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Hays to name working group on rainwater collection incentives

Monday, December 15, 2008 by Jacob Cottingham

Hays County is looking at way to provide incentives to encourage homeowners to install rainwater collections systems, and has asked a group of county staff member to come up with some ideas.


On Tuesday, County Commissioners heard from Grants Administrator Jeff Hauff who gave an update on the progress made by his informal staff group. Hauff, attorney Mark Kennedy, Assistant District Attorney David Mendoza and the interim Grants Administrator Margaret Buentello were all part of the team investigating how the county could use its authority to incentivize rainwater collection.


Until recently, the county had a linked deposit program, which was run out of the grants office. In effect, this program allowed homeowners to save a few interest points when taking out a loan for rainwater collection systems. That incentive was deemed insufficient and the informal group has been looking at alternatives, including a review of existing tax incentives.


Kennedy told the court they determined that the county does not possess the ability to offer direct financial incentives in the form of rebates. He said another potential issue was whether or not the rainwater collection on private property would benefit the “public purpose” requirement required for the county to utilize its funds.


Kennedy said his understanding is that rainwater collection systems can run around $15-16,000 while new wells can be $9-10,000. The county would be trying to make up this financial gap in a bid to increase available water resources for the quickly growing region in the midst of a worsening drought. Last week, the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District declared a Critical Stage drought for the area under its jurisdiction.


The solution may lie in property taxes, the court was told. Kennedy said the Conservation Incentives chapter authorizes local governments to provide tax exemptions for water conservation. While it is not quite a direct rebate, Kennedy told the court a multi-year tax exemption, “Adds up to enough to entertain rainwater collection instead of well water.” Hauff and Kennedy also said a sales tax exemption could be available.


The court praised the informal group’s efforts, and discussed a new working group that would be formed to look at the issue in greater detail. Hauff said the group would identify the specifics for encouraging water conservation throughout the county, promote water conservation activities and help further legislation for water conservation activities.

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