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Gattis unenthusiastic about additional county land use authority

Monday, November 17, 2008 by Kimberly Reeves

County officials who wanted additional land use authority did not find many fans among the Central Texas delegation at a Legislative luncheon last week.


Envision Central Texas hosted the luncheon with members of the Central Texas delegation. ECT, which focuses on smarter land development, has two legislative goals it intends to support this session: the ability for regions to choose methods to self-fund transportation projects, possibly through regional transportation districts; and additional land use authority for counties.


Local lawmakers threw more support behind the creation of regional transportation districts than they did local land use authority. Rep. Dan Gattis (R-Georgetown), in particular, wanted to curb any additional authority given to local jurisdictions, citing the need to avoid eroding existing property owner rights.


Gattis noted that his own father was county judge in Williamson County, but it did not mean he always agreed with his father’s take on particular issues.


Better that local officials come to lawmakers with a narrow scope of needs to fill, rather than have legislators grant wide-ranging authority to counties that would take away from the rights that belong to property owners, said Gattis, who also happens to be the most conservative member of the delegation.


Bastrop County Judge Ronnie McDonald had a ready rebuttal – actually an illustration – to talk about just what county judges wanted. McDonald said his own father was a carpenter, and he had often accompanied his dad on jobs. His dad could have a picture of what he wanted to build in his mind, but without the nails, there would be nothing that he could accomplish.


Regional planning was like that, McDonald said. Local officials – through the Envision Central Texas process – had come together to determine just what direction county growth should take. However, without the tools – actually, the nails – it would be impossible to accomplish those goals.


Caldwell County Judge H.T. Wright, in his comments to the delegation, said Rep. Warren Chisum (R-Pampa) had told him once that Wright did not have the sense to regulate land use controls in his own county. Wright said he did not necessarily need – or want – all the land use authority that urban counties might need, but he would like a narrow set of tools that would allow him to accomplish specific goals.


On other topics, a number of lawmakers noted that funding could be limited this session, given the constraints of the current economy. Gattis said he would like to stop funding statewide programs like education on local property taxes, a recipe for simply returning to the courthouse on a frequent basis.


Gattis said he would prefer to eliminate some, or all, of the local property taxes assessed by school districts. In that way, cities and counties could be given additional headroom to fund their own budgets and infrastructure, Gattis said.


In other comments, Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) expressed his support for new vehicles for transportation funding, possibly even a regional transportation authority. A regional transportation authority, unlike the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, would have a tax base and the ability to collect tax revenue.

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