By BILL PETERSON
Editor at Large
Hays County Precinct 4 Commissioner Karen Ford (D-Dripping Springs) found herself in an uncomfortable position Tuesday, arguing on behalf of her constituents for a parks bond expenditure somewhat similar to a measure in San Marcos that she consistently opposed earlier this year.
Ford acknowledged the difficulty, saying, “I’m just sort of falling on my knees asking what we can do” to produce a quick $266,000 for the Dripping Springs Youth Sports Association (DSYSA).
The DSYSA went before the Hays County Commissioners Court asking for the money to cover its costs for the rapid development of fields for football, soccer and lacrosse after various arrangements with the Dripping Springs ISD and private entities fell through and left it in a bind.
The money would enable the DSYSA to fund a water tap, sod, seed and irrigate fields and pay for equipment rental without burning through its reserves and going into debt. DSYSA officials said their organization serves 1,200-1,500 families in the Dripping Springs area and neighboring western counties.
The DSYSA said it needs the funds before the end of November to finish the fields, which also will be turned over to the city of Dripping Springs and include scheduled open periods for public use.
However, the request has come along in emergency fashion, somewhat like a bid late last year from the San Marcos Police Athletic League (PAL), which needed $1.6 million mostly for infrastructure to relocate football fields so the league could play this season.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe (D-San Marcos) and Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley (R-San Marcos) elicited jeers for taking the PAL request straight to the court and doing an end-run around the County Parks Advisory Team (CPAT), which is supposed to review funding projects from a $30 million parks bond approved by voters in May 2007.
Eventually, the PAL request went before CPAT, which gave the project too low of a score to secure a CPAT recommendation. County officials have since deemed that the CPAT scoring criteria weighs too heavily against recreational projects and have since instituted a moratorium on requests pending the development of a new scoring system.
In January, the commissioners voted, 3-1, in favor of the PAL request, with only Ford voting in opposition. County Judge Elizabeth Sumter (D-Wimberley) recused herself, saying she had a conflict of interest because she served on a committee connected with The Village, where the fields are located. Sumter tried to hand the gavel to Ford, but Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton (D-Kyle) argued that the gavel should go, by court tradition, to Ingalsbe, the court’s senior member. Ingalsbe and Conley voted with Barton to take the gavel from Ford.
In a later vote, after commissioners’ special counsel Mark Kennedy reviewed state attorney general’s opinions to find the funding for parks infrastructure legal, the court voted, 4-1, to approve the enabling inter-local agreement with San Marcos. Again, Ford voted in opposition.
Similarly, the DSYSA request has not gone before CPAT. Commissioners struggled with the problem Tuesday, saying the project, though worthy of action, should go before the advisory board as a matter of process, consistency and respect for citizen input.
Commissioners said the DSYSA project almost certainly would score too low if it were to be judged by the present CPAT criteria. However, as Barton said, CPAT is an advisory board and the court is not strictly beholden to its recommendations.
Furthermore, CPAT members in court said it’s unlikely a score for the DSYSA project could be produced in less than a month, even if it went before CPAT at its meeting tonight.
As it happens, CPAT’s agenda for this evening includes a measure for setting new criteria to score recreational projects. However, the final results from that effort won’t be due until February.
Ford asked that DSYSA officials and CPAT officials find a way to put the matter on tonight’s agenda as an emergency item, if only so CPAT could offer a quick review and make some sort of preliminary recommendation. DSYSA and CPAT officials agreed to the arrangement, which means the matter could return to the court next week or soon after for action.
Hays County Judge Elizabeth Sumter (D-Wimberley) said she will support the project because the Dripping Springs area has not yet received an equitable portion of the parks bond money.
EDITOR’s NOTE: The above story has been revised to give more detail about the voting history and political maneuvering involved in the commissioners’ approval of funds for the Police Athletic League fields.Email | Print