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Hays Bond Advisory Committee issues preliminary report

Wednesday, August 6, 2008 by Jacob Cottingham

If one Hays County Commissioner has his way, residents could get the opportunity to choose from among several different options on the County Road Bond Election set in November. Pct. 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton is backing what he calls a progressive bond election as opposed to putting a single amount on the table for an up or down vote.


His suggestion came after the Hays County Transportation Bond Advisory Committee reported to County Commissioners this week on the feedback they have received from citizens and sought guidance from the court as to how they should proceed with their final report.


Rather than dictating an amount with perhaps a single option, Barton said, “We could say to voters here’s what you could do for $130 million… here’s what we could get for $150 million, $200 million, $250 million and let voters choose among them.”


Others on the commission argued for a single option, including County Judge Liz Sumter, who was concerned about the political fallout of not fully funding some of the road projects.


About 200 people showed up at the Bond Advisory Committee’s four public meetings to rate the 44 different projects based upon eight criteria, including improving operational safety; improving infrastructure safety; improving mobility; addressing capacity problems; protecting the environment; supporting community economic objectives; preserving community quality of life; and making the roadway bike and pedestrian friendly.


Survey respondents also ranked these criteria in the following order of descending importance: Operational safety, improved mobility, infrastructure, capacity, bike and pedestrian access, quality of life, and economic.


Consultant Jim Harvey, director of planning at Alliance Transportation Group who delivered the report, said “(citizens) feel like the county is moving in the right direction economically, but are trying to deal with some of the spinoff problems from that growth.”


The committee was seeking guidance in determining how much to consider public opinion, how to present the financial strategy for the bonds and what technical information they should consider.


As far as public opinion, Harvey said the scores will likely be weighted according to the rankings. For example, “if the operational safety is 22 percent of what people said was the most important, and only 10 percent said economic growth was important, then that operational safety would be weighted 2.2 times more than the economic objectives.”


Harvey told the court, “in terms of total cost, some of the projects on our list are still being funded by other mechanisms – others the county is sharing the burden with local municipalities.” Seven such projects already funded were then stricken from the list to avoid confusion.


The court engaged in a lengthy debate over what it wanted from the bond committee.


“I would like the opportunity on a lot of these highway projects either we fund them completely or we fund half of them and that gives us something to go back to the state with…” said Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley.


However, Sumter disagreed, saying, “if you put the road in the bond package and you don’t put the adequate funding to do the road… politically you put yourself in a position where it makes it much more difficult to come back later to your constituents and say ‘We didn’t put the whole amount in there, now we have to come back and get the rest of it.’”


Sumter clarified that she wanted a strong opinion from the committee. “I would like to see a package coming from the bond committee that basically does 90 percent of the work,” Explaining the rush, she said, “the court has maybe two weeks to flesh out if we like that or need to tweak that a little bit.”


Barton’s progressive bond idea deviated from the typical approach, but  earned some backing from the court. After another discussion about the baseline amount for the bond, commissioners decided that the committee would come back with three different tiers in the amounts of $200 million; $225 million and $250 million in order to give the commissioners flexibility in making a decision.


The BAC will meet for the last time Thursday at 6pm at the San Marcos Courthouse and present its final report on Aug. 12.

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