Pages

Monday, August 31, 2009

How the Texas Property Rights Casino is played in Hays County


Baker and Lloyd teamed up to flip the Foster Ranch in a property deal that included California developer Makar Properties and an illegal development agreement with the City of Dripping Springs


Send your comments and news tips to online.editor@valleyspringcomm.net or to codell@austin.rr.com To read the comments or add your own, click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story

By Charles O'Dell, Ph.D.

Texas is billed as a property rights state, but in reality it’s just a Property Rights Casino that pits the public against a few high rollers. The game is run by government officials and everyone is encouraged to play, but Casino rules protect the high rollers and the regulatory deck is stacked against the little guy.

Those high rollers are the Casino’s closed door patrons who contribute big bucks so state legislators will enact special game rules and local elected officials will sweeten the development pot. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) works as the Casino dealer, and when necessary deals from the bottom of the regulatory deck.

Few players realize the property rights game in Texas is rigged, and most don’t pay attention until their property rights are being threatened by eminent domain taking, development that pollutes their property and leads to dry wells, excessive taxation, or when the high rollers falsely characterize improved development regulations as an attack on everyone’s property rights.

Nothing stirs visceral reaction in the rank and file like a public call to defend property rights, and elected officials frequently use that emotional button to protect the high rollers. But to paraphrase Pogo, some property rights are more equal than others.

Perhaps a real life example will demonstrate how, with help from public officials, the property rights game is stacked against the typical property owner. Dripping Springs attorney Rex Baker and Austin based developer John Lloyd are two local high roller property rights players. In 2000, Baker was City Attorney for Dripping Springs, Hays County Pct. 4 Justice of the Peace and estate attorney for a family who owned the 1,600 acre Foster Ranch located at Hwy 290 and Nutty Brown Road.

Baker and Lloyd teamed up to flip the Foster Ranch in a property deal that included California developer Makar Properties and an illegal development agreement with the City of Dripping Springs. Yes, Baker was City Attorney and knew the agreement was illegal, but Baker and his title company stood to receive more than a quarter million dollars from the transaction, and Lloyd a half million dollars for bringing Makar Properties to the table.

A group of local citizens knew this agreement was illegal, formed the Friendship Alliance and sued Dripping Springs Mayor Todd Purcell. Baker went to Rep. Patrick Rose and a bill was passed in the state legislature making the agreement retroactively legal. Another big property rights win for the high rollers thanks to public officials changing the rules.

The illegal agreement now made legal by friendly officials brought high density residential and commercial development over the headwaters of Bear Creek in the form of Belterra, and Joe Beal’s LCRA brought them surface water to complement Belterra’s two deep wells. Makar Properties had agreed to use subsurface drip irrigation for disposal of its treated wastewater, but in 2005 the Belterra utility district quietly filed a permit amendment application to discharge daily a million gallons of treated wastewater directly into Bear Creek, freeing up acres of drip irrigation fields for more homes.


Downstream property owners appealed to TCEQ to protect their properties from the increased pollution threat, and presented strong scientific evidence with expert testimony demonstrating how their property rights would be violated if Belterra switched from its originally agreed subsurface drip irrigation to direct discharge and polluting Bear Creek even more.

TCEQ gave Belterra the first direct discharge permit in the Hill Country and downstream property owners have filed suit in District Court seeking property rights protection denied them by TCEQ. Belterra is an example of some property rights being more equal than others, and TCEQ dealing from the bottom of the regulatory deck.

Rimrock website/www.rimrockinfo.com/
John Lloyd went on to develop his Rim Rock subdivision near the Salt Lick and has teamed up once again with Rex Baker and the City of Dripping Springs with the Halls Residential Development Agreement (which includes 25 acres of commercial development across from a nearby elementary school).

This development is also next to the new Harrison Ranch Park that the City of Dripping Springs purchased in 2008 using $775,000 from Hays County parks and open space bond money. City officials presented false and misleading information and made empty promises in convincing commissioners’ court to give them the bond money. Harrison Ranch Park and a Development Agreement loaded with City ordinance variances certainly sweeten the development pot for high rollers Lloyd and Baker.

The list of Texas Property Rights Casino high rollers and their official sponsors is long. They include politically well connected and water wasteful Aqua Texas; Commissioner Will Conley’s True Ranch; and the expensive special interest public financed projects of Commissioner Jeff Barton who is also an active partner of Ducet & Associates.

Welcome to the Texas Property Rights Casino where some property rights are more equal than others.


Footnote
1. You can share the legal costs of defending property rights against the Belterra direct discharge permit action by sending a tax deductible contribution to SBCA, PO Box 5923, Austin, TX 78763-5923. Indicate that your contribution is for the legal fight against the Belterra violation of property rights.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Health care reform rally draws 2,000-plus at state Capitol


Congressman Doggett pointed out that private providers currently are spending about 81 cents on the premium dollar for actual health care, and that provisions are floating around to "allow" as low as 65 cents


Send your comments and news tips to online.editor@valleyspringcomm.net or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story


Austin, Tx – The rally began around 1 p.m. Saturday on the south steps of the Capitol. Supporters and opponents turned out by the hundreds. A contingent of Texas Secessionists were on hand to add to the color and excitement. Lots of signs, shouting and chanting. By and large, it was a peaceful demonstration.

The numbers grew steadily as the rally moved to the grand old
Methodist Church on Lavaca St. a block away. The church was filled to capacity (estimated 1,200 inside with hundreds more outside) for a 3 o'clock speech from Congressman Lloyd Doggett. Media and other head counters said proponents of health care reform outnumbered opponents about 2,000 to 60.

Doggett said the disruptive
actions of opponents at earlier Austin area town hall meetings (and other events around the country) had only increased his resolve to fight for reform legislation that includes a public health plan option. That brought whoops and a thunderous standing ovation from the pews.

The congressman pointed out that private providers currently are spending about 81 cents on the premium dollar for actual health care, and that provisions are floating around to "allow" as low as 65 cents. Not a very
good deal, as premiums, deductibles and co-pays continue to shoot skyward in the private health care market.

One line delivered
by the Rev. Jim Rigby, Pastor, St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Austin that brought the house down and is sure to be repeated went something like this: 'When we talk about helping our neighbors and the poor, we're Christians, but when we actually try to do something about it, we're socialists.'

All in all, it was a good rally and a good day for Democracy in America and Texas. Everyone's views were expressed. A hat tip should go to the phalanx of DPS troopers who helped make it all possible. It also was good to see a spirited turnout from Hays County. Several showed up afterwards at the famous old Austin watering hole Scholtz's for some good cheer and discussion.








Friday, August 28, 2009

What's up with Commissioner Conley's strange doings?


What the hey, last year Conley resurfaced Old Bumpy, a private road (by the city's accounting) up the hill from Flite Acres Road leading to the gated Summer Hills subdivision. So why not just top it off this year with a champagne toast on Flite Acres


Send your comments and news tips to online.editor@valleyspringcomm.net or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story.

Update: Tuesday Sept. 1 – Public hearings on the proposed new tax rate and 2010 budget are scheduled at the county courthouse Wednesday Sept. 2, 9 a.m., Wednesday Sept. 9, 6 p.m., and Wednesday Sept. 16, 9 a.m.

By Bob Ochoa
RoundUp Editor

Word's getting around that Precinct 3 County Commissioner Will Conley – who represents Wimberley, Woodcreek and some of the biggest and prettiest open stretches in Hays County – is having delusions of grandeur fit for a Saudi prince.


Some have started to wonder about his, well, strange behavior. Insiders are asking, "How many promises has Conley made?"

Is he shooting for an early lock on a third term in 2012, or setting himself up with some big donors for a shot at the county judge's seat next year? Sadly, in Hays County we have seen all too often that public service and public largess come with a price.

Commissioners court has just adopted a very tight, stripped to the bone, proposed budget for the new fiscal year, 2010. The budget will go into effect on Oct. 1, after citizens get another shot at commenting, complaining, and asking questions at a series of upcoming public hearings (see dates and times above in the update).


Last week, commissioners voted to increase the property tax rate to support the proposed budget. Conley, surprisingly enough, voted in favor of the tax hike (his very first vote for a tax increase, we believe), but lately has been out talking tough, promising constituents he intends to fight to reduce the tax rate he supported.

Here's the strange part: Conley also is promising certain constituents he will deliver on some very expensive projects, some for which there is no money earmarked in the proposed budget
. We've reached a point where we're not sure if Conley's a spoiled spendthrift or a conservative bean-counting Republican. He certainly seems to enjoy playing both roles.

Here are a few cases to consider:

– Conley wants to resurface moderately traveled Flite Acres Road, not with the standard chip seal process but with high dollar asphalt. We hear the cost could run upwards of a quarter million dollars. Lucky residents. Perhaps Flite Acres Road should be renamed Little Hollywood Boulevard. The road weaves in and out of the city limits, but the impoverished City of Wimberley will not be able to help finance this deal. What the hey, last year Conley resurfaced Old Bumpy, a private road (by the city's accounting) up the hill from Flite Acres Road leading in to the gated Summer Hills subdivision. (It earned Conley a lot of new fans). So why not just top it off this year with a champagne toast on Flite Acres.

– Conley wants to widen the low water bridge on
Green Acres Drive at an estimated cost of between $200,000 and $300,000. Savvy sources are saying it doesn't make sense to spend so much of the taxpayers' money to widen the bridge if it doesn't also raise the bridge to the 25-year flood stage standard. I.E., it would be a waste of our money to widen the bridge and then have to return later to raise it, let's say, after the next flash flood washes it out. So, should Conley up the ante or take a rain check on this one?

– Conley wants to spend between $200,000 and $300,000 to expand and enhance the county's dispatch system for fire departments and EMS. This one could be the Camel's Nose Under the Tent. A very excellent and long time fire chief informed the RoundUp the ideal solution would be a multi-million dollar Hays County Dispatch Center.

The quick fix would be to add a new dispatcher or two and new console or two to handle fire and EMS calls exclusively. This proposal appears to have some merit, but the problem is the money is currently not in the proposed 2010 budget. Conley may have to fight for this added expenditure and find cuts of equal amounts if he's going to stick with his pledge to reduce the tax rate.

Hays County Fire Chiefs Association vice president David Smith says a proposal has been forwarded to commissioners and that a presentation will be made at a budget workshop in September. Smith declined to discuss dollar amounts – says they're a non-profit group not subject to public information requests. He suggested we talk to our county commissioners.

Old Baptist Church is up for sale. Will the taxpayers take the bait?

– Conley is still pushing one of his biggest flights of fancy – to have the county and City of Wimberley purchase the old Baptist Church buildings and property (located next to the entrance to Blue Hole) for use as a shared government center. This one has worn various monikers: White Elephant, Private Investor Bailout, Special Interest Bonanza, Profit Heaven, Ol' Clunker.

We are told Conley intends to take his latest church plan to commissioners court on Sept. 15. Earth to Commissioner Conley: a) the money's not in the budget, not even for the original asking price of $2.6 million; b) a soon-to-come capital investment review will show a $5 million total price tag to purchase and rehab the old church property; c) the city has other options for a permanent city hall that offer potentially much better deals for the taxpayers, and could accommodate county offices, when and if commissioners court finally gives your church puppy a rest.

The list could go on but time is short. We've got a call in to the commissioner to help explain some of these bizarro positions of his.

We'll leave on this quick note – it's another very strange thing that has Commissioner Conley's name attached to it. Not long ago, the state highway department made a sudden road sign change along FM 3237 that surprised and angered many residents. One day the green highway sign said Red Hawk Rd. The next day, as if beamed down from space, a larger green highway sign appeared replacing Red Hawk with Woodcreek Ranch Rd. It stirred up a little hornets nest among Red Hawk residents and upset members of a nearby hilltop church, all of whom had for years instructed visitors to turn on Red Hawk.

An enterprising Red Hawk resident has set out to get to the bottom of this mysterious sign change. He has documented some interesting information. Here's part of an e-mail he recently sent around to interested parties:

1) The process for changing our road signs took place over nine months. During this time there was no notice or consultation with the residents on Red Hawk Road.

2) Will Conley was involved every step of the way, despite his apparent assurances that this was all a TXDOT project.

3) There were two residents on Woodcreek Ranch Road that seemed to be behind this. Interestingly, they seem independent of one another and both of them made efforts to urge the county NOT to take down our signs. They expressed a desire to just add their sign in addition to our own. Unfortunately, TXDOT rules do not allow for two street names to be on the same sign if the directional arrow for them points the same way.

4) The key to Conley's ability to remove the signs depended upon some change at the 911 Hays County mapping office. I have an October 24, 2008 email from TXDOT to Will Conley that states the following, "As you may recall, the sign on 3237 reads Red Hawk Road because we were told last year that this was the designation that the 911 services used....... Sean Wright from our office has recently clarified this further with the 911 service and they now recognize it as Woodcreek Ranch Road."

Strange indeed.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Boling appointed as judge for County Court at Law


"If I am fortunate enough to have the honor of being elected into office (in November 2010) I promise to dedicate myself to serving the citizens of Hays County in a manner that would have made Judge Warner proud."


Send your comments and news tips to
online.editor@valleyspringcomm.net or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story.

Anna Martinez Boling, who has a law and mediation practice in San Marcos and formerly served as chair of the Hays County Democratic Party, was appointed this morning as judge of County Court at Law #1.

Mrs. Boling will be sworn in at the county courthouse and assume the judgeship on Sept. 21. She replaces long time Judge Howard Warner, who passed away last month.


The appointment came on a 4-t0-1 vote by county commissioners court.
County Judge Liz Sumter made the motion to appoint Boling. Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley cast the lone dissenting vote.

Six other candidates were vying for the position, all attorneys.

According to her professional vitae, Boling's law practice in San Marcos, since 1998, has included work in criminal felony and misdemeanor defense, family law, guardianship, will and probate, mediation and general civil. She also served as an assistant district attorney prosecuting criminal misdemeanor cases in county courts in El Paso County. She will be hearing similar cases as a Hays County court at law judge.

Boling received her law degree from St. Mary's University in 1994. She is a member of the Texas Bar Association, and served on the board of the Hays County Bar Association from 1999 to 2008.

"I felt that throughout this entire (selection) process that my resume, and yes my experience, qualified me for this job," Boling said of her appointment. "I've worked both sides as a prosecutor and a criminal defense lawyer. I think I have the best experience, personally. What put me over, as well, was all my work in the community."

Among other activities such as victims' rights advocacy, Boling has been a key supporter of the Hays Caldwell Women's Center. She is currently assisting, along with her husband, with landscaping at the center's new facility.

"These (county court at law) judges work very hard," said Boling. "I feel they have had impeccable judgment and been very fair. As far as ethics and fairness, I have no doubt the judges have exercised fair and just methods."

She added, "Judge Warner was one-of-a-kind and is sorely missed. I could not begin to fill his shoes. If I am fortunate enough to have the honor of being elected into office (in November 2010) I promise to dedicate myself to serving the citizens of Hays County in a manner that would have made Judge Warner proud."

On a humorous note, the RoundUp asked whether we should be concerned about having two women presiding over our county courts at law. Linda Rodriguez is the long serving judge of County Court at Law #2. "Not at all, we have four men in district court," Boling quipped. "Should we be concerned about that?"

Update on Jacob's Well Elementary: Rainwater and traffic


Update, 3:45 p.m., the plot grows thicker –
An alert citizen forwarded this e-mail he received yesterday from a TxDOT official:

I can appreciate your concern that there is currently no school zone designation for the new Jacobs Well Elementary School in Wimberley on RM 2325.


Since the school is now open, we are able to assess the traffic in and around the school better for consideration of a school zone.


Our course of action:

- We are going confirm that the current speed limit of 55 mph is appropriate by performing a speed study over the next couple of days.

- Once the speed study is completed we will submit the speed study and proposed school zone to the TXDOT Transportation Commission for approval. This step has to be done to make the speed limit and school zone enforceable by law enforcement. This may take up to 2 months as the commission meets on September 24th and again on October 29.

- Once the speed zone and school zones are approved by commission Minute Order we will install the appropriate signs reflecting the speed limit and school zone.


This whole process may take a couple of months. If you have any further questions feel free to contact us via e-mail or at the number listed below.


Chris Bishop

Public Information Office

Austin District -TxDOT

512-832-7110

_____________________

School board says yes to rainwater

We received an e-mail this morning, now confirmed by the WISD administration office, that the school board voted
unanimously Tuesday night at a called meeting to install a rainwater collection system at the new elementary school.

From Dottie Busby, administration secretary: "A motion made by Melissa Young to move forward in installing rainwater harvesting at Jacob's Well Elementary using moneys from the contingency (fund) and/or interest money from the Jacob's Well construction project; seconded by Matt Polhemus; approved 5-0.
"

Sometimes a community speaking up can make a difference.

The e-mail mentioned that TxDOT had acceded to appeals from the school district to install school zone signs and thus help reduce the chances for a serious accident at the school's dangerous approaches. Ms. Busby said there was some discussion of this (traffic issues) at the school board meeting but no announcements were made. We have a call in to school board president Dave Williams to see what the scoop is.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Group calls for Whole Foods' Board to remove CEO John Mackey


'Damage caused by WSJ Op-Ed shows Mackey is a 'Liability'


Send your comments to online.editor@valleyspringcomm.net


Editor's Note:
Whole Foods' stock is continuing a good recovery since its precipitous drop last November to below $10. It is currently trading at close to $30, and apparently is not being affected by the call for a boycott.

John Mackey/Courtesy Whole Foods Market
WASHINGTON, Aug. 25 /PRNewswire/ – The CtW Investment Group called on the Whole Foods Market (NYSE: WFMI) board to remove CEO John Mackey as Chairman and to begin the process of naming a new CEO in a letter to Whole Foods' lead independent director, Dr. John Elstrott, yesterday afternoon. Citing the risk to Whole Foods' brand reputation caused by Mr. Mackey's editorial opposing President Obama's proposed healthcare reform, CtW urged the board to take immediate action to prevent continued damage in the face of a quickly-growing boycott by Whole Foods' progressive customer base.

"Mr. Mackey attempted to capitalize on the brand reputation of Whole Foods to champion his personal political views, but has instead deeply offended a key segment of Whole Foods consumer base," said CtW Investment Group Executive Director Bill Patterson. "This is not the first time Mr. Mackey's unsanctioned communications have damaged Whole Foods' image with consumers and investors. At a time when shareholders are looking for Whole Foods' management to focus on improving operations in an uncertain economy, we can not afford the risk to our Company's brand reputation caused by Mr. Mackey's indiscretion. He has become a liability and the board should begin the process of identifying a suitable replacement."

San Antonio sues LCRA; and more dry wells


About a 15-minute drive from Sharpe's place, small traffic jams of homeowners and water haulers have formed in front of the bulk water collection center in downtown Dripping Springs


Send your comments and news tips to online.editor@valleyspringcomm.net


From the Statesman

By Asher Price

AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Recent photo of Lake Travis looking across
to where Johnny Fins should be/Localism.com

Read the whole story here

The San Antonio Water System filed suit Monday against the Lower Colorado River Authority for $1.23 billion after the implosion of a massive water-sharing deal months ago.

The suit, filed in Travis County District Court, accuses the LCRA of a breach of contract that deprived San Antonio of water. The suit claims the river authority killed the project to keep water in its basin for lucrative power plant deals.


The LCRA denies the claims.

*********

By Asher Price
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Saturday, August 22, 2009

Read the whole story here
Click on graphic to enlarge
The drought has gotten so bad in the Hill Country that when the twin grandchildren of Bob Sharpe visit his place near Nutty Brown Road, they have to take an outdoor "cowboy shower" by having grandmother Sue Sharpe dump water on them from a bucket.

For three months, his well has been dry, so several times a day, Bob Sharpe steers his blue Chevy pickup to the nearby Cedar Valley Grocery, which gets its water from a Colorado River pipeline, to fill his 200-gallon plastic tank, plus a dozen emptied Newman's Own grape juice jugs strewn across the truck bed.


This drought marks the first time he has faced water problems, said Sharpe, who has lived on the property since 1981. He uses the hauled-in water for his vegetable garden, to flush toilets and do dishes, and to keep the lining of his swimming pool from drying out.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Groundwater district hears from citizens on water waste rule


Send your comments and news tips to online.editor@valleyspringcomm.net or to the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District. You can read the comments or add your own by clicking on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story.

Photo courtesy
Update, Tuesday, Aug. 25: Back to school at the new Jacob's Well Elementary . . . the sprinklers were on full throttle, and running off onto the driveway. We wonder, would the HTGCD consider this a waste of our drinking water?

Update, Monday Aug. 24: The HTGCD has scheduled a public hearing on its water waste rule Thursday, Sept. 17, 5 p.m. at Dripping Springs City Hall. The public hearing also will include consideration of three water permits and several notice of violations. From the district, we are informed that three of its "canary" monitoring wells – Mt. Baldy, a second Wimberley Water Supply well, and at Henly Baptist Church – were showing drops of 20 to 30 feet at last check. These are some of the steepest drops in ten years and since the 2006 drought. Some good news . . . public water suppliers in our western hills have scaled back their pumping amounts around 17%, but are still far short of the preferred 30%.
_____________________

Editor's Note:
We received the dispatch below from an alert citizen who is clearly interested in the wellbeing of our aquifer and groundwater supply. The RoundUp did not attend the Aug. 20 board meeting.
We appreciate the sharing of this news update and will be checking on its accuracy. The biggest agenda item was the district's retooling of its groundwater waste Rule #9. Scroll down about 7 stories and you can read the proposed rule. All citizens residing within the groundwater district are being encouraged to send in their comments.

The HTGCD meeting on the 20th was shorter than their usual 4 to 5 hour ordeals. This meeting kept to the agenda better than most due to President Doug Wierman’s parliamentary control. The main topic was the reading and discussing the proposed Rule 9. The language of the rule occupied the most time with some discussion of the choice of “shall” or “may” in paragraph A. Overall the rule seemed to sit well with those that chose to comment. Certain definitions of terms got some attention, particularly “Waste," “Unaccounted-for," and "Beneficial Purpose."


A question was asked as to what real punishment will be given to violators of the rule except just more paperwork. Doug Wierman said that he and Andrew Backus, who was not present, were discussing levying fines for the most egregious violators.


When the subject of water waste comes up the discussion always gets around to our old friends, Aqua-Texas and their infamous and mysterious 80,000,000 gallons loss per year in Woodcreek phases I and II, for which no one can account. Brent Reeh of Aqua-Texas was present but did not speak about Rule 9 except to complain that no one sent him a copy. Jim McMeans of C.A.R.D. spoke in favor of the rule and about Aqua-Texas’ transgressions and demanded that the board fix the problem.
Jacobs Well Elementary/Aug. 22, 2009
Superintendent Dwain York of the Wimberley Independent School District talked about the new elementary school not having been built with a rainwater harvesting system (a partial system is in place at the school but without storage) and the huge amount of grass and the watering of such that has been complained of by citizens of the district. His explanations were for the most part received with rolling eyes.

He (York) looked tired and obviously misspoke when he said that he found out about the drought in July. When he talked about erosion being a big problem at the school, gasps were heard in the audience. The erosion is likely due to all the hundreds of sprinklers running zone by zone 24/7. Less than 1 inch of rain has fallen at the school in the last 90 days.

Two quick points: The RoundUp has not received any verification that Mr. York made such a statement about becoming aware of the drought in July. One attendee recalls being "surprised" by a similar sounding admission by York. We're checking on a transcript.

. . . and, a thunder storm in June reportedly washed away considerable hydro mulching from the school grounds, which forced the school district to start the grass seeding all over again – a big financial hit. A fair amount of sod, we are informed, was donated.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Commissioners unanimously vote for increase in county property tax


The Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District received a $100,000 grant in the new budget. And a nice chunk of change was added for water conservation consulting services and rainwater system incentives


Send your comments and news tips to online.editor@valleyspringcomm.net or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story.


By Bob Ochoa
RoundUp Editor

Hays County commissioners and County Judge Liz Sumter late Wednesday declared a new, higher property tax rate of 46.92-cents to support their/our proposed 2010 budget, totaling $73,813,660, plus $9,685,364 in debt. The vote was unanimous. The new county budget goes into effect on Oct. 1

The proposed new tax rate is an increase of 1.42-cents over the current rate. We'll all have to pony up about $26 a year more on average, and for some, a whole lot more. The vote on the tax increase came after a marathon 2-day, almost continuous, court session over the budget.

Public hearings will come next for citizen input and comment. Commissioners court can lower but not raise their declared new tax rate in a final vote next month, and the chances that it will be lowered are slim.


Here are more details from a brief phone interview this morning with Judge Sumter. We interrupted the judge, btw, as she was knee deep into signing all the road bond paperwork so the road bonds & road work can get financed out there somewhere in the bond market, at between 4% and 5% interest.

"I think we got a real good bond rating and we were able to get the low interest rate for the citizens, so I feel pretty good," the judge said. "We kept our AA rating and didn't have to buy the insurance because our rating was so high and that reduced our tax rate a little.

"The good news is the Hwy 290 project and the IH 35 projects will carry enough traffic that we expect them to pay all out within 12 years or less. We're getting back (from TxDOT) 100 percent of construction costs, minus interest (on the debt) of course. The 110 San Marcos (east loop) I think is about 70% pay back of construction. FM 1626 – no design and right-of-way (reimbursement) but 100 percent of construction."

We are hearing from other sources that Pct. 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton continues to insist on a full 5-lane reconstruction of 1626 even though it may not be necessary – lots of pressure from very impatient commuters. Try imagining a super fast FM highway suddenly bottling up at the south end of Brodie Lane. Mr. Barton would do well to rethink his full monty five-laner down to four, max, or some other efficient design. It would be the penny wise thing to do for the taxpayers while still improving mobility.

Why did it take two long days to declare the tax rate for 2010? The vote was originally scheduled to take place around noon on Tuesday, after the regular commissioners court meeting.
"Our budget (Sumter's duties include preparing the annual budget) was really tight when we handed it to commissioners," said Sumter. "There were some significant challenges in the road budget part of it. We had to find ways to fund it and we did without raising additional taxes or bridging it (to future expenditures or with debt)." You can see the video leading up to the tax rate vote on the county web site – when it's up and loaded look for the Aug. 19 video session, towards the end.

Six unfilled county job positions were eliminated from the budget. Two other, new positions were added, one described as a "revenue producer," and one in the county treasurer's office.

Here's a happy face for conservationists: The hotly debated 6-acre subdivision rule (a compromise from 6.5 that was reached in the waning days of the vote) passed commissioners court, along with a slew of other new or enhanced development regulations. See this site: http://www.co.hays.tx.us/ for a down loadable pdf document of the new regs. The Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District received a $100,000 grant in the new budget. And a nice chunk of change was added for water conservation consulting services and rainwater system incentives. This money is coming not from the taxpayers but from the county's LCRA 6% Fund.

A break from politics: Support your local farms and farmers


Duh, isn't that how it all started – farms, food and the village people?


Send your comments to online.editor@valleyspringcomm.net or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story.


Here's something a little different from our usual political fare: A plug for our local farmers and CSA, Community Supported Agriculture.

Photos are of Marisa, at left, with The Farm at Montesino Ranch, and Kathleen, below, of E-I-E-I-O Organic Farm. Both farms are in Wimberley and are regulars at the Wimberley Farmers Market, open at 3 p.m. every Wednesday. We're missing names and locations from other parts of Hays County, so if you know of more – and there are! – please forward the info to us in the comments. You can reach E-I-E-I-O at 512.847.2463 and Montesino at 512.847.7393 for more details about their CSA programs.

The RoundUp understands the hard work involved in running a producing organic farm operation, especially in this heat!


CSA is a nationwide movement, stronger in some localities than others, and very worthy of our support. Land's sake pardner! isn't that how it all started – farms, food and the village people? The American Farmland Trust has a nifty web site where you can learn more about the vital part our struggling farms and farmers play in preserving the land and providing fresh clean food.

Here's a snippet from the AFT site: "As unwise development strips farmland from local communities, many parts of America are becoming more dependent on food that travels from thousands of miles away. AFT is working to protect farms to ensure we always have access to fresh, locally grown food—after all, it's not local food without local farmland."

Let's all remember our roots and pay Old McDonald a visit soon.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

PEC board accepts financial audit for 2008; agrees to more public access to operating records


Send your comments and news tips to online.editor@valleyspringcomm.net or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story.


Editor's Note: The story has been edited for style and space. Read the whole story on the PEC website here.

TO: All PEC-area newspapers

Media Contact: Anne Harvey, (830) 868-4933; Austin line, (512) 219-2602


Pedernales Electric’s Board of Directors received and accepted a 2008 financial audit from the accounting firm BKD during Monday’s Board meeting at PEC’s Johnson City headquarters. BKD gave the Cooperative an unqualified or “clean” opinion, which is the best opinion an auditor can offer.

PEC’s Chief Financial Officer Mike Vollmer praised BKD, which is in the first year of a multi-year contract with Pedernales, for its thoroughness and accuracy.


“BKD has done exactly what we asked them to do,” said Vollmer. “We wanted them to look under the rocks. We wanted them to look not just at accounting, but the whole organization, and they’ve done that.”


“This is truly a legitimate audit that conforms to the standards and practices that this organization should expect,” said District 7 Director Dr. Patrick Cox.


BKD also made a detailed presentation regarding the Cooperative’s Form 990, which is filed by organizations that are exempt from federal income tax. The document includes detailed information on the Cooperative’s income, expenses and investments, and it also lists compensation and benefits for Board members, managers and key employees.

The Board agreed on a resolution to promptly file the Form 990 for the fiscal year 2008. The resolution states that this form “will give members and the public increased access to vital Cooperative operating information.”

Larry Landaker will chair
Energy Conservation Committee


The Board took additional action regarding the Energy Conservation and Renewable Generation Programs Committee. District 2 Director James E. Williams had been the committee chairman, but on Monday the Board accepted his voluntary resignation as chairman and voted District 6 Director Larry Landaker, of Wimberley, the new chairman. The Directors then referred to this committee for consideration the Energy Innovation Paradigm, a plan created by the Rural Electric Management Development Council, and a wide range of energy efficiency and renewable energy considerations for PEC.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

BudaFirst says it's ready with a lawsuit over handling of local project


"We believe there's a lot of stuff behind the scenes we haven't seen. We've got people doing in-depth research on this."


Send your comments and news tips to online.editor@valleyspringcomm.net or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story


By Bob Ochoa
RoundUp Editor


Hays County commissioners court, in a lopsided 4-to-1 vote last week, Aug. 11, approved a special tax and road construction deal worth $1.75 million to help U. S. Foodservice relocate to Buda from Austin. County Judge Liz Sumter was the lone dissenter. That's a pretty expensive helping hand, we thought, when Foodservice is just a hop and a skip away and belongs to a family of companies that seem to be pretty well off financially.

It turns out there's a long and winding story behind this generous act by our county commissioners. Part of the story includes some members of the court being on the receiving end of contributions to their campaign accounts. Another part includes Foodservice reportedly bouncing from Buda to Kyle, to the county, back to Buda and still talking to Kyle.
David Patterson, left,
and former Buda mayor Jim Hollis.

"The City of Kyle thought they had a deal, then suddenly pulled out," says former Buda mayor Jim Hollis. "That was told straight from Kyle officials. They (Foodservice) are still (working) with the City of Kyle, per the general manager of Foodservice."

From local press reports, we learned that almost on the very day commissioners court made its offer of corporate welfare
to Foodservice, a group of Buda citizens organized as BudaFirst was handing over to Buda City Hall a petition with 800 signatures – 800! – calling for an up or down referendum on the Foodservice project. Seems like the sensible and democratic thing to do. Buda's city council had mysteriously reversed an earlier vote, 5-to-2, to now allow Foodservice to build in a commercial spot, not in the designated industrial zone embedded in the city's master growth plan – a major faux pas, and a slap, some say, at a master planning process in which the city and taxpayers invested much time, $750,000, and received a yes vote by the citizens.

We wondered, why would commissioners totally dismiss the wishes of 800 taxpaying citizens in favor of a project that, by Foodservice's own admission, will add only 38 new low to moderate income jobs to the local economy, not to mention lots more big truck traffic to an already heavily congested area (near the intersection of I-35 and Main Street-east)?


And why would the city council look the other way, in a major unexplained reversal, and grant Foodservice a huge exception (zoning amendment) to the city's master plan? The petition . . . ? Buda City Hall has taken on a really sniffy attitude: Go away lowly citizens, this is an executive decision we're making. The people will not be deciding these matters.


BudaFirst has a lawsuit waiting to drop in the hopper, just in case.

This from David Patterson, who along with Mr. Hollis, is a central character (among many) in BudaFirst: "The county is already moving forward with the paperwork (on the tax & road deal for Foodservice – a 3 month deadline). There'll be a county public hearing coming, then the city's ruling on our petition question. We suspect Buda will rule against the signatures. They may validate all the signatures but still not allow a referendum. If they do that, we're going to court. The lawsuit will put the kibosh on the project . . . We're drawing up a writ of mandamus (petition for a court ruling)." Raises the key question, whose court? In Hays County, that always seems to be an important question.

The RoundUp believes that Messrs. Hollis and Patterson, perhaps along with the rest of the BudaFirst crew, don't have any real big dogs in this fight other than to uphold prior commitments of the city, per the master plan, and holding their elected officials' feet to the fire. We can relate.


– More of the story: The location Buda's city council approved for Foodservice sits within a group of Municipal Utility Districts (MUDs, known collectively as Sunfield, formerly known as Winfield) comprising around 2,000 acres, out behind the old abandoned truck stop on I-35. "The #1 MUD," says Hollis, "is the honcho MUD. They're all out-of-towners, a huge pension fund is behind it. They've batted around 8,000 homes, donated land for a school and a fire station. It will eventually dwarf Buda. Here's the central nut – none of this is in the Buda comprehensive plan. It's against what the citizens worked for in our master plan." Somehow, former Austin kingpin developer Gary Bradley's name got mentioned.

– We are told that an investigation is under way into certain aspects of this tangled web.

– A member of the Buda city council is said to be professionally associated with Foodservice.

– Mr. Patterson: "We believe there's a lot of stuff behind the scenes we haven't seen. We've got people doing in-depth research on this."

– Mr. Hollis: "This is not against U. S. Foodservice. This is against the process. That's what sticks in my craw, it is overboard with arrogance."

– Mr. Patterson: "Jeff Barton (Pct. 2 commissioner, Buda/Kyle) has been involved all along, trying to play it down the middle. There's no point in even speaking to him (Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley-Wimberley/Woodcreek) because he's already got his mind made up."

This one's worth a whole chapter in someone's book, "Hays County: Never a Dull Moment/Stories of Political Intrigue and Behind the Scenes Corruption." We'll be getting back with updates as they develop.

++++++++++++++++++

U.S. Foodservice has a really
fun web site, by the way, with a truck in it tooting its horn. You should check it out. Here's what it says:

U.S. Foodservice® is a federation of extraordinarily diverse and talented people. Their talents have been blended together to create a team capable of catering to any need. Currently, we are one of only two national broadline distributors operating in the multibillion-dollar foodservice industry.

Together we—

• Provide food and related products and services to more than 250,000 customers, including restaurants, hospitals, hotels, schools and governmental operations.
• Employ more than 26,000 associates and operate more than 60 distribution centers.
• Offer more than 300,000 fresh, frozen, dry and nonfood products from every major national brand and a robust offering of exclusive brands of our own.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Boycott called on Whole Foods for CEO's ripping of Obama's health care plan


Read John Mackey's Aug. 12
op-ed in the Wall Street Journal . . . From Chicago Tribune "Change of Subject" blogger Eric Zorn

Read more, and gobs of comments, at the
Statesman Business Blog

By Brian Gaar | Thursday, August 13, 2009, 12:04 PM

One day after Whole Foods Market Inc. CEO John Mackey wrote an op-ed column knocking President Obama’s proposed health care bill, an online backlash is brewing.

Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal includes an op-ed piece by Mackey calling for less regulation of the insurance industry. He also said programs like Social Security and Medicare are leading to unsustainable government deficits.

“While we clearly need health-care reform, the last thing our country needs is a massive new health-care entitlement that will create hundreds of billions of dollars of new unfunded deficits and move us much closer to a government takeover of our health-care system,” Mackey wrote.

He also decried what he called “socialized medicine” in countries such as Canada and the U.K., saying they lead to rationing of care. Health care is best provided, Mackey wrote, through market exchanges.

[snip]

That prompted online calls for a boycott of Whole Foods.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Our taxes are going up again, and you can thank the 2008 road bond


A penny and a half increase would result in a 47-cent rate, making it the highest tax rate in at least the last 5 years, possibly the highest ever


Send your comments and news tips to online.editor@valleyspringcomm.net or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story.

Editor's Note: And don't forget, next Tuesday's commissioners court business also includes a final vote (we're told) on the county's proposed updated development and subdivision regulations. You can go the county's website for all the latest & revised regulation documents.

By Bob Ochoa

RoundUp Editor

Taxpayers, next Tuesday Aug. 18 is D-Day, or better said, County Tax Day. Following their regularly scheduled meeting, our county judge and commissioners will "declare" the tax rate for the new fiscal year 2010 budget, and schedule public hearings.

Declaring the tax rate won't be the end of the process. Commissioners will only be setting a proposed rate, which can be lowered but not raised at a final vote in September which will set the tax rate in stone for one year.

But Tuesday's vote won't make it any less of a sweat for commissioners court members.
They will have to declare their intentions – and therefore much will be revealed about their character. They will either support a raise in the tax rate because of the debt being incurred by the 2008 Road Bonds, or refuse to vote for an increase and be a hero back home with the anti-tax crowd.

The RoundUp remembers that the two most visible promoters of the road bonds were Commissioners Conley (R) of Wimberley and Barton (D) of Kyle/Buda. They even posed for pictures with supporters. The big question is, will they cut n' run when the going gets tough on Tuesday?

"There's $50 million to $60 million (in debt, mostly road bonds)" coming up, a county official shared with the RoundUp. "The truth is the voters voted for it . . . there was information on a tax increase in the promotional materials."

Even while the court is said to be working hard to "hold the line on no new positions and no (pay) raises," we taxpayers likely will end up "with a penny or a penny and a half" hike in the property tax rate. The current rate is 45.5 cents on the hundred of assessed value. A penny and a half increase would result in a 47-cent rate, making it the highest rate in at least the last 5 years, possibly the highest ever (we'll check on that). We can only imagine the headlines: "Commissioners court approves highest tax rate ever . . . but Commissioner(s) (blank) say no to more taxes."

County Auditor Bill Herzog helped clarify what the proposed new tax rate will actually pay for: $10 million in "priority (road bond) roads," $50 million for "pass through" road bond projects, and an $8 million certificate of obligation for Dacy Lane reconstruction behind the new Seton Hospital complex near Kyle on I-35. The road bonds are supposed to be underwritten next week and sold in the marketplace.

"We're about to get into the heavy stuff (in county expenditures)," Herzog said.

Spending for a new county office complex and expansion of the county jail are not in the proposed 2010 budget, nor is the remaining nearly $140 million in road bond work (plus millions more in debt interest). So it's not hard to figure out where our county taxes will be going in the outlying years – up, up and away! Are you having fun, yet?

Ford working on rainwater collection incentives

We would like to take a moment to extend a hat tip to Pct. 4 County Commissioner Karen Ford for boldly going where other members of the court have dared not go. Mrs. Ford organized a volunteer "water conservation working group" earlier this year that is looking into providing additional incentives for Hays County residents and builders to install rainwater collection systems.

It's not an easy thing to do, considering the many mortgage finance requirements relating to home water supply and state law NOT allowing counties to provide certain kinds of assistance. (Can you imagine what would happen if lenders started to question groundwater in our parts as a "reliable, continuous" water supply?) A bill introduced in the last legislative session by State Rep. Patrick Rose would have helped, but alas, the bill went nowhere.


"We've got a survey going with lenders to ask about policies and procedures and their attitudes on rainwater collection," Ford told the RoundUp. "We're kind of working quietly right now and on ways that we (county) can provide incentives."

Thanks Commissioner Ford.

____________________

From one commenter:
Most lenders can't underwrite a deal like that due to the insurance companies not wanting to insure the structure, since they think if a fire occurs, and the tanks are low, not enough water would be available to put out the fire.

It is gonna boil down to insurance company policies. The lender doesn't care if the house burns to the ground, because they are the first to be paid off. They just don't want the liability for financing a home without sufficient water available (according to what they believe currently). I bet its going to be the insurance underwriters who determine if it ever gets done, not the wholesale lenders. If the insurance binder covers them for the loan balance, they don't care one way or the other.

Blanco County grand jury in session today


Update: Friday Aug. 14
The grand jury recessed yesterday. No indictments or other action was announced. The RoundUp has learned, however, that this grand jury, which was to have ended this month, is likely to remain seated for an additional 90 days. We can only wonder whether the grand jury is hot on the trail of more charges and/or other offenders?

We are informed that the grand jury is now in session, the same grand jury that last month handed down two indictments in its investigation of past mismanagement of the Pedernales Electric Co-op. Folks wondered whether any other dominoes would fall after the indictments of former general manager Bennie Fuelberg and former top PEC attorney Walter Demond, or whether the case was closed. We'll soon see. Stay tuned.


Also coming at the PEC, the next board of directors meeting will be taking a look at the results of an extensive in-house audit. More coming on that, too, as it becomes available.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Groundwater district schedules public hearing on waste rule


Send your comments and news tips to online.editor@valleyspringcomm.net or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story


Click on the graphic to enlarge
Editor's Note: The letter below was sent out to citizens today courtesy of the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District. The proposed rule it addresses was discussed, generally, at a recent lively board meeting and public hearing over Aqua Texas' groundwater pumping permit.

Aqua, we all recall, was instructed to report back to the district with a plan to cut back on its very large and chronic water losses within 60 days. That public hearing was held July 9.
The groundwater district is asking citizens for their comments on the proposed rule. It would apply to all retail water providers. Please be constructive. Their web site is www.haysgroundwater.com Telephone 512.858.9253.

Also of note, the district wants to hear directly from people whose wells have gone dry or have had work done to alter their wells. The information is being used only to track the effects of the drought across the district. Dry wells, we are hearing, and lowering of pumps, is spreading at a pretty good clip. Meanwhile, keep those good wishes going for rain. Some are saying the mass blossoming of purple sage of late could mean a drought buster is on its way.

August 10, 2009


Dear HTGCD Stakeholder,


To address public concerns regarding the waste of groundwater, the HTGCD is proposing a revision to District Rule 9 to address the waste of groundwater through unaccounted for loss, commonly known as line loss. Below is a draft of the revised rule. The draft will be discussed at the upcoming board meeting on Aug. 20. The draft rule is scheduled for public hearing and possible adoption at the September board meeting, tentatively scheduled for September 10. The public is welcome to provide comments at either meeting or submit comments in writing prior to the September meeting.


RULE 9. PROHIBITION AGAINST WASTE


A. Groundwater may not be produced within the District in such a manner as to constitute waste. In the event of a conflict between "Beneficial Purpose" and "Waste," "Beneficial Purpose" shall be subordinate to "Waste." Producing groundwater for a beneficial purpose but in amounts in excess of the amount reasonably needed for that beneficial use or beneficial purpose is wasteful and prohibited.


B. A retail water utility shall account for at least 85% of all groundwater produced. Each retail water utility shall compare the amount of groundwater pumped to the amount of water sold, and if the sixty-day rolling average of unaccounted-for water exceeds 15% of the total water pumped that retail water utility must, within 60 days, submit to the District an Action Plan detailing the methods for bringing the system back into compliance. Action plans must include specific operational or repair activities, a commitment to fund the activities and a timetable. The District will review and either accept the Action Plan or return it with comments. A returned Action Plan must be resubmitted within 60 days. Action Plans must provide for a reduction of at least 50% of the unaccounted-for water in the first year, and the remaining 50% in the second year.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Climate Change Seen as Threat to U.S. Security


Send your comments and news tips to online.editor@valleyspringcomm.net

Click on graphic to enlarge

Editor's Note: Is this something we should be asking our state, federal and local reps about – what can we do together to help reduce the effects of global warming? Or will the question get lost in the din of nonstop growth and political feuding? Texas, The Friendly State, by itself, as we all know, is one of the world's leading emitters of greenhouse gases. Hays and other CenTex counties are working to battle air pollution, but not climate change. This is starting to look like we will need a one-two punch. We're wondering if the new county budget (our county budget, actually) will include any Earth Friendly measures worth mentioning. Budget deliberations are now under way. OUR new budget will go into effect on Oct. 1. Give Judge Sumter (512.393.2205) a buzz , or your commissioner, and ask 'em what's up.

See this interesting study from Texas A&M University on the effects of climate change on trees and grasses in Central Texas.

By JOHN M. BRODER
Published: August 8, 2009

New York Times

Read the full story here: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/09/science/earth/09climate.html?_r=1&hp

WASHINGTON — The changing global climate will pose profound strategic challenges to the United States in coming decades, raising the prospect of military intervention to deal with the effects of violent storms, drought, mass migration and pandemics, military and intelligence analysts say.

Such climate-induced crises could topple governments, feed terrorist movements or destabilize entire regions, say the analysts, experts at the Pentagon and intelligence agencies who for the first time are taking a serious look at the national security implications of climate change.

Related
Times Topics: Global Warming

Friday, August 7, 2009

For Love of Water
A Conference in Wimberley, September 11-13

We can use less water so there is more for the river and the wildlife. We could capture the raindrops falling on our roofs. Would we do this voluntarily or do we need meters on our wells? And what of Dr. Emoto’s work? Can we really affect our water by expressing love and gratitude?

For registration information, call Peggy Cole 512-847-3822 or Amy Normand 830-868-2427 or go to www.hmitexas.org

Cool, clear spring-fed streams, framed by limestone ledges and tall graceful cypress trees, are why so many of us fell in love with the Texas Hill Country. We have moved here in droves, making Hays County now the 13th fastest growing county in the United States. The allure of the area, once mostly rural ranchland in close proximity to fabulous cities, has changed it dramatically. Now those large tracts of land are fragmented subdivisions full of families needing fresh, clean water to drink and to grow their personal landscapes. This fragile ecosystem on the edge of the desert struggles to maintain its balance.

Jacob’s Well, a magical artesian spring in Wimberley represents the canary in the coalmine. As a child, I remember the well’s fountain bubbling up taller than I was. Now it flat-lines.

"All things are connected, like the blood that runs in your family. The water's murmur is the voice of my father's father. The rivers are our brothers. They quench our thirst. They carry our canoes and feed our children. You must give to the rivers the kindness you would give to any brother.”
—Chief Seattle
“For Love of Water,” the Sept. 11-13 conference in Wimberley, explores ways we can give this kindness to the waters that sustain our life. We can use less water so there is more for the river and the wildlife. Would we do this voluntarily or do we need meters on our wells? Can we re-use wash water to water our plants? Or plant plants that are adapted to using less water? We could capture the raindrops falling on our roofs, or falling on deep-rooted grasses in nature’s way of collecting water and sending it to the aquifer. And what of Dr. Emoto’s work? Can we really affect our water by expressing love and gratitude?
“Anything else you're interested in is not going to happen if you can't breathe the air and drink the water. Don't sit this one out. Do something. You are by accident of fate alive at an absolutely critical moment in the history of our planet."
—Carl Sagan
For Love Of Water conference, Wimberley Community Center, September 11-13, 2009. Friday features “The Allure of Water” art event and film screening. Saturday conference will have top speakers and fascinating interactive workshops that will bring appreciation, awareness and action for a sustainable future. Water ceremony is on Sunday at Jacob’s Well. Local, state and national nonprofits are collaborating with Holistic Management Texas to produce this event. Get involved!