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Questions about parks bonds continue to dog Hays commissioners

Monday, August 23, 2010 by Michael Kanin

Questions about the way Hays County distributes proceeds from a 2007 parks and open spaces bond election continue to hang over the proceedings. The latest trouble comes as the Commissioners Court soothed tensions in Dripping Springs by giving its blessing to a potential $1.7 million contribution to help outfit Harrison Ranch Park.


Commissioners also formally acted last week on a deal that will see the City of Kyle relinquish its claims to almost $2.5 million in 2007 parks bonds that would have been used to construct Kyle Vista Park. In exchange, the county has promised to assign about $1.2 million of those funds to help the city with various other outdoor spaces.


In an echo of the action over the preservation of Jacob’s Well (see In Fact Daily, August 11, 2010), County Judge Liz Sumter again cast the lone dissenting vote on both of those items. After telling the court that she had lost some sleep over whether to award Harrison Ranch Park its $1.7 million, Sumter summed up her feelings.


“There’s that little voice, and today it was Lois (Hickman of potential Wimberley swimming project Swimberley), who said that it is important that there is due process across the county, that (there) is fairness across the county.” she said. “Dripping Springs, no doubt, in my mind, hasn’t gotten it’s fair share of (recreation projects), there’s no doubt about it…but, unfortunately, I have to sit this time on probably (an) unpopular position, but I think the right one: Which is that we follow that process and we honor (it).”


At issue is what some Hays County residents see as a lack of a clear system for scoring candidates for the $30 million worth of 2007 bond funds. The county’s Parks and Open Spaces Board is scheduled to have a new matrix ready for court approval by the end of this month.


Pct. 4 Commissioner Karen Ford assured her colleagues that the Harrison Ranch project would go before that board to be scored before it was officially awarded its share of the bond funds. Still, Hickman registered her dissatisfaction.


“A year and a half ago, Swimberley was told that there would be a process for which we could apply for this parks money,” she said. “Swimberley has nothing against Harrison Park, nothing against Jacob’s Well – we have a really big problem with the process. We have been waiting…so that we can say, ‘may we have $1.7 million, may we have $2.4 million, may we give a presentation?’ and we’ve been told we can’t because the process was not in place.”


“It doesn’t matter if we get eight dollars or eight million dollars,” Hickman told In Fact Daily after the hearing, “we just wanted a fair shake in the process.”


“I just know (that) we’ve been waiting, and that there was a moratorium, supposedly, on this money until the scoring system was in place,” she added. “So for Commissioner Ford to ask for money to me is just—I think Judge Sumter summed it up very eloquently by saying ‘we can’t reserve money without first going through the process’ and I appreciate her democratic stance on this issue.”


Swimberley is a would-be swimming center that would offer aquatics to residents of the Wimberley Valley. According to its web site, it has yet to complete fundraising for construction.


Harrison Ranch Park is a western-themed facility that will offer equestrian and various other recreational amenities. Dripping Springs development coordinator Jon Thompson told the court that the park would become a “regional draw.”

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