efforts did have a positive impact. For example, the budget for inmate overflow into other counties was only $10,000 in 2012 and 2013. The impacts of inmate overflow have grown every year since. The reforms of our system bought us time, but no reform can eliminate the effects of growth altogether.
In addition to the capacity issue, unpredictable facility repair costs are popping up on a regular basis. These kinds of repairs can cost the county hundreds of thousands of dollars in order to keep the jail operational and within state regulation. A renovated and expanded jail facility, along with the other public safety facilities in Proposition 1, will eliminate the need for significant repairs; and, barring some unforeseeable event, they are the last major building facilities Hays County will need to construct or expand for many years.
Proposition 2 is an effort to continue Hays County’s development of a transportation system that improves public safety, mobility, and economic opportunity in our county. Over the past ten years Hays County has been in a formal agreement with the Texas Department of Transportation. This partnership, along with help from our municipalities, has led to over $500 million in state highway improvements in our community. Almost every state highway project you have seen improved in our county has been done through this program, which is a model for how a local entity can partner with the state to improve transportation in a fast-growing area.
These propositions have caused some questions to Hays County’s financial condition. Following are responses to some of those inquires. The average home owner in Hays County pays $79 a month for all county taxes. This includes paying for every expense from services and labor to debt principal and interest for the entire county.
Hays County has a AA bond rating, which is a significant improvement from years ago; and a AA rating is only two steps away from the highest possible bond rating for a public entity. The county recently financed a portion of debt at a historically low 2.5 percent rate, which is a reflection of Hays County’s strong market position.
Hays County currently carries a total of $354 million in debt. That is a large number, but one that should be considered in perspective. The overwhelming amount of this debt was voter approved. A large part of it has paid for our past transportation and parks programs in Hays County.
Some of these projects include improvements on U.S. 290, FM 1626, Ranch Road 12, FM 110, RM 967 Texas 21 and Interstate 35. The 2007 parks bond helped establish projects like the Jacobs Well Natural Area, Blue Hole Regional Park, Five Mile Dam Park, Dripping Springs Ranch Park, Winters Mill Hike and Bike Trail, the Jackson Tyler Norris Memorial Skate Park in Buda, North Hays Optimist Field in Kyle, San Marcos Tennis Courts and others. The county also issued debt to pay for the Government Center in San Marcos.
Considering state reimbursements and other revenues coming into the county, the tax revenue Hays County needs to pay debt service is less than 20 percent of its annual income. With that perspective in mind, we encourage you to compare that to the debt of an average family or business.
We have attempted to provide you with some of the facts that led the Hays County Commissioners Court to place these Propositions on the ballot. It is up to you to research these propositions and make a decision that you feel is best for you, your family, and your community. We encourage your interest in and your involvement with this important issue.
Proposition 1 is for $106.4 million. Proposition 2 is for $131.4 million. More information can be found at www.hayscountybonds.com
Commissioner DEBBIE GONZALES INGALSBE
Commissioner WILL CONLEY