Terra Rivers | Managing Editor
Hays County Commissioners voted 4-1 with Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe dissenting on an order to place a bond proposition on the November Ballot.
On July 28, Scott Way, Chair of the Parks and Open Space Advisory Commission provided commissioners with a presentation and the commission’s recommendation for a bond election.
Way said the commission was proposing a bond of approximately $75 to $80 million, which included $60 to $65 million of recommended projects and $15 to $20 million in funding for project opportunities that may come forward in the future.
The bond initiative includes goals for grant and donations matches to help fund projects including those identified as priorities:
- Coleman’s Canyon Preserve
- Funds Requested: $2.6 Million
- Property already owned by Wimberley Watershed
- Sentinel Peak Park & Preserve (El Rancho Cima)
- Funds Requested: $10 Million
- Potential for up to $6 Million from the TWDB Clean Water State Revolving Fund if the county is approved.
- San Marcos River Recharge Lands
- Funds Requested: ~ $3.4 Million to $4.3 Million
- Potential $782,450 from SMRF & San Marcos Greenbelt Alliance
- 1,200 Acre Regional Park
- Funds Requested: $10 Million
- City of Austin to pay the value attributable to the conservation easement: $10 Million to $11 Million providing at least a 1:1 Match.
- Hays County Habitat, Open Space & Clean Waters Preserve (Purgatory Creek Area)
- Funds Requested: ~ $17.7 Million
- Potential for TWDB Clean Water State Resolving Fund low-interest loan
- Rathgeber Natural Resources Park
- Funds Requested: $7.5 Million
- Land estimated at $3,750,000 to $5,250,000. Plus City of Dripping Springs additional $110,000 to $175,000 for planning, public input, preliminary engineering and environmental studies
- Violet Crown Trail in Hays County
- Funds Requested: $3.8 Million
- TPWD trails Program, $200,000, HCC Grant $500,000.
- Cape’s Fishing Pond (Hays County)
- Funds Requested: $2.5 Million
- County purchased the land in March 2020 for $2.6 Million
The full list of projects considered by POSAC and their funding amount requested for them can be viewed here.
To view the details on each project, check out the commission’s presentation to the court here.
Karen Ford, a consultant for POSAC, gave commissioners a brief overview of the public outreach report.
Ford said the commission is not recommending that the projects be funded at full level but that they each receive some funding.
“With this new bond, we are likely to be able to keep a county tax rate stable, so that it’s not a burden on folks,” Way said, “But then expand the overall parks and open space for everyone within the community.”
In 2007, Hays County voters approved “the issuance of a $30,000,000 of Hays County Tax Bonds for Parks, Natural Areas, Open Space, and related projects, and the preservation of water quality, aquifer recharge areas, and wildlife habitat, and the levying of a tax in payment thereof.”
According to Way, the county’s goal of getting 1:1 in matching funds for the projects was exceeded to provide a $76,000,000 budget for parks and open space projects in Hays County.
Commissioner Ingalsbe said she simply could not bring herself to consider a bond after the county was experiencing such an unprecedented situation as the COVID-19 Pandemic.
According to Ingalsbe, she fully supported increasing and providing parks and open space for the community, but she was struggling with whether now was the right time or if it was better to look at it six months away.
Commissioner Lon Shell said he believed a presidential election was the best time to place a bond proposition for parks and open space on the ballot as it had statistically higher turnouts than any other election.
Ultimately, Commissioners agreed that the voters of Hays County would decide whether they felt now was the right time to approve a bond for parks and open space.
Ford and Hays County Legal Counsel Mark Kennedy both noted that the court would be able to determine when the bonds and how much of them would be issued over the following years.
“I know what it’s like to be busted broke and to hear this dollar amount for this effort is truly huge,” Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra said. “It’s a huge impact, but so is the flooding of an entire community, so is also losing water quality and all these other parts. I’ve lived broke, and I’m very sensitive to that reality.”