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Hays County begins to track missing roadwork dollars

Monday, December 6, 2010 by Michael Kanin

Hays County officials have begun to collect on reimbursements that the county is owed from area property owners who voted to borrow county funds for six road-improvement projects. Their action comes as the county, which had lost track of the money it had lent, revamps its oversight of such efforts.

 

In all, the total cost of the projects in question may amount to over $500,000. According to Hays County Commissioners Court Special Counsel Mark Kennedy, the final numbers won’t be known until the projects are completed.

 

Each of the projects was conducted under Chapter 253 of the state transportation code, which states that citizens in unincorporated portions of counties may petition their commissioners for help with road reconstruction should the current state of a road impair the “public health, safety, or welfare.” They are then responsible to the county for reimbursement of those costs.

 

After some institutional bucking, Kennedy ended up with the task of reforming Hays’ collection of 253 funds. “Part of the problem is that there (wasn’t) really a system in place because (the 253 efforts) are not part of the regular business of the county,” he said.

 

Kennedy has instituted a system that will assign collection of the funds to the office of Hays County Tax Assessor-Collector Luanne Caraway. County residents — who had to petition, take part in a public hearing, and vote before the county could authorize the release of funds — will see their portion of the charges as part of their yearly property tax bills.

 

Until the county is repaid, each property owner has a lien attached to his or her deed.

 

As part of a search request, In Fact Daily has learned that the six projects in question represent the only Chapter 253 reimbursement requests the county has seen since the tool became part of state code in 1995. The county has begun to assess the situation with four of the projects.

 

Kennedy told In Fact Daily that he was working from the most recent projects back though Hays’ first experiment with Chapter 253 in 2004. Indeed, the two projects the county has yet to dive into each date from that year.

 

He added that he has collected the entire outstanding amount from work along Oak Branch Drive — $47,000 from residents who live just off of US290 in the northeastern portion of Hays County. There, the homeowners association agreed to pick up the tab so that the county would release the liens on the affected homes. Residents will now make payments to the association.

 

Kennedy noted that this approach might be preferable for other subdivisions. “If they’re able, they’ll want to pay it off all at once,” he said.

 

Work in the Cedar Oaks Mesa subdivision of Wimberley accounts for the single largest outstanding bill. There, residents will have to make up roughly $268,000 in roadway improvements. Other projects include roadwork in the Indian Creek and Rocky Ranch I developments.

 

Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley told In Fact Daily that he fully expects to continue to use Chapter 253 reimbursements as the county grows. “For one thing, it’s the law,” he said. “The citizens in these situations have the right to petition the county to take a private system.”

 

Conley sees the 253 approach as a way to correct situations in older subdivisions. “What this is, is us trying to resolve issues of the past,” he said. “Almost all the circumstances that I have seen along these lines in my precinct would not happen today because of … (current) rules and regulations.”

 

Both Conley and Precinct 1 Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe said that the reimbursement system is now working. “I think working closely with the tax assessor … will ensure that we get these projects (repaid) in a timely manner,” said Ingalsbe.

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