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Hays County commits $13 million to vision for open space

Wednesday, July 9, 2008 by Jacob Cottingham

With the $30 million from Hays County’s 2007 Parks Bond Election already whittled down to less than $18 million, the Hays County Commissioners Tuesday voted unanimously to guarantee $13 million of the remainder to be spent following the newly created Citizens Parks Advisory Team’s “vision statement.” 


The statement recommends funding habitat preservation, open spaces, watershed protection and water access. Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley proposed the amount, and Pct. 4 Commissioner Karen Ford added a friendly amendment to make the $13 million a minimum rather than the total.


At issue for commissioners were two projects in the review pipeline – one in San Marcos and the other in Buda. The former project has already been scored by CPAT and a presentation is expected in court next week. Pct. 1 Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe will be introducing that proposal, and Conley told the Court he is “planning on fully supporting that.” The Buda proposal should be scored within the next few weeks.


The “vision statement” was written by Sandra Tassel of Look at the Land, Inc., and came out of a joint workshop between CPAT and the commissioners that was held June 11. It recommends “Hays County use the remainder of its 2007 funds to accomplish three key objectives of the ballot that have not yet been truly addressed to date…” The stated objectives are aquifer recharge, habitat for threatened and endangered species, and access to a major water feature – thus carrying out the goals of the Hays County Master Plan and offering opportunities for passive recreation near the water. The report also recommends maximizing matching funds, especially Section 6 money for acquiring land for endangered species. Commissioner Ford took umbrage at limiting the amount, telling the Court, “I think it should be more than that.”


Ford later told In Fact Daily she wanted to “expand on our current philosophy of awarding (projects) whatever they ask. I want to look at them more comparatively.”  While she did not have a specific number in mind to set aside for the recommended project types, she said, “I just think if we found projects that brought it to $14.5 or $15 million, we should be open to that.”


The debate over the amount to spend irked Judge Liz Sumter, who interjected, “I’m extremely disappointed. I think after all the work we did with Sandra Tassel and CPAT I think we’re missing the boat. I think citizens entrusted us with the language of that bond.” She demanded of her colleagues, “What are we really willing to commit?” When Conley said that he had already said he’s ready to commit the $13 million, the judge immediately seconded the motion.


Pct. 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton then attempted to calm the court, “I see a dangerous fissure here that doesn’t need to exist. It was a great meeting I thought, with CPAT. The one place there was some tension was ‘What do we do about projects in the pipeline?’” He asserted that the language calling for the County to “focus” the remaining funds enabled a certain amount of wiggle room with the remaining money. He agreed to support the $13 million and acknowledged Ford’s point that, “we may have reached the point where we can’t provide 100 percent of the funding even though (projects) may have a good rating from CPAT.”

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