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Hays County reconfigures award process for 2007 parks bonds

Thursday, September 2, 2010 by Michael Kanin

The Hays County Commissioners Court has acted to formally revamp the procedure by which it will award money raised in a 2007 parks and open spaces bond initiative. Tuesday’s unanimous vote opens a 31-day window during which interested parties can seek funding through the County’s Parks and Open Space Advisory Board and the Court.


In the process, commissioners also moved to release their hold on $1.7 million worth of the bonds that had been set aside for improvements at Harrison Ranch Park (see In Fact Daily, Aug. 23). That action puts the total amount of funds available from the 2007 election at around $3.5 million.


Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley’s motion called for a submissions period that would extend from Sept. 1 through Oct. 1. As proposals come in, the county’s parks board will score them using a newly-created matrix. Conley called for the board to report back to the court with their results around Oct. 12, but ultimately left that date open should later submissions force the board to call for an extension.


When the court passed its most recent funding of the preservation project at Jacob’s Well Natural Area, Precinct 4 Commissioner Karen Ford indicated that she would like to see the Harrison Ranch improvements receive some of the bond money. A week later, the Court approved the $1.7 million set-aside, contingent on the park making a presentation to the county’s parks board.


Ford’s jurisdiction includes the Dripping Springs location of the park.


Under increasing pressure, Ford and advocates for the Harrison Ranch improvements met this past week to discuss their options. From the dais, she set the project back into the general competition.


“This issue of fairness and equity and putting one community ahead of another has really weighed heavily on me last week,” she said. “I spent Friday afternoon in my office with (supporters of)…Harrison Ranch Park…we talked about our project. We talked about the need to have a call for projects where all projects are looked at at the same time and scored at the same time and then come back.”


As for the money that had been set-aside for Harrison Ranch, Ford told In Fact Daily that it would no longer be an issue. “I think that, as we heard today, the funds are sort of open,” she  said. “In my mind…if they score well, I’m going to come back and ask for the whole thing…I feel like we un-reserved today.”


Ford said that, by declaring that they had $3.5 million “on the table,” she felt as though the court had implied that it wouldn’t hold out $1.7 million specifically for Harrison Ranch. She noted, as she had from the dais, that she was confident that the project would score highly as it moved through the process.


During the hearing, the president of would-be Wimberley aquatic center Swimberley, Carl Owens, took  a few final swipes at the way the county went about awarding its bond funds. “It’s unfortunate this wasn’t done from the beginning,” he said. “If the process isn’t fixed and isn’t followed I think it’s going to be difficult to pass the bonds in the future (when) our tax dollars are an issue.”


Owens told In Fact Daily that he felt the commissioners’ action was “measured.” “I’m glad that they decided to make it competitive with what’s left, I appreciate the fact that (commissioner) Ford and Harrison Ranch Park did that,” he said. “I hope it was because of the fairness issue and not because of the pressure that was put on.”


He added that Swimberly was only looking for what he felt was a level playing field. “There was no need for reserving money,” he said. “We’ve been in line for a long time…We’re excited about making a presentation.”


Hays County’s 2007 Parks and Open Spaces bond initiative raised $30 million for a wide variety of recreational and environmental uses. Projects funded by the proposition include various Jacob’s Well preservation moves, a recent purchase of nearly 1000 acres of mitigation land, and sports fields at Dripping Springs’ Founders Park.


County judge Liz Sumter had been the lone recent dissenting voice as the rest of her colleagues pushed forward with the awarding of some of the 2007 bond funds. In actions that seemed to have wide appeal—the preservation of Jacob’s Well and the original awarding of the Harrison Ranch funds—she acted as something of a gadfly, citing her desire to see the process bettered. 


Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton believes that the county will see at least five applications for a portion of the $3.5 million remaining in available 2007 funds.

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