by BILL PETERSON
BUDA – Hays County Judge Liz Sumter (D-Wimberley) met a generally hostile crowd Monday night at Hays Hills Baptist Church, where she said she wants to put a new state road financing plan before voters, probably in a May bond election.
Composed of Buda-area residents in broad majority (a dozen Kyle people attended), the meeting focused on roads. Sumter hoped to also talk at length about parks, but Buda-area residents, impatient about the lack of progress on FM 1626, pushed the road issue.
Two citizens remarks were most likely to generate applause. One went along the lines of, “I voted for you the last time, but I will campaign against you the next time,” which came up at least twice. The other was any remark urging the commissioners court to finance the roads and keep it out of the hands of voters.
Sumter told the assembled that she wants the roads projects to be based on “consensus.” Later, Robert Kleppinger of the Buda area stood up and asked all in attendance to raise their hands if they were most concerned about improving area roads. The overwhelming majority raised their hands.
“There’s consensus for you,” Kleppinger said to the judge. Kleppinger continued blasting the county for its lack of action.
“It’s ridiculous,” he said. “It’s a shell game. Spend the money. Fix the roads.”
Based on the results from the May 2007 bond election, Buda-area residents worry that Wimberley-area voters would kill another such initiative. Though Hays County’s Interstate-35 east outnumbers the Hill Country west about two-to-one in population, the westerners are much better engaged politically. In the May 2007 election, voters from Wimberley and Driftwood turned out at about a 40-percent clip, compared with 20 percent for Buda and about ten percent for Kyle and San Marcos.
The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) went to the Hays County Commissioners Court last week with a revised pass-through financing proposal that subtracted RR 12 from the road package and replaced it with improvements to I-35 running through Buda and Kyle.
Sumter said Monday night that she will support a new bond package. However, her words gave little comfort to Buda-area residents at the meeting, who fear the outcome of an election, even though Sumter said she believes Wimberley voters will support a revised bond package that leaves out RR 12.
The county could pay the up-front costs for about $170 million of improvements to state roads by asking voters to approve a bond issue, with a promise from the state to pay back up to $133.2 million over 20 years. The county also could issue revenue bonds, with the promise from TxDOT as security. As another option, the county could pursue some kind of public-private partnership with a private firm to generate the up-front money, with the county passing its state reimbursement to the private firm.
Sumter has favored private-public partnership during the last year, though commissioners, especially Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley (R-San Marcos) said he can’t imagine that a private enterprise motivated by profit would offer the best deal. Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton (D-Kyle) said in court last week that the county should consider revenues bonds to front at least part of the roads deal.
Buda City Councilmember Sandra Tenorio, who gave Sumter a hard time over roads at a Buda City Council meeting in January, took Sumter to task again Monday night for blocking road progress during commissioners proceedings. Though Barton and Conley have been in concert on moving road issues, they often have been one vote short of a majority on the five-member court.
“Your one vote could have made a majority,” Tenorio said to Sumter. “So, we’re looking to you to put your one vote for Northern Hays County.”
BILL PETERSON is editor of www.HaysHighway.com where this story was originally published. It is reprinted here by special arrangement.Email | Print