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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Boo-koo money raining on Hays for road work; who'll be on the receiving end?


Editor's Note: HaysCAN president and RoundUp contributor Charles O'Dell forwarded the following information and web link. Some eye opening information indeed, showing that Hays County is, or will be, on the receiving end of $18.5 million in federal stimulus money for transportation-related projects, so far. Certainly does raise questions about our county's ongoing road projects and maintenance priorities, who will be getting what, and at what price.

Can we at least get a press release from the county's public information office explaining all this road money?

From the surface, it looks like a windfall for road builders and associated contractors, especially when we add in the tens of millions in road work from the 2008 road bond. Time will tell who benefits most – the citizens and taxpayers or the developers and politicians.

For those of you interested in tracking our county officeholders' campaign accounts and contributor lists, go to this handy link (thanks to county elections administrator Joyce Cowan): http://www.elections.co.hays.tx.us/CandidateOfficeholdersbrInformation/OfficeholdersFiledFinancialReports/tabid/55/Default.aspx


Go to this link for more details on Texas projects from the Onvia Tracking Recovery web site: http://www.recovery.com/For_Businesses.aspx?gloc=TRAVIS%20[TX]*CNT:48453&mloc=TX$453 Go here http://www.recovery.org/
for the national view.


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

____________________________

FEDERAL ECONOMIC RECOVERY SPENDING. Letting Date: August 12, 2009 Description: REPLACE BRIDGE, APPROACHES & WIDEN FRONTAGE RDS HIGHWAY: IH 35, ETC AWARDED TO: BALLENGER CONSTRUCTION COMPANY AMOUNT: $9,393,526.59


FEDERAL ECONOMIC RECOVERY SPENDING. Requisition Number: 0366-01-065 Class/Item: - Agency: TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION Bid Title: STATE LET CONSTRUCTION CONTRACTS, HAYS CO, OVERLAY Dollar Amount Awarded: $ 292,810.93 Bid Status: Full Award All or part of award went to HUB vendor(s): No HUB Vendor(s) Awarded Vendor: HUNTER INDUSTRIES, LTD. P.O. BOX 2109 SAN MARCOS TX 78667-2109 Contact Name: DONALD NYLAND URL: http://www.dot.state.tx.us/business/business.htm Address: AUSTIN HQ - RIVERSIDE ANNEX (TxDOT) 200 E RIVERSIDE ROOM 1B.1 AUSTIN , TX 78704-1204 Phone: (512) 282-2113


FEDERAL ECONOMIC RECOVERY SPENDING. Requisition Number: 2293-01-021 Class/Item: - Agency: TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION Bid Title: STATE LET CONSTRUCTION CONTRACTS, HAYS CO, SEAL & THIN OVERLAY Dollar Amount Awarded: $ 301,864.10 Bid Status: Full Award All or part of award went to HUB vendor(s): No HUB Vendor(s) Awarded Vendor: ANGEL BROTHERS ENTERPRISES, LTD. PO BOX 570 BAYTOWN TX 77522-0000 Contact Name: DONALD NYLAND URL: http://www.dot.state.tx.us/business/business.htm Address: AUSTIN HQ - RIVERSIDE ANNEX (TxDOT) 200 E RIVERSIDE ROOM 1B.1 AUSTIN , TX 78704-1204 Phone: (512) 282-2113


FEDERAL ECONOMIC RECOVERY SPENDING Addendum No. 1 ADDED SP 000--1592, STATE ON-THE-JOB TRAINING PROGRAM AMERICA RECOVERY AND REINVESTMENT ACT OF 2009 (ARRA) PROJECTS. Letting Date: April 22, 2009 Description: SEAL & THIN OVERLAY HIGHWAY: FM 2439 Letting Time: 1:00 PM Letting Address: TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION AUSTIN HQ - RIVERSIDE ANNEX 200 E RIVERSIDE ROOM 1B.1 AUSTIN, TX 78704-1204 Project Advertisement Date: 3/25/09 Project County: HAYS Project Length: 2.197 MI Calendar Days: 20 WORKING DAYS Engineer's Estimate: 539,934.90 DBE Designation: DBE GOAL: 2.0 % Bond Requirement: 11,000.00 Contact Name: NYLAND, DONALD Contact Phone: (512)282-2113


FEDERAL ECONOMIC RECOVERY SPENDING. South Region. District: AUS. County Name: HAYS. Const Value: $531,934. Description: Resurface Roadway. Highway: FM 2439. Limits: CENTERPOINT RD to COMAL C/L. Let Date: Apr-09. Important Note: This list comprises recommendations by TxDOT staff for funding under HR 1, the ARRA. No decisions are final until voted on by the Texas Transportation Commission (Commission). Aggregate dollar amounts are rounded. This list is current as of February 25, 2009. Funding: Total ARRA funding for Texas highway programs is $2.25 billion. Available for the Commission's direct use is $1.7 billion. Staff has recommended approximately $500 million of these funds be spent on maintenance projects and the remaining $1.2 billion be obligated to significant projects. An additional $500 million in funding is available to the state's metropolitan planning organizations for use at their discretion.


FEDERAL ECONOMIC RECOVERY SPENDING. South Region. District: AUS. County Name: HAYS. Const Value: $494,000. Description: Repair Roadway. Highway: SH 123. Limits: IH 35 to FM 3407. Let Date: Apr-09. Important Note: This list comprises recommendations by TxDOT staff for funding under HR 1, the ARRA. No decisions are final until voted on by the Texas Transportation Commission (Commission). Aggregate dollar amounts are rounded. This list is current as of February 25, 2009. Funding: Total ARRA funding for Texas highway programs is $2.25 billion. Available for the Commission's direct use is $1.7 billion. Staff has recommended approximately $500 million of these funds be spent on maintenance projects and the remaining $1.2 billion be obligated to significant projects. An additional $500 million in funding is available to the state's metropolitan planning organizations for use at their discretion.


FEDERAL ECONOMIC RECOVERY SPENDING. South Region. Ready to Let Date: 11/09. Proposer: CAMPO. TxDOT District: Austin. County: Hays4. Project: IH 35. Toll Element: N. Description: Construct Bridge. Limits: At Main Street - Buda. Recommended ARRA Funds: 7000000 + Other Funds: 2000000 Source: MPO = Construction Cost: 9000000 Partnership: The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) throughout the state and local leaders have worked in an open and consultative process to identify significant projects that meet the requirements found in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). After weeks of work with local planning partners and TxDOT district offices to narrow choices, agency professionals have recommended these projects to the Commission. Selection Criteria: 1. Projects on corridors of statewide significance or regional priority, 2. Projects that leverage or pool resources, 3. Projects that create long term economic benefit to the communities and regions they serve, 4. Projects in areas that are economically distressed, 5. A fair and equitable distribution of projects around the state. 1. Important Note: This list comprises recommendations by TxDOT staff for funding under HR 1, the ARRA. No decisions are final until voted on by the Texas Transportation Commission (Commission). Aggregate dollar amounts are rounded. This list is current as of February 25, 2009. 2. Funding: Total ARRA funding for Texas highway programs is $2.25 billion. Available for the Commission's direct use is $1.7 billion. Staff has recommended approximately $500 million of these funds be spent on maintenance projects and the remaining $1.2 billion be obligated to significant projects. An additional $500 million in funding is available to the state's metropolitan planning organizations for use at their discretion.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Letter to commissioners: 'Why are our tax dollars subsidizing retail developers?'


". . . Maybe a press release to explain your embracing of corporate welfare by squandering scarce tax resources on for-profit developments."


Send your comments and news tips to online.editor@valleyspringcomm.net or to Mr. Moden at mlmoden@gmail.com Read the comments or add your own by clicking on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story


It's always good to hear from retired economist and Wimberley resident Merle Moden, who has been a very informative contributor to the RoundUp in past columns that have zeroed in on questionable rate-setting and other financial management actions of our power cooperative, Pedernales Electric. Here's an email letter he lobbed at our county commissioners court members over the weekend. We appreciate Mr. Moden's attentiveness to matters of public interest and the handling of our local tax dollars.

Dear County Judge and Commissioners:


I read with interest the flyer that the Seton Family of Hospitals recently had stuffed in mail boxes, the article in the September 21, 2009 issue of the Austin American-Statesman, and the article in the September 23, 2009 issue of the Wimberley View, all of which provided information about the new Seton medical facility opening in Kyle on October 1, 2009. There was, however, nary a word about the $6 million-plus Hays County taxpayer subsidies that you granted the Seton Family of Hospitals and SCC Kyle Partners Ltd. for hospital, office building, and retail developments.


This is a terrible slight to this Court. Since the Hays County Commissioners' Court's participation in this tax subsidy scam was the linchpin for the ultimate success of this project, it must be painful to have the Seton Family of Hospitals take all the credit after you allowed yourselves to succumb to economic blackmail by agreeing to the subsidies.


Perhaps you can insist that SCC Kyle Partners Ltd. gives you due credit when they complete the for-profit office building and retail developments. Maybe a press release to explain your embracing of corporate welfare by squandering scarce tax resources on for-profit developments.


Maybe it would have been wiser to save some of those future tax subsidies to amortize some jail bonds.


Yours truly,


Mr. Merle L. Moden

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Some recent history on water-dealing, and now the LCRA is worried


So, as the Highland Lakes watershed and our aquifers dry down, one has to wonder how all these new Hill Country LCRA water customers will be served in the coming future

"These two years are so much worse than any two years of the drought of record," said Karen Bondy, manager of river services.

Editor's Note: Here's a good combination of reports from Rob Baxter of the Friendship Alliance of north Hays County, and Asher Price, excellent regional reporter for the Austin American-Statesman. Mr. Baxter's lead-in commentary reflects on recent history in water-dealing and how the water pipelines from LCRA were invited into northern Hays County. Mr. Price reports on a Sept. 23 LCRA board meeting that included some tough news on the effects of the drought.


Send your comments and news tips to online.editor@valleyspringcomm.net, or to Mr. Baxter at
rbaxman@aol.com or friendshipalliance@yahoogroups.com. Mr. Price's email is at the bottom of the story.


By Rob Baxter

Friendship Alliance


The short-sighted and greed-based, rather than need-based, policy hens
of former LCRA chief Joe Beal are coming home to roost.

Back in 2000, when Joe Beal and the LCRA sucker punched the SW Austin Hill Country by caving into developer and financial interests, they chose to run unneeded pipelines up 290W and Hamilton Pool Road, against the will of many residents who spoke up against these unplanned "plans" at the time.

These pipelines were shoved down the region's throat
without any comprehensive planning involving schools, highways or sewage disposal whatsoever, under the guise of an "emergency," an emergency that was fabricated when one well in Sunset Canyon allegedly went dry...that being a well belonging to a friend of then County Judge Jim Powers and a member of the DS (Dripping Springs) Planning Commission.

The "outrage"
created at that time over this one well was then used to create the "emergency" water resolution the county commissioners, led by Russ Molenarr of Precinct 4, needed to spur local growth and development based on the 290W LCRA pipeline. This was also orchestrated in tandem with then illegal development agreements for the now abandoned Cypress-Rutherford tract plan and the subsequently developed Belterra subdivision. (We say "then illegal" because following the FA's discovery of their illegality, with the help of congressional testimony from then DS City Attorney Rex Baker, legislation was passed making the illegal DS agreements retroactively legal.)

These agreements were also
done concurrently with Development District legislation proposed by then Hays State Rep. Rick Green, defeated legislation that arguably helped cost Green his seat. Hays County's own little "Chinatown." This would have made a great novel were it not all fact.

This is all brought up again now only in the interest of learning from
one's mistakes. So, as the Highland Lakes watershed and our aquifers dry down, one has to wonder how all these new Hill Country LCRA water customers will be served in the coming future.

Read on below to see how the present LCRA management struggles to come
to terms with the prior LCRA mismanagement. And meanwhile, pray for more and more rain.

ENVIRONMENT
Tougher water rules on way? LCRA reviewing drought plan.
Intensity of drought may push LCRA to act on management plan sooner.

By Asher Price
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF

Friday, September 25, 2009

Despite rains that have raked Central Texas since the start of September, the Lower Colorado River Authority said this week that the intensity of the drought over the past two years could compel it to require its municipal and industrial customers to curtail water use earlier than called for in a state-approved drought plan.

At its board meeting Wednesday, LCRA staffers said that recent rains have helped replenish water supplies only slightly and that the river authority may ask for "special emergency relief" from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for flexibility in managing its water supplies.

A staff analysis, presented to LCRA's board of directors, shows that, in severity if not length, the current drought is more intense than the drought of the 1950s. This record drought is the basis of LCRA's state-approved water management plan, which determines steps the LCRA takes at various milestones over the course of a drought to stretch water supplies. Under the management plan, the LCRA must wait until the combined storage of the Highland Lakes falls below 600,000 acre-feet before it can make pro rata water supply cuts — which could require reductions of 35 percent of average use — to all its customers, which include cities and industrial facilities.

Currently, the lakes contain 788,000 acre-feet and are 39 percent full. LCRA staff said that if it determines the drought is worse than the one in the 1950s, it could be forced to ask for more restrictions. Though the LCRA can declare the drought worse than the drought of record, it still needs to consult with the environmental commission to make changes to its water management plan.

"These two years are so much worse than any two years of the drought of record," said Karen Bondy, manager of river services.

Some areas, like northern Hays and southern Travis counties, already face stiff cutbacks. The Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District, which oversees pumping of underground water by companies and cities that provide water to at least 50,000 people, has been in a critical stage drought, which requires a 30 percent cut in use, since December.

In August, the LCRA asked its customers to implement mandatory outdoor water restrictions, which were aimed at cutting water use by 25 percent. Should the LCRA call for a 35 percent cut across the basin, it would effectively be asking customers to slice away an additional 10 percent of their average use. Strategies in that case could include further limiting the length of time residents could water their lawns.

Under current conditions, record low volumes of water are flowing from tributaries into the Highland Lakes, which supply water to at least a million Central Texans. In addition, the region has received below-normal rainfall for the past two years, the third-driest such period on record, with only 35.25 inches of rain in Austin, compared with 67 inches on average. Record high temperatures in 2008 and 2009 have also contributed to the intensity of the drought.

Hard rains a week ago provided only 1 percent of what was needed to fill the lakes, and the LCRA urged people to continue conserving water.

"The drought is not over," said Tim Timmerman, a board member from Travis County.

The staff will come back to the board in October with recommendations.

"We're trying to deal with an unpredictable future while managing an incredibly important resource in our basin," general manager Tom Mason told the board.

asherprice@statesman.com; 445-3643

Friday, September 25, 2009

PEC writes off $250,000 a month in uncollectables


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: Thanks to Milton Hawkins of the pec4u watchdog group for forwarding this story, and to Highland Lakes Newspapers for sharing. We're picking up other matters of concern in cross-watchdog discussion with respect to promised reforms from current reform board members that look like they are being delayed or shunted aside. We'll catch up on that sooner than later.

By Ashleigh Whaley

Highland Lakes Newspapers|Burnet Bulletin


Read the whole story here.


The Pedernales Electric Cooperative is losing an average of nearly $250,000 per month in write-offs for uncollectable accounts, leading board members to acknowledge needed improvements Monday as they met in Johnson City.

The PEC currently requires no deposit when new members sign up for services and does not perform a credit check to determine the reliability of the new members, leading to a loss of nearly $3 million in the last 12 months.


“Write-offs have to do with customers who have disconnected, either moved away from the system or have been disconnected for non-payment,” said Mike Vollmer, PEC’s chief financial officer. “And after a certain process of solicitation and a certain amount of time involved, those accounts are determined to be truly uncollectable and those are written off the system.”


Vollmer said he believes the PEC could improve its policy on uncollectable accounts and board president Larry Landaker (of Wimberley), who said he was “surprised the PEC doesn’t have deposits,” agreed.


“All the amounts you’ll see earlier in the agenda, that have been noted by members, is something we need to be more aware of,” Vollmer said. “On an annual basis, if you add that up, all of those final bill write-offs divided by the total amount of billings, we’re probably 4/10ths of 1 percent or less than half of one percent. But when you look at that amount across the country, it’s an interesting comparison in that other cooperatives are typically lower than us. Some are down around 2/10ths of 1 percent. If you ask me, we can improve on that.”

PEC to distribute up to $4 million in capital credits, extends fee waiver


Press Release

Read the whole story here.

September 24, 2009

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

Johnson City, Tx – In a meeting streamed live on the Internet, Pedernales Electric’s Board of Directors voted on Monday to distribute up to $4 million in capital credits to its members. The Board also decided to extend the waiver of the $100 reconnection fee through the end of 2009.

Capital credits accumulate when revenues exceed expenditures, and those credits are allocated to members based on their electric use. The capital credit amount is based on an allocation factor, and on Monday the Board passed a resolution setting the allocation factor at 0.02251975. Members can determine their individual allocation of capital credits by taking their total annual kilowatt-hour billings in 2008 and multiplying it by the allocation factor. Current plans call for members to be notified of their 2008 allocation and capital credit balance in writing in October, and members eligible for this capital credit distribution will receive a credit on their November bill.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Water speculators fishing for profit amid drought scare


"The board members from Lee County don't want to overpermit water to leave here and leave ourselves short," said Joe Cooper, general manager of the Lost Pines Groundwater Conservation District. "We're probably going to get sued from two directions some day. Either we turn someone down for a permit, and they sue us because we've been too scrupulous. Or one day when a well goes dry, we get sued by the landowner because we're too free with water."


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

This story was published before the welcome cool fall temperatures arrived, and a bunch of rain later. It's another piece of important information for those of us who care about our own and our families' future water supply. This question cannot be left to bought politicians and water profiteers alone to decide for us. Lee County is just two counties away northeast from Hays.

By Asher Price

AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF

Austin American-Statesman

Read the whole story at this link: http://www.statesman.com/news/content/news/stories/local/2009/09/14/0914water.html

Monday, September 14, 2009

LEXINGTON — In a scorching cow pasture silent save the lowing of cattle, Terry Gilmore picks up a stick and draws in the sand a simple map: divots in the ground for a handful of water wells, then a long scratch for a pipeline to deliver water to Austin's eastern flank.


About 2,000 feet below him sits an underground reservoir, known as the Simsboro formation, that he and others hope will fuel development everywhere from Georgetown to San Antonio.

Gilmore, 60, the chief investor in a water development company called Sustainable Water Resources, has spent millions of dollars to try to make his lines in the sand a brick-and-mortar reality.

Besides Gilmore, a handful of competitive water speculators are banking that the water beneath the largely rural area in Lee and surrounding counties is their crystal-clear gold. As anxieties about water supplies rise among the public and politicians, private speculators see an opportunity to tie up water rights and sell their goods to cities. But they have struggled to land big buyers.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

God & lawns: 
Imagine this conversation between St. Francis and God


You aren't going to believe this Lord. When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it

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: We received this little story from Peggy Maddox after she read it at the opening of the recent For Love of Water conference in Wimberley. Peggy and her husband, Joe, are ranch managers at the Holistic Management, Int'l – West Ranch, in Ozona, Texas. It brought the message home for us – in more ways than one. Hope it does for you, too.

God: Francis, you know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is going on down there? What happened to the dandelions, violets, thistle and stuff I started eons ago? I had a perfect, no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honeybees and flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of colours by now. But all I see are these green rectangles. 



St. Francis: It's the tribes that settled there, Lord. The Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers "weeds" and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass. 



God: Grass? But it's so boring. It's not colorful. It doesn't attract butterflies, birds and bees, only grubs and sod worms. It's temperamental with temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there?



St. Francis: Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilizing grass and poisoning any other plants that crop up in the lawn. 



God: The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast. That must make the Suburbanites happy. 



St. Francis: Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it – sometimes twice a week. 



God: They cut it? Do they then bail it like hay? 



St. Francis: Not exactly, Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags. 



God: They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it? 


St. Francis: No, Sir. Just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.



God: Now let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away? 



St. Francis: Yes, Sir. 



God: These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work. 



St. Francis: You aren't going to believe this Lord. When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.

God: What nonsense. At least they kept some of the trees. That was a sheer stroke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn, they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. Plus, as they rot, the leaves form compost to enhance the soil. It's a natural circle of life. 



St. Francis: You had better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle. As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away. 



God: No! What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the winter and to keep the soil moist and loose? 



St. Francis: After throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy something which they call 'mulch.' They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves. 



God: And where do they get this mulch? 



St. Francis: They cut down trees and grind them up to make the mulch. 



God: Enough! I don't want to think about this any more. St. Catherine, you're in charge of the arts. What movie have you scheduled for us tonight?



St. Catherine: 'Dumb and Dumber,' Lord. It's a real stupid movie. 



God: Never mind, I think I just heard that story from St. Francis.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Jobless rate in Austin area climbs to 7.2 percent; 8 percent across the state


Can we say 'We told you so'

Read the comments or add your own by clicking on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story

Regular contributor to the RoundUp Charles O'Dell had this comment:

Pct. 2 Commish Jeff Barton
up for 2008-2009 Oopsies Award of the Year

Bet there are a lot of folks who moved to Hays County and then voted last year to spend nearly $100
million expanding FM 1626 as a commuter route to Austin via SH45 (that is now off the table for at least a decade) would vote differently today. TxDOT has wasted too much of the taxpayers' dollars. We tried to tell them the $207 million road bond that commissioners Jeff Barton and Will Conley were pushing was going to raise property taxes, increase traffic fatalities, converge into two-lane Brodie, and only help developers. Now some of them don’t have jobs, their homes are being foreclosed, their property taxes are increasing and Barton will be running for County Judge. And we thought Commissioner Barton was already at his highest level of incompetency.

From the Statesman:

"Austin job-loss rate deepens in August"

By American-Statesman staff | Friday, September 18, 2009, 09:37 AM


The Austin area lost jobs for the third month in a row in August, and at the steepest rate so far in the recession.


The area lost 7,200 jobs between August 2008 and last month, a 0.9 percent drop. The decline was 0.2 percent in June and July, according to the Texas Workforce Commission.


The losses were concentrated in the manufacturing sector, where the annual loss rate was 11.5 percent. That reflects continuing job cuts by high-tech companies including Samsung Austin Semiconductor and Applied Materials Inc. and their suppliers.


The unemployment rate in the Austin-Round Rock area last month was 7.2 percent, down from 7.3 percent in July but up from 4.7 percent in August 2008.


Statewide, the unemployment rate was 8 percent in August, up from 7.9 percent in July but up from 5 percent in August 2008.


The state lost 62,200 jobs last month."

Sunday, September 20, 2009

PEC Board committee on conservation, renewables seeking member involvement


Press Release

TO: All PEC-area newspapers

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


Pedernales Electric’s Energy Conservation and Renewable Generation Programs Committee approved at its Sept. 11 public meeting in Johnson City the formation of a membership advisory panel on conservation and renewable energy. The six-member panel will be asked to bring members’ ideas forward and advise the committee on issues related to energy efficiency and green energy.

Members interested in serving on the panel should submit their names and qualifications to PEC at: PEC Membership Panel, P.O. Box 1, Johnson City, Texas, 78636, or e-mail them to: membership_panel@peci.com. The committee will review all submissions and select panel members.

At its July meeting, PEC’s Board of Directors gave committee chairs the latitude to appoint PEC members and other individuals to serve as volunteer advisors. The Energy Conservation and Renewable Generation Programs Committee is chaired by PEC Board President and District 6 Director Larry Landaker and includes District 2 Director James E. Williams and District 7 Director Dr. Patrick Cox. PEC’s full Board in August referred the Cooperative’s energy efficiency and renewable energy goals to this committee.

In other business, the committee:

- Received reports from PEC staff about the Cooperative’s current position in the areas of conservation and renewable energy. The reports prompted discussions on the costs, marketing efforts, effectiveness and public perception of PEC’s programs and initiatives in these areas, including its interconnection policy, home energy audit process and rebate programs for air conditioning units and commercial lighting.

- Learned from PEC Deputy General Manager Paul Hilgers that the Cooperative is working with the Lower Colorado River Authority, PEC’s primary wholesale power supplier, on an energy conservation and efficiency study.

- Directed PEC staff to develop a report on what the Cooperative is currently spending on, as well as what funding is set aside in future budgets for conservation-related programs.


The next meeting for this committee will be Oct. 12, at 1:30 p.m., at PEC’s Johnson City headquarters building. The next regular meeting of the entire Board will be Sept. 21, at 10 a.m., also at PEC headquarters.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Groundwater district adopts beefed up water waste rule; refers one rule violator for possible penalty


You couldn't miss the big gun attorneys who were present. Said one attendee, "a fair number of them (with business before the district) were of the mind that if you can't grant us a continuance or give us what we're asking for now, then it's litigation."


Send your comments and news tips to online.editor@valleyspringcomm.net or to the HTGCD,
manager@haysgroundwater.com

By Bob Ochoa
RoundUp Editor

Doug Wierman, president of the board of the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District
and a registered Texas professional geoscientist, reported this morning that the district's new water waste Rule 9 was adopted by a healthy margin of votes at last night's public hearing.

The beefed up rule will require water systems, big and small in western Hays County, to hold line losses (wasted groundwater) to no more than 15%. Rule 9, Mr. Wierman said, is based on Texas Water Development Board guidelines for water systems. "If we find they are over 15% for more than 90 days, they will have to come to us with a plan as to how they will remedy the situation," he said. Aqua Texas, by far one of the region's biggest water wasters, is due to turn in its water waste prevention plan to the district's office by Sept. 22.

The district's Thursday public hearing and meeting began at 5 p.m. at Dripping Springs City Hall and ended around 9:15. About 25 citizens, attorneys and folks who had business before the district, were in attendance. Sprinkled about were a few golfing enthusiasts who were lamenting the dry conditions of their golf course fairways.

You couldn't miss the big gun attorneys who were present. Said one attendee, "a fair number of them were of the mind that if you can't grant us a continuance or give us what we're asking for now, then it's litigation."

The district had three groundwater permits to consider. According to board president Wierman, the Ron White Dripping Springs Dental Clinic commerical permit was approved for 50,000 gallons per year. The Howard Ranch development, at FM 150 & RR 12 south of Dripping, has requested 400 acre-feet of groundwater use (130,400,000 gallons) for landscape irrigation for full build out. The permit was not approved, but was set aside for another meeting between the parties some time in October. The groundwater management plan, Wierman said, calls for only 11 acre feet. "That's why we're talking about it," he said.

Quicksand, or Wimberley Springs Partners, has had a 900-acre feet (293,400,000 gallons) yearly permit pending before the district. (We're checking on the actual number). It was also granted a continuance.

Three notice of groundwater rule violations went before the district: The Frank Leal notice (
2100 Creek Rd, Dripping Springs) was referred to the district's counsel for possible penalties. The case involves a very large groundwater-filled pond. "We view pumping of ponds and evaporation as a waste of water – a very well defined term in the (state) water code," Wierman noted. The Cobb notice of violation (Jon Cobb, 31300 Ranch Road 12, Dripping Springs) was granted a delay to attempt a settlement before enforcement action is taken. This case involves non-permitted irrigation of two ball fields (up to as many as nine). The Browning Ranch notice (Alfred Albert, LLC, Browning Ranch, Dripping Springs) was granted a continuance at the request of Browning counsel. This one involves pumping groundwater into a pond about a half acre in size.

____________________

Editor's Note: We can't help but make a comment about the tough challenges the district faces at almost every turn in the road on its long journey to protect and preserve our groundwater beneath the hills and valleys in western Hays. They are a brave lot, considering the constant threats of lawsuits and all those high powered attorneys always lurking in the background, chomping at the bit.

We should not forget that the district is functioning on a shoestring budget, always has, thanks to no help from our elected representatives in the legislature, save for members of our county commissioners court who always seem to come through with funding assistance. Thanks district, and thanks commissioners. If you counted up the dollars available for bar room legal brawls, the district is probably out-gunned 20 to 1. That's a shame.

We asked Mr. Wierman, "Are you afraid of their attorneys?" Well, in keeping with the western True Grit spirit, Wierman responded, "No, I think ours is as good as theirs." So here's another hat tip to the district, and to the district's counsel, Greg Ellis.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

No cuts to speak of, commissioners pass final budget and a hike in the tax rate


One of the jewels gleaned from yesterday's budget discussions was that we taxpayers can expect another tax increase in the fiscal 2011 budget of about the same amount


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 adopted a fiscal year 2010 county budget late yesterday afternoon, totaling just short of $100 million, and voted to pass along to the taxpayers a
1.42-cent increase in the property tax rate.

The increase will raise the current rate of 45.5 cents to 46.92 cents on the hundred.

The vote was 4 to 1, with Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley the only hold out.
Funny thing about it was Conley supported most, if not all, of the expenditures in the budget but decided – for the record of course – to vote against the budget package. Conley made a 180 flip-flop from his vote of Aug. 19 when he supported the then "declared" tax rate increase of the same amount. It's what we've come to expect from politicians who engage in CYA to maintain some semblance of credibility with their base of supporters. "I voted no after I voted yes."

County Judge Liz Sumter said commissioners, during at least seven hours of discussion, "found no place to cut. The budget stayed exactly the same (with a few added expenditures for the Sheriff's Department, and fire and EMS dispatching resources)."

The RoundUp was present for the morning portion of the budget session.

Sheriff's deputies received a 4% pay raise, county elected officials and employees received no pay raises in the new budget, and an expensive employee bonus payment was put off indefinitely, or until the economy starts turning around for the better.

Sumter noted that Conley "voted for all the expenses . . . the only specific real cut he had was to take a half-cent off the government center." That idea went nowhere.

Commissioners have had a sort of gentleman's agreement to establish a savings account for debt servicing that will be incurred by the planning and construction of a large new county government center in San Marcos. Critics of lavish government spending are already referring to it as the Hays County Taj Mahal. It may or may not be needed – it depends on who you talk to – but you've got to wonder about commissioners' priorities in these difficult economic times.

One could say that by his "No" vote on the final budget Wednesday, Mr. Conley reneged on the government center agreement, and he reneged as well on the unanimous agreement reached in the Aug. 19 vote to pay for the debt being incurred by the the 2008, $207 million Road Bond. Conley, we will all recall, was one of the road bond's head cheerleaders.

Here's how Conley explains his vote: "We needed to cut the budget by a little over a million and half dollars in order to not have a tax rate increase on the citizens of our community. I proposed many different ways that we could get there. At the end of the day the court didn't want to do that. I told my colleagues yesterday that I don't necessarily believe what they passed was irresponsible. I just think we have different philosophies. I made all kinds of public comments and proposals and they just weren't accepted by my colleagues."

In a previous budget workshop, Conley reportedly proposed cutting $25,000 from the county's $100,000 supporting grant to the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District. He lost that bid, too, once again showing his disregard for the important work being accomplished by the district which in fact has no decent alternative sources of funding. The cut would not have affected the tax rate, in any event. Conley was nonspecific when he said there are other water conservation projects that could use the money. We wonder what constituency Mr. Conley is representing when he advocates cuts in funding that supports our groundwater conservation district.

One of the jewels gleaned from yesterday's budget discussions was that we taxpayers can expect another tax increase in the fiscal 2011 budget of about the same amount. That would be back-to-back tax rate increases. We'll check the records to see if that has ever occurred before.

Judge Sumter was not exactly elated when asked the question, but nonetheless explained: "Next year we have projected that, yes, our indebtedness will be an additional 3 cents on debt service. It is what we have projected out for 20 years if we continue to borrow to make these roads and parks. For 2011 it would be 3 cents. New growth (revenues) would take up some of that, so it will probably be about a penny and a half."


We'll try to get back with more details on where the near $100 million in our 2010 county budget and hard-earned tax money is being spent.

Hays Trinity groundwater district meets today in Dripping Springs


For more information, go to the district's web site and click on "Meetings" in the Quick Links:
www.haysgroundwater.org


Send your comments and news tips to online.editor@valleyspringcomm.net or to
Dana R. Carmean, manager@haysgroundwater.com

The board of directors of the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District meets today at 5 p.m. at Dripping Springs city hall, 511 Mercer St. For directions, call city hall at 512.858.4725.

The board will consider adopting an amended Rule 9 – prohibition against groundwater waste. The long-awaited amended rule will attempt to hold public water suppliers in western Hays County (we have three large suppliers) to a line loss waste factor of 15 percent.

As things now stand we are seeing some suppliers experiencing (and getting away with) huge amounts of unaccounted for line loss, upwards of 40 percent. In the case of Aqua Texas (Wimberley-Woodcreek), their losses are coming in at an estimated 80,000,000 gallons a year. Aqua was supposed to have submitted a waste reduction plan to the district by Sept. 9 by order of the board at its July 9 public hearing held in Wimberley.

Also on the agenda are consideration of three groundwater permits for non exempt permit holders: Dr. Ron White, Dripping Springs; Erik Howard (Howard Ranch), Wimberley Springs Partners; and Quicksand Golf Course in Woodcreek).

There will also be consideration and possible action on three notices of violation: Frank Leal, Notice of Violation Review, 2100 Creek Rd, Dripping Springs; Alfred Albert, LLC, Browning Ranch Notice of Violation, Dripping Springs; and Jon Cobb Notice of Violation Review, 31300 Ranch Road 12, Dripping Springs.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Sumter announces bid for re-election as Hays County Judge


Sumter touts as accomplishments two new health clinics, a mediation center, new, tougher subdivision regulations and a health insurance program for small businesses

Send your comments and news tips to online.editor@valleyspringcomm.net or to judgesumter@aol.com

Editor's Note: The RoundUp has two things to say about Judge Sumter after three years of close observation while she's been in office: She's honest, and she's no darling of the special interests, unless you consider good stewardship of the land a shadowy special interest. Ask her a question and she will, in most instances, give you a straight answer, plus some background. A couple of Sumter's colleagues on the commissioners court wouldn't know a straight answer if it kicked 'em in the teeth,
including one sly fellow Democrat who's making plans to challenge Sumter in the March primaries.

One other thing: The citizens of Hays County who are NOT in the land development business don't have to lay awake at night wondering what Sumter will pull out of her hat the next morning. She is the bane of most developers and the real estate crowd. In our book, that's just fine and dandy. She will be accused of being a no-growther, but see what she has accomplished, first, and where's she's going with the county comprehensive plan that is now taking shape and you will see she stands for growth that makes sense for both the business community and our natural environment.

What has been lacking in Sumter's court the last three years, and it's not all her fault, is imagination and a better sense of priorities. A $100 million budget can accomplish a lot of things. Unfortunately we'll be getting a lot more road work and not enough long term preservation of open space and conservation of our groundwater. No solar panels on county government buildings, no major energy conservation measures that we are aware of, and no apparent headway in mass transit or commuter rail between San Marcos, San Antonio and Austin. More and wider roads will not stop the glut and gluttony. We need a court – and leadership – that will plan for growth in places that can take it and places that can't.

You can see Judge Sumter and the rest of the commissioners court in action Tuesday, or more importantly Wednesday Sept. 16, 9 a.m., the last public hearing over the county's 2010 fiscal year budget. This will be the last chance for commissioners and taxpayers to haggle over expenditures and cost-cutting before a vote is taken setting the budget and the new, increased property tax rate, for the new year. Watch in particular for where the vote goes to reject or approve pay raises for elected officials and county employees before the new budget is approved.

San Marcos, Tx – County Judge Liz Sumter announced today that she will seek re-election to a second term. Emphasizing what she says is one of the themes of her campaign, Sumter said “I may office in the County Courthouse, but the citizens own the building. That’s something that citizens understand very well. Unfortunately, some elected officials lose sight of that. So I’m making a point of letting the citizens know that I know that I work for them. That’s the attitude I had when I ran for office in 2006 and it’s the attitude that I have today.”

Commenting on the role of county government, Sumter focused on the county budget. “The Commissioners Court in Hays County sits over an enormous budget, Sumter said. I expect when everything is said and done, this coming years budget will be just shy of 100 million dollars. And that money comes from tax payers throughout the county — north, south, east, west — all four county precincts. No matter how you look at it, 100 million is an enormous amount of money — an enormous amount of the citizens’ money. How that money gets spent is really the issue. That’s what the citizens care about.”


Sumter also pointed to the court structure as central to the role of County Judge. “Some might say that the County Judge is just one of five votes on the Commissioners Court. In a way, that’s true. But there’s more to it. What it comes down to is who’s going to be there for all of the citizens of the county? Who’s going to be there to balance the competing interests? Who’s going to be there to answer the questions about where the money went? Who’s going to sit in the seat that has to answer to all of the citizens — not in just one area or one precinct, but across the entire county? Who’s going to be there to lead?”


Sumter called her first term in office “a productive one that I think got us going in the right direction. I’ve done more than just watch the tax money come in and go out. I’ve implemented some new programs that I believe have been badly needed. For example, we have two new health clinics and a low cost health insurance program for small businesses. We’ve started a mediation program that will provide an affordable alternative to costly court litigation and we’ve adopted subdivision regulations that protect our natural resources. We’re building some badly needed roads and we’re adding to our inventory of parkland and open space.”


In describing what she sees ahead in the campaign, Sumter said “I’m just going to stick with an open door policy and try my best to represent all the people of Hays County. I’m going to take my case to the voters, and I’m going to tell them how I see it. Like I said, I may office in the County Courthouse, but the citizens own the building.”

Other offices and other candidates

The official filing period for county office candidates begins Dec. 3 and ends Jan. 4, 2010.

The RoundUp has caught wind of two big surprises of who may not be seeking re-election: Long time District Clerk Cecelia Adair, and County Clerk Linda Fritsche, who's worked for Hays County for 40 years.

Here's a list of candidates who are expected to file sooner or later:

For District Clerk
: Beverly Crumley, Republican, currently works in the district clerk's office.
For County Clerk
: Liz Gonzalez, Republican; and Gina Mendoza, Democrat. Both are current county clerk employees.
428th District Court Judge
: Scott Courtney, Democrat, is expected to challenge sitting District Judge Bill Henry.
County Court At Law, #1
: Tacie Zalhar and David Mendoza, both Democrats, are expected to challenge recently appointed Judge Anna Martinez Boling. Boling has made it known she intends to seek election to the position.
District Attorney Sherri K. Tibbe's
term is up next year. No announcements here thus far.
All Justices of the Peace
terms are up next year except JP Joanne Prado, Pct. 1 Place 1, San Marcos. No announcements here thus far.
Appointed Sheriff Tommy Ratliff
has already made his intentions known to run for election next year.
Pct. 2 County Commissioner Jeff Barton
, D-Buda/Kyle/Mountain City, is being publicly coy about whether he will challenge County Judge Liz Sumter, but on the side is accumulating as much special interest campaign money as he can. He has one semi-official Republican challenger in Pct. 2 so far, Mark Jones, a member of the board of the Hays Consolidated ISD.
Pct. 4 County Commissioner Karen Ford (D-Drippings Springs & a very large precinct that extends to the outskirts of San Marcos) is putting on a small fund raiser this week and is expected to run for a second term. So far, she has one semi-official challenger, Republican Ray Whisenant, a Dripping Springs water well driller and johnny-come-lately rainwater collection guy.

What Does Mexico’s New Drug Law Portend?


Send your comments and news tips to
online.editor@valleyspring.com or click on on the "comments" button below the story

Editor's Note:
The RoundUp understands that there's a lot of politics and personal ethics, morals and responsibility involved in this issue of criminalization or decriminalization. As in seat belts, open containers, auto insurance, gun ownership, campaign finance, and taxes we often wonder where the government telling us what to do ends, and our personal responsibility begins.

New York Times
By THE EDITORS


Read the whole story
here.

Mexico last month adopted a law that has been described as decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana and harder drugs, including cocaine and heroin. Other countries in Latin America are considering similar changes in their laws, prompting anti-drug groups in the U.S. to say that pressure from south of the border will push the United States toward decriminalization, if not legalization, of drugs.


What effect will the new policy will have in Mexico and, possibly, in the United States? Will it draw so-called drug tourists from across the border? Is the Obama administration doing the right thing by taking a wait-and-see attitude, in contrast to the Bush administration’s strong opposition to a similar plan proposed in Mexico in 2006?


Tony Payan, political scientist
Jorge CastaƱeda, former foreign minister of Mexico
Calvina Fay, Drug Free America Foundation Inc.
Peter Reuter, professor of criminology
Ethan Nadelmann, Drug Policy Alliance

Love the rain, love the water, but is it enough for our aquifer?


Send your comments and news tips to online.editor@valleyspringcomm.net or to amy@hmitexas.org


Photo courtesy Tim Raines

The three-day For Love of Water (FlOW) conference at the Wimberley Community Center, that brought together some of the region's best minds and artists and examined the many facets of our water conditions and best management practices, ended Sunday morning with a blessing of Jacob's Well, the lifeblood of Wimberley's Cypress Creek and Blue Hole. It was not lost to the more than 200 attendees that three days of soaking rain preceded the conference and lasted through most of the day Saturday.

Holistic Management International-Texas gets a big hat tip for presenting this well-rounded, high energy confab. Thanks to executive director Amy Norman of Johnson City, conference organizer Peggy Cole of Wimberley, and the many financial backers and board members of HMI. For more information, visit HMI's web site: http://www.hmitexas.org/

While on the subject, Ray Schiflett, affectionately known as Wimberley's Weather Man (meteorology is his hobby), reports that the Wimberley area has nearly caught up to its average rainfall amount for this time of the year – 23 inches so far compared to the average of around 25 inches. That's good news, for a change! Thanks, Ray.

Not to rain on Ray's rain parade, but Wes Schumacher, a hydogeologist at the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District, reminds us that only a very small percentage of rainfall actually makes it below ground to replenish to our groundwater levels – only about 3.6%. That's according to the latest
Texas Water Development Board computer model of the Trinity Aquifer.

"It's a rather tortuous journey for a water molecule to make it all the way down to the aquifer," Schumacher said. "Because the vadose zone (subsurface rock) has been dry for so long . . . (it will not be) a continuous pathway from the surface to the aquifer. We will need a lot of these rain events to wet the entire vadose zone. If we get a wet fall we can start to see the aquifer levels rebound."

Friday, September 11, 2009

CNN Poll: Obama's health care speech is a winner with the viewing public


See the whole story here.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Two out of three Americans who watched President Obama's health care reform speech Wednesday night favor his health care plans, a 14-point gain among speech-watchers, according to a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. national poll.


Fifty-six percent of people questioned say they had a very positive reaction to President Obama's speech.


Sixty-seven percent of people questioned in the survey said they support the health care reform proposals Obama outlined in his address to a joint session of Congress. Twenty-nine percent opposed the proposals. Those figures are almost identical to a poll conducted immediately after Bill Clinton's health care speech before Congress in September 1993.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Rain! Red Hawk Road, and Aqua rescues the Baptists


Commissioner Ford has offered her good offices to help find a solution. Conley apparently assisted in the background to maneuver the annoying sign change in the first place


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

The Blanco River transformed after good rains Wednesday morning/RoundUp.
Update, Thursday Sept. 10, 12:30 p.m.It's raining buckets in Wimberley, Dripping and San Marcos. LCRA's chief meteorologist Bob Rose says it will take 24 more inches of rain to break the drought and bring lake and river levels back to normal.

Wimberley, Tx – Wednesday morning's rain sure was a sight for sore eyes! The RoundUp received reports of a good downpour (up to 6 inches) in western parts of the county that required closings of low water crossings at CR 1492 at the Blanco River and at Wayside and Bendigo Lane. There
were reports of between 2 and 4 inches in other places around Wimberley and further west. Not a drought-buster by any means, but very much appreciated.

San Marcos received a little rain as did other parts east. Unfortunately, most of the northern parts of the county missed out.


Dripping Springs and the 290 corridor north region remain in a deep and costly drought. The RoundUp bumped into a water delivery truck owner yesterday at the Dripping post office who said they are hauling water virtually non stop (up to 30,000 total gallons daily) to customers whose wells and rainwater tanks have gone dry. Some other (larger) rainwater systems, we are informed, are holding up pretty good. This was just one tanker truck. There are several other very busy haulers making deliveries.

Let's set our intentions to bring more rain for the entire region.


The Return of the Red Hawk Road sign


We contacted Pct. 4 County Commissioner Karen Ford in Dripping Springs this morning after hearing from sources of new developments in the disappearing Red Hawk Rd sign along FM 3237.

Red Hawk, you'll recall, was mysteriously replaced recently by this new Woodcreek Ranch Rd sign. We can thank Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley for having had a hand in the switch, and for causing some real confusion and irritation for many residents who knew not where their Red Hawk sign disappeared to.

Commissioner Ford now informs that a new sign will soon arrive listing both Red Hawk Rd and Woodcreek Ranch Rd.

"Frankly, there was a citizen who was very proactive who called our GIS department (Geographic Information Systems /911 Addressing Division) and talked to Steve (Floyd)," Ford said. "I guess they changed their (911 road) map to show that the two roads come into one point at 3237, and TxDOT saw that now they can legitimately put in advance warning signs for both of those roads."

Now isn't that just the nicest compromise. Red Hawk and Woodcreek Ranch road residents can now live happily ever after.

The boundary between Precincts 3 and 4 bump close to where the two roads come together at 3237, with one neighborhood partly in Conley's precinct and the other in Ford's. Three guesses which neighborhood Conley represents.

Commissioner Ford has offered her good offices to help find a solution. Conley apparently assisted in the background to maneuver the annoying sign change in the first place. This definitely has been an interesting case study in musical chairs – You take the Low Road and I'll take the High Road to Scotland.

Aqua Texas to Supply Water to New Baptist Church

Construction & pipe on the west side of 12;
below
, the exit tunnel on the east side of 12
An Aqua Texas official confirms that the digging going on under RR 12 is for a water line for the new Baptist Church on the east side of 12. The line also will serve Ten Robles Inc.'s planned new development up the hill from the church.

Since its construction, the Baptist Church has been without a permanent potable water supply. Circumstances have forced the church to resort to purchasing its water from Aqua. Rumors were circulating that the church would pay an astounding $100,000 connection fee, but an Aqua official has told the RoundUp it won't be quite that expensive.

Aqua's moving its water and wastewater service across RR 12 puts it into easy reach of potentially much larger development plans along the bypass. It is a matter that our county and city officials – if they are not already – should be closely examining, and sharing what they know with the wider community. Allowing for-profit Aqua to expand may not be in the community's best long term interests. And as we all know, the people of Wimberley don't take kindly to big surprises.

Our Water Future, and Politics

There probably aren't more than a handful of well connected insiders who could answer this question: What will the water supply picture look like in the Wimberley Valley in ten or 15 years? Folks who rely on groundwater and are miles away from the nearest public water line probably have the most at stake in the answer.

Well owners everywhere in the region are seeing the effects of drought and encroaching development first hand – their wells are drying up. Too many to count anymore. Some are drilling deeper into a declining
aquifer and others are resorting to rainwater collection. (Talk to any water well driller – they'll tell you business is booming and that water table levels are dropping like a lead balloon.) In a drought prone area such as ours, and with more wells going deeper into the ground, the picture's not looking too bright in the outlying years. It will take several drought-busting rains over the next several years to get the Trinity Aquifer, from which we all draw water, back up to relatively healthy levels.

Mayor and Wimberley Water Supply Corp. General Manager Tom Haley says one answer for the long term lies in one big regional water supply system with pipes connecting Wimberley Water, Aqua Texas and all the smaller public systems (that is, if Aqua hasn't bought them all up by then, including WWS). Where the water will come from to feed this regional system, Haley wasn't sure.

The mayor did say that Kyle has offered to sell water to Wimberley in a 5-year to 7-year deal at $4 per thousand gallons. But the $19 million pipeline construction cost from Kyle to Wimberley is prohibitive. Customers of WWS would wind up paying $6 per thousand gallons or more at the home tap. Alert citizens might want to check with the Texas Water Development Board from time to time, just in case, for water line construction grant applications from the city, GBRA, Aqua, and maybe LCRA.

From here on, water will remain the single biggest and most important issue confronting us all. Will we have an ample supply of water,
who will control it and how much will it cost, can we save our old friend the Trinity Aquifer from sinking further into a death spiral?

It is becoming clear that we can not depend solely on our elected officials to help settle these questions fairly and intelligently and in everyone's best interests.

When we begin to hear rumors (reliable sources, we're told) that our State Rep. Patrick Rose (D-Dripping Springs) will throw his support behind Precinct 2 County Commissioner Jeff Barton (D-Kyle/Buda) for a run at the county judge's seat next year, that sets off a three-alarm bell. Rose's actions, and inactions, in the legislature have proven he's no friend of our aquifer. His campaign account is heavily padded with developer special interest money. Barton's ethics are so compromised and his association with special interests, developers and road builders so close, that he has a bevy of Dem and Republican hopefuls out to unseat him in Pct. 2 next year.

The six reported challengers to Barton may be a calculated move to replace him with a friend and ally and allow Barton to ascend to the thrown as Hays County judge, with Rose's help and possibly with assistance from their other friend and ally, Pct. 3 Commissioner Conley. Conley is pushing to oust Pct. 4 Democratic Commissioner Karen Ford and replace her with a Republican water well driller candidate from Dripping Springs.

All of you alert citizens out there who are interested in holding on to your groundwater for as long as you can should watch this troika of politicians carefully. Their political success may ultimately spell doom for our aquifer, and our well water.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

WISD students may or may not watch Obama's education address


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:
This may be old news to some, but just in case the letter below from WISD Superintendent Dwain York spells out how the district will be handling today's national address on education from President Obama. The letter was released last week. Looks like students and/or their parents can opt in or out. York says that due to lunch scheduling conflicts the president's address will be taped and shown on Wednesday.


In a letter received last week, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stated the following, “President Obama announced that on September 8 - the first day of school for many children across America - he will deliver a national address directly to students on the importance of education. The President will challenge students to work hard, set educational goals, and take responsibility for their learning. He will also call for a shared responsibility and commitment on the part of students, parents and educators to ensure that every child in every school receives the best education possible so they can compete in the global economy for good jobs and live rewarding and productive lives as American citizens.”


I have received visits, calls, and emails about the speech with most of the questions pertaining to how the school district will address this situation.


We all have our own political viewpoints and attitudes and as parents we all want to be able to discuss our viewpoints with our children. As your superintendent, I do not feel it is the school district’s responsibility or place to emphasize one group’s philosophy and/or values over another. I do, however, feel it is the district’s responsibility to offer all our students the opportunity to listen or not listen to the President with parental/guardian approval.


I have received questions from parents on this issue, with as many parents opposed to allowing their child to participate as there were for requesting their child view the President’s address. Therefore, after meeting with my administrative team we will address the concern as follows:


WISD campuses will be allowed to participate in the President’s address; however, as with other controversial issues, I want to make sure we are protecting our parents’ rights by allowing them to exclude their children, if they choose. This letter provides you the opportunity to exclude your child by checking the appropriate box below, signing and returning this letter to the campus Principal office by Wednesday morning, September 9, 2009.


Logistically, the timing of the speech does provide a real problem for us to show the students a live feed on Tuesday, primarily because it was intended to be shown in a classroom under the supervision of our teachers, and the President is speaking at 12:00 p.m. (noon) our time. Because many of our students will be at lunch, we will record the speech and show it in our classrooms on Wednesday, September 9th. Again, for those parents who wish to exclude their children from the speech, the forms must be returned to your campus principal by Wednesday morning, September 9, 2009 in order to allow us time to make appropriate arrangements for students.


The President’s unprecedented approach has created unique issues for schools across the nation. I would like to hear your opinion as to how we have handled this. Thank you for your support, and I look forward to hearing from you about this matter.


Dwain York, WISD Superintendent

Friday, September 4, 2009

Health Care That Works


On my blog, foreigners regularly express bewilderment that America may reject reform and stick with a system that drives families into bankruptcy when they get sick. That's what they expect from the Central African Republic, not the United States

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: We are hopeful that most of us have gotten past the loud partisan bickering and wasted breath. We know we're not going to convince one another that "my plan is better than yours," or that doing nothing is best, or that we're all socialists and nazis if we desire less costly alternatives to what the private sector beast offers. We also know that private insurance premiums and health care costs are driving businesses, individuals and our country into the ground. We all love America. So let's try to find some common ground and do what is best for our country and our neighbors. Can we think about giving Health Care Reform and Peace a chance, at least? If we don't like what reform brings (we happen to support a public plan option) then we can shuck it at the next bend in the road.


By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

September 3, 2009

Op-Ed Columnist


New York Times

Read the whole story here

Here's a paradox.
Health care reform may be defeated this year in part because so many Americans believe the government can't do anything right and fear that a doctor will come to resemble an I.R.S. agent with a scalpel. Yet the part of America's health care system that consumers like best is the government-run part.

Fifty-six to 60 percent of people in government-run Medicare rate it a 9 or 10 on a 10-point scale. In contrast, only 40 percent of those enrolled in private insurance rank their plans that high. Multiple Surveys back that up. For example, 68 percent of those in Medicare feel that their own interests are the priority, compared with only 48 percent of those enrolled in private insurance.

In truth, despite the deeply ingrained American conviction that government is bumbling when it is not evil, government intervention has been a step up in some areas from the private sector.

Until the mid-19th century, firefighting was left mostly to a mishmash of volunteer crews and private fire insurance companies. In New York City, according to accounts in The New York Times in the 1850s and 1860s, firefighting often descended into chaos, with drunkenness and looting.

So almost every country moved to what today's health insurance lobbyists might label "socialized firefighting." In effect, we have a single-payer system of public fire departments.

. . . . .

Throughout the industrialized world, there are a handful of these areas where governments fill needs better than free markets: fire protection, police work, education, postal service, libraries, health care. The United States goes along with this international trend in every area but one: health care.

. . . . .

"If other health care providers followed the V.A.'s lead, it would be a major step toward improving the quality of care across the U.S. health care system," Rand reported.

As for the other big government-run health care system in the United States, Medicare spends perhaps one-sixth as much on administration as private health insurers, although the comparison is imperfect and controversial.

But the biggest weakness of private industry is not inefficiency but unfairness. The business model of private insurance has become, in part, to collect premiums from healthy people and reject those likely to get sick - or, if they start out healthy and then get sick, to find a way to cancel their coverage.