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Hays County Commissioner Pct. 3 election pits Conley, Klepfer
Monday, October 27, 2008 by Jacob Cottingham
Hays County’s Precinct 3 stretches across the western portion of the county, from west San Marcos across the Wimberley Valley. The current incumbent, Will Conley, is the lone Republican on the Hays County Commissioners Court. Democratic challenger Steve Klepfer is counting on support from Wimberley, where he was mayor from 2003 to 2006, to carry him to victory.
This race reflects many of the issues confronting the larger region. Fast growing Wimberley is trying to balance its water resources and infrastructure in the face of increasing numbers of citizens and resultant development. Both candidates have tapped into far-flung metros across the state to raise tens of thousands of dollars in what could be a very competitive race. Conley’s last campaign finance report had him with $25,314 cash on hand. Klepfer had no cash on-hand but $17,079 left in outstanding loans.
Conley seems to be winning the endorsement battle, raking in endorsements from the County Law Enforcement Association of Texas, The Austin-American Statesman, the Hays Free Press, the Fraternal Order of Police and every other Hays County law enforcement association. This is likely due to the lead role Conley took in getting the County Sheriff’s Department a raise and instituting a step program enabling officers and recruits to predict their future income. He says this has resulted in more high quality applicants and is giving the county the opportunity to compete for the best officers.
Conley has been noted for his bipartisanship and has also won the endorsements of several Hays County Democrats including Charles Soechting, a former Texas Democratic Party chair; former Austin State Rep. Gerald Hill; former state lottery director Nora Linares-Moeller and her husband former Deputy Agricultural Commissioner Mike Moeller. Soechting and Mike Moeller are former Hays County Democratic Party chairs.
“I don’t make my decisions based off of Republicans or Democrats or anything else except for what I think is in the best interest of Hays County,” says Conley, “I’m an extremely independent person, and I collect all the information and make the best decision that I can.”
Both candidates play up their environmental credentials.
“The most noteworthy accomplishment of my public record was being able to save Blue Hole from a huge development and purchase and pay for a 1260-acre park. That was the most far-reaching and profound of the public work I’ve done,” Klepfer said.
Conley says that during his time on the Commissioner’s Court, “We have raised fees on developers and those fees are helping to pay for new inspectors to make sure that once a development is approved, that everybody is on a level playing field and playing by the rules of the game.” He notes his efforts to take $100 off the increased development fees to create a special fund in the county budget that goes “towards conservation and beatification efforts.” That fund, created two and a half years ago is now up to $300,000. “I led the effort, went to Washington and got the money to start the conservation plan. It’s going to allow us to conserve thousands of acres in Hays County and give us the ability to bring in millions of dollars of state and federal money to do so.”
The incumbent also notes that the Court has recently rewritten the County subdivision rules and regulations. Klepfer says that if he were elected he would push for two areas of improvement. “There are certain parts of the county that just can’t take any more straws in the aquifer, and so without having adequate long-term sustainable developments in regard to water we have to be very careful about how many people we have put straws down in that aquifer.
“Number 2 is, everyone seems to agree in the development world and the conservation world that the larger lot subdivisions are a way to have less impervious cover, recharge the aquifer better and I believe even the new subdivision rules don’t encourage or give developers a break when they want to do large lot subdivisions. I would be working on that,” he said.
Conley says he believes “we need to continue to improve our rules and regulations to get additional state authority on things like impact fees, environmental water quality issues, drainage related issues.”
Ranch Road 12 is another subject where the candidates differ, specifically the $7 million that will be spent purchasing the right of way along the road connecting San Marcos and Wimberley. Says Klepfer, “We disagree about building huge oversized roads into the Hill Country. Conley has repeatedly tried to get voter approval for a big 5-lane highway coming out of San Marcos into the Wimberley Valley… and I have no intention of building a road like that. I’m all about making our roads safe, and there isn’t a capacity problem out here… the road plans he has definitely show a clear contrast as to what we have in mind.”
The candidates seem to agree that the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District needs more authority. Klepfer told In Fact Daily, “While the citizens of Hays County overwhelmingly approved the creation of a groundwater conservation district they did not give that district the same tools, revenue raising abilities that the other GCDs have. So I’m a big proponent of them …getting the rest of the tools at their disposal to look after the health of our aquifer.” However, he clarifies “I believe residential wells should be grandfathered. I believe commercial wells, the groundwater district should have the authority to monitor.” Under current rules, existing commercial wells already fall under the GCD’s authority. Conley says, “I do not support the Hays Trinity having full chapter 36 authority over existing [residential] wells. I do support them having full chapter 36 authority over new development, but I don’t believe people who have had their wells for 20, 30, 40, 50 years out here, that have been here for a long period of time and have a historical right, need to be regulated.”
The tightness of the race has resulted in a little mudslinging. Klepfer says, “I think this election has a lot to do with who is watching out for the best interest of the communities, neighbors and the neighborhoods as opposed to somebody who’s trying to help the developers along.” He insists, “Over 60 percent of the money [Conley’s] taken in his campaign is either from developers or engineering consulting road firms.” He listed 10 donors to the Conley campaign that have contributed $500 or more who Klepfer says are developers, consultants or engineers.
Not true says Conley. “The ol’ ‘bought and paid for by the developer’ discussion is an old, old discussion and when folks don’t have anything else to say, this seems to be the red flag they like to throw up.” Conley, noted for his outspoken nature, doesn’t hold back his opinion of Klepfer, “I think Steve is an opportunist hoping that it’s a bad year for the local Republicans and running on a Democratic ticket is going to put him in office. He seems to have just joined the party 12 months ago and… the last primary he voted in was the republican primary.” Klepfer says he registered in the 2004 Republican primary specifically to vote for Conley’s primary challenger.
Klepfer insists, “I will be just as effective at finding solutions in San Marcos as I have been in Wimberley. The voters in San Marcos say their issues are traffic, parking, getting the commuter rail up and running and I will make these priorities. I get the job done and I’ll get the job done for the voters there as well.”
Conley says the issue of a commuter rail has been of great importance to him, “I’ve led that effort, I believe strongly in its ability to bring transportation alternatives to our region and our corridor, I think it will be a benefit to our economy to our environment and to our public safety. Relocating those lines outside of our cities and replacing it with a state of the art faster rail system I believe is the way of the future.”
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