Thursday, June 30, 2011
A record 235 Texas counties have outdoor burn bans as the state continues to suffer from drought. The Texas Forest Service on Wednesday confirmed the record, with just 19 counties not under burn restrictions. Spokeswoman April Saginor told The Associated Press that the previous record number of Texas counties with outdoor burn bans was 221, set in January 2006. According to the TFS, nearly 3.3 million acres have burned during the current wildfire season.
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Update 12:30pm: Dallas Morning News | House ends special session after anti-groping bill dies in big ruckus | By Robert T. Garrett – The Texas House adjourned for good Wednesday, ending the special session after tempestuous arguments over an "anti-groping" bill that died because it couldn't attract support from four-fifths of the House, as required for the bill to survive.
Texas Politics | Houston Chronicle June 29 2011 – The Senate took the proverbial early train out of town when they adjourned Sine Die on Tuesday, killing the ‘sanctuary cities’ ban, further jeopardizing the anti-groping/TSA bill (which the House will try to take up today) and seriously ticking off the House leadership, who wasted little time blaming the other body. Gov. Rick Perry joined in, releasing a statement that blamed the ban’s failure on Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock.
Texas Tribune | The End Game: Special Session Wraps Up Today | By Ross Ramsey and Thanh Tan June 29 2011 – The Texas Legislature on Tuesday passed several crucial bills to balance the state's budget, save money on health care, and reform the claims process for the state's insurer of last resort before hurricane season, but it will take a few more steps for the House to follow the Senate and adjourn sine die — once and for all — by the end of today.
By Gary Scharrer and Peggy Fikac | Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau
Read the complete story
AUSTIN June 28 2011 — The special legislative session nearly collapsed into disarray Tuesday when the Senate went home early and the House initially killed a must-pass school finance bill. But after first rejecting legislation imposing a $4 billion cut on public schools, House Republican leaders immediately called a caucus meeting and persuaded 16 colleagues to change their votes, salvaging the final hours of the special session, which ends today.
After voting against the bill, Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, asked for another vote, explaining to his colleagues that misunderstandings over the bill had been cleared up.
"Our understanding of the bill has changed," King explained.
House Democratic leader Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, joked that a few of her GOP colleagues suffered broken kneecaps after a 79-64 vote against the must-pass Senate Bill 1 miraculously turned into an 80-57 vote for it.
Farrar predicted a voter backlash in the wake of school funding cuts - in the range of 6 percent - and a companion bill allowing school districts to furlough teachers and to cut their pay.
"It's going to take time for people to see the ripple effect," Farrar said of the funding cuts that she expects will result in schools closing, teacher layoffs and larger class sizes.
"They will be shocked, and they will have buyer's remorse from the last election," Farrar said, recalling how voters elected 101 Republicans out of 150 House members.
Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, disagreed about a backlash.
"People in my district didn't want to raise taxes. They wanted us to live within our means, and I think we have done that," Pitts said.
But Pitts, House sponsor of SB 1, conceded that voters might not support the legislation resulting in teacher furloughs and pay cuts.
"I heard an outcry from my district and constituents on that. We can't keep slapping our teachers," Pitts said.
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Update 4:55pm: Texas Tribune | Lawmakers move to limit public scrutiny of Perry travel – Just as Gov. Rick Perry steps out on the national stage in a possible run for president, lawmakers back home are moving to limit public scrutiny of what taxpayers are being charged to protect the governor when he's out on the road . . . Spending on (Perry's DPS) protective detail will probably increase dramatically if Perry starts traveling to early nominating states, such as Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida, in a White House bid. When former Texas Gov. George W. Bush began running for president, state security costs skyrocketed, shooting past $1.8 million in 1999 — more than a sixfold increase from the previous year.
Note: Hays County remains split into three congressional districts and Travis County is split four ways under the final bill and map passed this week by the Legislature in special session. A flurry of lawsuits have been filed in federal and state district court seeking to redraw the map. (See an interactive 'before and after' map at the Tribune link below.)
Hays County Commissioners Court and other local government entities have been largely silent, or have taken no position publicly, on the effects a three-way congressional split might have on the county.
Meanwhile, a Hays County redistricting committee is moving rather slowly in drawing new commissioner, JP and voting precinct boundaries to adjust for substantial population growth in the county between 2000 and 2010. The county's redistricting plan must pass a federal Voting Rights Act review. Thus far, no public meetings have been scheduled for public input. There are 4 members on the redistricting committee: Commissioners Conley and Ingalsbe, the chair of the local Republican Party and a representative from the local Democratic Party.
Texas Tribune June 28 2011 – SB 4, the Legislature's attempt at redrawing congressional lines to make room for four new districts, has made its way through the House and Senate. It's now with Gov. Rick Perry, who can sign the bill, veto it or let it rest on his desk to become law on its own. No matter his decision, however, the issue is likely to end up before the U.S. Department of Justice and in federal court.
KSAT San Antonio 6/10/11 – The League of United Latin American Citizens filed a lawsuit against the State of Texas Friday challenging the way state lawmakers are re-drawing maps that determine congressional districts. Luis Vera, LULAC's national general counsel, said state Republicans are relying on bad census numbers and are violating the Voting Rights Act.LULAC filed its legal challenge in the U.S. District Court's Western District of Texas. The suit alleges the state is trying to take away votes from Latinos.
Houston Chronicle 5/31/11 – Congressman Gene Green, D-Houston, and three Democratic House members from Texas who represent large Hispanic populations – Reps. Charlie Gonzalez of San Antonio, Silvestre Reyes of El Paso and Lloyd Doggett of Austin, have filed suit in federal and state courts in Austin seeking court-ordered creation of two Hispanic congressional districts in Harris County with more than 60 percent Hispanic population.
Statesman 5/24/11 – Travis County commissioners voted Tuesday to authorize County Attorney David Escamilla to file a lawsuit over the state's redistricting efforts. County officials are concerned about current plans to split Travis County into four U.S. congressional districts, Escamilla said. "We want to be in a position to counter those efforts."
Sunday, June 26, 2011
June 2011 is on track to be the hottest June on record. Drought conditions are helping to put Central Texas into the oven this year and Bob tells us we better get used to the heat
Ridge of High Pressure Setting Up for a Long Spell of Hot, Dry Weather (Fri. June 24 2011) – It will definitely be feeling like summer over the next week as temperatures will be hot and relative humidity levels will be quite high. This will result in muggy conditions—especially in the late night and morning hours. A south breeze will increase to a range of 10-15 mph this weekend and likely continue into next week. However, I don’t expect a return of the very windy conditions we saw last week. The weather looks to stay generally dry for at least the next week and probably longer.
Current forecast data continues to indicate we may see possible tropical development in the western Gulf of Mexico early next week. But most all of (current) data indicates whatever happens to develop next week will likely track west toward the central Mexican coast, staying south of Texas. Although things could change, I’m not very optimistic our region will see any significant rain from this potential tropical system.
Saturday, June 25, 2011
Note: From the world of finance, some news that might be of interest to some of you investors out there (for average Joe taxpayer, this means the county is floating another $96.6 million in debt, plus interest, in the municipal bond market) . . . contact Hays County Auditor Bill Herzog for details at firstname.lastname@example.org, 512.393.2283.
NYTimes June 19 edition – The Treasury’s schedule of financing this week includes Monday’s regular weekly auction of new three- and six-month bills and an auction of four-week bills on Tuesday. At the close of the New York cash market on Friday (June 17), the rate on the outstanding three-month bill was 0.03 percent. The rate on the six-month issue was 0.09 percent, and the rate on the four-week issue was 0.01 percent.
The following tax-exempt fixed-income issues are scheduled for pricing this week (among many others): Hays County, Tex., $96.6 million of toll revenue bonds. Samco Capital Markets.
Friday, June 24, 2011
When I asked Commissioner Whisenant if he really thought we could complete the due diligence on $100 million-plus of assets in that short a time frame, his response was "No."
Send your comments and questions to email@example.com, to Sam at firstname.lastname@example.org, to Commissioner Whisenant at email@example.com, 512.858.7268, to Judge Cobb at firstname.lastname@example.org, 512.393.2205, or click on the "comments" at the bottom of the story
Editor's note: It is interesting that the Hays County Water and Sewer Authority created in response to an alleged emergency groundwater shortage in northern Hays County that brought LCRA's Hwy 290 Water Line into north Hays County is now the same entity being used by the county – eleven years later – to purchase the water line from the LCRA.
You could say that the commissioners court, in creating the Authority in May of 2000, was wise in planning for a relatively secure water future for north Hays County. We say "relatively" because LCRA's ability to deliver surface water to a growing list of water customers is drawing thinner with each passing drought.
Skeptics might say that former County Judge Jim Powers, using the groundwater scare, helped push through the mechanism in May of 2000 that resulted in a new water supply for major new development opportunities, the upscale Belterra subdivision being one example. Eleven years later, that mechanism is being used to purchase the 290 line/system from the LCRA to potentially support a great deal more growth – a developer's dream come true. You can speculate on the consequences for the county and the opportunities for the deal makers from there. (The original 290 water line deal involved the US Fish and Wildlife Commission and an agreement that the water line would not be used to serve new development. See HCWSA link above. Question is, will that agreement stand should Hays County purchase the system from the LCRA?)
The minutes of the May 2000 commissioners court meeting that launched the HCWSA state that the "primary purpose" of the Authority "is to expand surface water service while reducing demands on the Trinity and Edwards Aquifers, insuring a safe reliable water source for all (our emphasis) residents of Hays County. The secondary purpose is to provide a mechanism for regional planning in cooperation with state and federal agencies, cities, utility providers & developments lacking adequate utilities and infrastructure." (Download a copy of the minutes at this Google link, top of the page.)
By Sam Brannon
Hays Citizens' Budget Project
Members of the Hays County Water and Sewer Authority held their second meeting Tuesday June 21 at 6:30pm at the Precinct 4 office in Dripping Springs.
For those not familiar with it, the county commissioners court created the HCWSA in May of 2000, then under former County Judge Jim Powers. The entity was created in response to a declared groundwater emergency in subdivisions in the north part of the county, most notably Sunset Canyon on Hwy 290, which paved the way for the LCRA "290" surface water pipeline into Hays County.
Early this year, the Authority was put back into service when the current commissioners court decided to pursue the pipeline and wastewater facilities that LCRA is looking to shed.
I knew the two were related, but until Tuesday night I wasn't sure how. It seems that the HCWSA will be the arm of the county that will be involved in the Coalition of Central Texas Utilities Development Corporation (last meeting was scheduled last night at City of Bee Cave City Hall).
To date there's been precious little discussion in commissioners court about what's happening with this initiative – nothing in the past 2 meetings, and with the vacation week that was taken, it has been about a month since it was last discussed, and even lightly then. And because Commissioner Whisenant posts the LCRA asset acquisition in the "Standing Agenda Items" rather than on the regular agenda, we never know when or if the item will be discussed.
My best advice is that if you want any information, you're going to have to ask for it. So far, I’m not pleased with some of the answers I have heard.
The 7 directors of the HCWSA board are: Commissioner Whisenant, Rueben Garza of San Marcos, Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe’s appointee; James Holt, Pct. 2 Commissioner Mark Jones’ appointee; Tom Haley, former GM of the Wimberley Water Supply Corp., Commissioner Conley’s appointee, (absent at Tuesday's meeting); Lon Shell, County Judge Bert Cobb’s chief of staff and appointee; and Judge Cobb, who was also absent for the meeting. Clint Garza, Hays County Director of Development Services, was present.
Others attending were David Steed of TCID #17, Ron Kelly, president of the board of the Dripping Springs Water Supply Corporation; Linda Kinney, Ray Whisenant’s assistant and a key Republican Party insider; and Roger Derlin of HCWCID #1 (Belterra subdivision/home to State Rep. Jason Isaac).
What we learned is that Hays County passed the first round of the bidding and is now in the second and final round. The final bid is due August 1st. The winner is to be announced in late August, according to the LCRA. About 5 weeks remain to complete a bid (presumably binding if it’s accepted) on assets that LCRA has stated are worth $200-300 million. The portion that Hays County is interested in keeping were quoted at $140 million.
When I asked Commissioner Whisenant if he really thought we could complete the due diligence on $100 million-plus of assets in that short a time frame, his response was "No." And he's right, the pipelines and treatment plants have to undergo thorough inspections. Maintenance records have to be reviewed. The county has plans for additional capacity for new development (no more pretending this isn't a developer subsidy play), so the costs and revenues need to be well estimated.
They should be looking at every customer and supply contract in order to understand what obligations they carry with them. All of this must be built into the bid. And, of course, there's no way all that can be done prior to the August 1st bid deadline. So how do they expect to submit a bid – any bid – and maintain fidelity to the interests of taxpayers of Hays County?
Commissioner Whisenant followed his first answer with a second: "But that's the timeline LCRA gave us to work with." As the old adage goes, if you're at the poker table and you can't identify the sucker, it is you – in this case, us, the taxpayers of Hays County.
It was repeated throughout the meeting that Hays taxpayers would not be on the hook for the debt that will be issued. The answer, they say, is that some entity, perhaps the Coalition UDC or the HCWSA (unclear) will issue revenue bonds for financing. I asked, "Who loans money on money-losing assets?" That got a chuckle from Commissioner Whisenant, but no answer.
If someone were to loan money on a money-losing asset, they would want something very tangible as collateral. I'm sure all of the taxable property within Hays County would work as collateral.
If you want to follow this issue, I suggest you start attending the weekly WSA meetings. Commissioner Whisenant will send out the meeting location and time by email.
We should all be watching this deal very closely.
Thursday, June 23, 2011
Amazingly, the US private insurance bureaucracy and paperwork consume one-third (31 percent) of every US health care dollar spent. Hence, streamlining payment through a single nonprofit payer would save more than $400 billion per year
Note: The short of it is that the American health insurance industry is eating our lunch, and laughing all the way to the bank (NYTimes, May 13 2011 – Health Insurers Making Record Profits). We congratulate Vermont's brave Gov. Shumlin for taking the bull by the horns. He and his supporters should be awarded the Congressional Medal of Freedom for standing up to the insurance marauders. The political leadership in states like Texas, with their phony bravado, now look a whole lot smaller next to the Green Mountain State.
Send your comments and news tips to email@example.com, to Rocky at firstname.lastname@example.org or click on the "comments" at the bottom of the story
By Rocky Boschert
Health Program (http://www.pnhp.org)
The U.S. spends twice as much as other industrialized nations on health care, or $8,000 to $9,000 per insured American. We spend almost 20% of our national GDP on health care (the world's highest). Yet our system performs poorly in comparison with other developed economy nations and still leaves 50.7 million without health coverage – and millions more inadequately covered.
The United States is not even in the top 20 nations worldwide for population ratio per doctor. Nor are we in the top 40 nations for number of hospital beds per citizen. And we are third worldwide with a male obesity rate of 32% and 6th place for obese women at 35%, respectively (statistics are from the 2011 edition of the Economist “World in Figures”).
Amazingly, the US private insurance bureaucracy and paperwork consume one-third (31 percent) of every US health care dollar spent. Hence, streamlining payment through a single nonprofit payer would save more than $400 billion per year, enough to provide comprehensive, high-quality coverage for every American, regardless of pre-existing condition and ability to pay.
Enter The Vanguard State
The state of Vermont is a land of proud firsts. This small, New England state was the first to join the 13 Colonies. Its constitution was the first to ban slavery. It was the first to establish the right to free education for all — public education.
Today, Vermont boasts another first: the first state in the nation to offer single-payer health care (Green Mountain Care) which eliminates the inefficient and lobby money peddled insurance companies that most independent experts believe are the root cause of our spiraling health care costs.
In the proposed Vermont single-payer system, all private and public health care providers are allowed to operate as they always have. But instead of the patient or the patient’s private health insurance company paying the bill, the state takes the same amount of money that individuals, either directly or through their employer, would pay for insurance premiums, and pays for the medical care.
It’s basically the same as Medicare for all, except they lower the age of eligibility to the day each citizen is born. The main advantage of the state buying these health care services for the entire population is they can negotiate favorable inflation moderating health care costs, especially with drug companies, and eliminate about 30% of the massive and unnecessary administrative overhead the for-profit insurers impose.
To implement the state’s single payer plan, Vermont hired Harvard economist William Hsiao to come up with three alternatives to the current system. The single-payer system they end up choosing, Hsiao wrote, “will produce savings of 24.3 percent of total health expenditure between 2015 and 2024.”
An analysis by Don McCanne, M.D., of Physicians for a National Health Program http://www.pnhp.org/facts/single-payer-faq, pointed out: “these plans would cover everyone without any increase in spending since the single-payer efficiencies would be enough to pay for those currently uninsured or under-insured. The really good news is that a single payer health plan works, if given a chance.”
Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, who signed the bill into law on May 26, declared: “Here’s our challenge. Our premiums go up 10, 15, 20 percent a year. This is true in the rest of the country as well. They (insurance premiums) are killing small business. They’re killing middle-class Americans, who have been kicked in the teeth over the last several years. What our plan will do is create a single pool, get the insurance company profits, the pharmaceutical company profits, the other folks that are mining the system to make a lot of money on the backs of our illnesses, and ensure that we’re using those dollars to make Vermonters healthy.”
Is the Vermont Plan Socialized Medicine?
No. Socialized medicine is a system in which doctors and hospitals work for and draw salaries from the government. Doctors in the Veterans Administration and the Armed Services are paid this way. The health systems in Great Britain and Spain are other examples. But in most of the European countries, Canada, Australia and Japan they have socialized health insurance (like our Medicare) not socialized medicine. The government pays for care that is delivered in the private (both for-profit and not-for-profit) sector.
The Vermont Plan is similar to how Medicare works in this country. Doctors are in private practice and are paid on a fee-for-service basis from a government money pool, instead of private insurance company premiums that skim 20% to 30% off the top. The government does not own or manage medical practices or hospitals.
The term socialized medicine is often used to conjure up images of government bureaucratic interference in medical care. That does not describe what happens in countries with national health insurance where doctors and patients often have more clinical freedom than in the U.S., where insurance company bureaucrats attempt to direct care.
Canada’s single-payer health care system started as an experiment in one province, Saskatchewan. It was pushed through in the early 1960s by Saskatchewan’s premier, Tommy Douglas, considered by many to be the greatest Canadian. It was so successful, it was rapidly adopted by all of Canada and adapted to the needs of each province.
Hopefully Vermont’s health care law will start a similar, national transformation. When Americans are finally tired of the fear mongering and insurance industry lobby money distortions that their cash and carry politicians use to lie to us about our health care system, just replace the word “group” with “state,” you’ve got the health care innovation going on in Vermont.
Fortunately, Vermont is the first state to become an incubator for innovative 21st Century public policy in America. Hooray for State’s rights.
The district had previously cut $16 million and 200 jobs from next year's spending plan. District officials say they will now need to cut another $16 million, which is expected to lead to scores of teachers getting laid off and the end of regular bus transportation.
Update – Empower Texans | "Hindsight" costing Dallas ISD taxpayers millions | By DMatocha June 23 2011 – Four-star hotels, luxury spas, fine dining and catered food, teams of lawyers…. For Dallas ISD, money is no object. The district spent over $57 million over just four years, not a dime of which went towards educating children . . . Let’s look at some examples: $300,000 at Atlanta Bread Co, $86,000 at Chick-fil-a, $1.7 million on promotional items, such as mugs and T-shirts, $488,000 to rent space and cater meals from Aramark Events and Infomart . . .
Voters say 'No' to El Paso ISD tax election | By ABC 7 Reporter Daniel Marin, June 17 2011 – After all the votes were counted, the results were overwhelmingly against the El Paso Independent School District's tax proposal. 14,480 voters cast their ballot on election day and during early voting for the district's tax ratification election. The results: 9,851 - or 68% - percent said 'no' to the tax hike. Only 4,6291 - or 32% - were in favor.
Note: Hays County has 4 school districts that are expected to share an estimated $13 million in state funding cuts. The Dripping Springs ISD announced June 16 that its board of trustees approved a 2011-12 budget of $33.8 million that will absorb an estimated $2.5 million reduction from the state and will not necessitate a tax rate increase. The district dipped into a reserve account of $18 million to balance its budget. See the press release at the district's web site here. No information about the status of the new budgets, or the possibility of calling a tax (increase) ratification election, can be gleaned from the web sites of the Hays Consolidated (512.268.2141), San Marcos Consolidated (512.393.6700) or Wimberley (512.847.2414) ISDs.
Send your comments and questions to your local school district administration or click on the "comments" at the bottom of the story
By Aman Batheja
Fort Worth Star-Telegram | Wednesday June 22, 2011 | Read the entire story
The decisive defeat of a suburban Tarrant County school district's effort to raise their tax rate to cover a state funding shortfall is viewed by many as a possible sign that similar revenue raising efforts by other Texas school districts will face the same stiff opposition from voters.
Keller school district voters on Saturday roundly rejected a 13-cent increase in the tax rate that district officials had said is needed to avoid further layoffs and cuts. With more than 14,000 ballots cast, 56 percent of voters opposed the measure.
The election was the first effort by a Texas school district to raise taxes since the end of the regular legislative session in Austin, according to education officials and political organizers. That first-in-line status helped draw considerable interest to the election from outside the school district.
"I think it was important to stop this tax hike so that other ISDs reconsider their plans," said Giovanni Capriglione, a conservative activist from Southlake who helped organize KISD Families for Fiscal Responsibility, a group that rallied opposition against the measure.
In a matter of weeks, the group raised over $10,000 and drew more than 500 supporters on Facebook.
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
From the Texas Tribune | June 22, 2011 | By Brandi Grissom, Emily Ramshaw, Morgan Smith, Julian Aguilar, Becca Aaronson and Thanh Tan | Read the complete story
Send your comments and news tips to the Tribune or click on the "comments" at the bottom of the story_________________
Dallas Morning News | By William McKenzie Editorial Columnist | SB 8: What's so wrong with teacher furloughs or new minimum pay schedule? – This will be a big week for House/Senate negotiators as they try to work out issues in SB 8, the special session's most wide-ranging education bill. SB 8 gives districts the right to furlough teachers instead of laying them off, relaxes limits on class sizes, puts aside seniority when considering layoffs, reduces minimum pay schedules and changes the process by which teachers are let go.
With the special session constitutionally limited to 30 days, lawmakers have just a week left to resolve the bills on the call — and a lot of loose ends to wrap up.
Gov. Rick Perry has sole discretion over the special session agenda — and he's put a variety of topics on it, from sanctuary cities and health reform to, as late as this week, an anti-groping bill aimed at the Transportation Security Administration.
So far, legislators have produced a mixed bag of results. Three weeks in, some bills are headed to the governor's desk. Others have only cleared one chamber. A few are headed to conference committee, where lawmakers will negotiate the differences. And one major unresolved bill (hurricane/wind insurance of last resort for Gulf Coast residents) threatens to push the House and Senate into yet another special session.
Here's a rundown of where the special session stands:
These are bills lawmakers have to pass to balance the budget and carry out the spending cuts in House Bill 1, the state budget for 2012-2013.
Bill: SB 1 contains the school finance plan for distributing the $4 billion in cuts to districts statewide, several payment deferrals and tax accelerations. The bill is expected to generate $3.5 billion in revenue. Debate in the House started June 9 and lasted for 16 hours.
Status: Passed the House and the Senate. Currently in conference committee.
What to watch for: The bill contains a provision to collect nearly $600 million worth of sales taxes from online retailers who do business in Texas (like Amazon.com). Perry warned against this and vetoed a similar bill (HB 2403) during the regular session. Lawmakers responded during the special session by attaching it to SB 1 as an amendment. The budget conferees could decide to strip the measure, or Perry could veto the entire bill. According to the Austin American Statesman, Amazon.com is seeking a deal with the state to provide 5,000 jobs in exchange for an exemption.
“We’ll soon be finalizing the plan, which incorporates a lot of public input, and presenting it to the Commissioners Court for approval.”
FM 2325 road bond project to start end of June | Hays County press release – A Priority Road Bond project designed to improve safety and traffic flow on FM 2325 from Fischer Store Road (CR 181) to Carney Lane in Hays County Precinct 3 is scheduled to get underway by the end of June. Funding for the design and construction is from the 2008 voter-approved Road Bond Program and includes the addition of shoulders on FM 2325 from Fischer Store Road to Carney Lane as well as dedicated left turn lanes off of FM 2325 at Fischer Store Road, Jacob’s Well Elementary School, Jacob’s Well Road and Woodcreek Drive.
Send your comments and news tips to email@example.com, to Mr. Hauff (below), to Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley at firstname.lastname@example.org, 512.847. 3159, or click on the "comments" below the storyHays County Courthouse, San Marcos, TX – The last of five scheduled public meetings to gather input from residents about the future of parks and open space development in Hays County will be Thursday, June 30, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Hays County Extension Office, 1253 Civic Center Loop, San Marcos.
At the final meeting, the process used to create the Parks, Open Space & Natural Areas Master Plan will be reviewed, along with discussion of the final recommendations gathered through public input. The public will have the opportunity to provide comment on those projects determined through the planning process to be priorities for future consideration and development.
“Hays County has held four public meetings in various locations throughout the county and offered an online survey for residents to use to provide ideas and concerns about what they’d like to see happen in Hays County regarding parks, open space and natural areas,” Hays County Grants Administrator Jeff Hauff said. “We’ll soon be finalizing the plan, which incorporates a lot of public input, and presenting it to the Commissioners Court for approval.”
Hauff noted that the Hays County Parks & Open Space Advisory Board, appointed by the Commissioners Court, helped to provide direction for the planning process.
More information about the plan, the planning process and the results of previous public meetings is available at www.co.hays.tx.us/ParksMasterPlan. Questions should be directed to Jeff Hauff at Jeff.Hauff@co.hays.tx.us or 512.393.2209.
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Hays County Commissioner Ray Whisenant thanked the Board for allowing time for a coalition of local governments "to participate in a positive way" in the bidding process
Editor's note: Below is an update from the LCRA on its plans to sell off its multi-million dollar water and wastewater systems to various interested parties. Hays County commissioners formally entered the county into the bidding last month on a 4-1 vote, with Pct. 2 Commissioner Mark Jones voting No. Pct. 4 Commissioner Ray Whisenant reportedly is the county's lead rep and negotiator.
Considering that LCRA's water systems have been losing revenue for years and are waist deep in the red, we're certainly hoping Commissioner Whisenant and County Judge Bert Cobb are doing their utmost due diligence before diving head first into buying a pig in a poke. To borrow an oft used colloquialism from Judge Cobb – on this one especially – the taxpayers need to be at the table or we're sure to be on the menu. Too much information about this potential deal still remains hidden from the taxpaying public.
We've said it before and we'll say it again: The county has no business expanding public debt for all the citizens of the county to purchase portions of the LCRA water infrastructure that serves only those in the Dripping Springs ETJ and who are financially able to purchase the infrastructure serving them. For years there have been calls to privatize LCRA and this is a prime opportunity for those being served to either work through their existing developer created utility districts, or to form a member owned water supply corporation, sell bonds and purchase the water infrastructure on which they rely.
Those who cry for less government should speak out now and demand that those who are served by the LCRA infrastructure be responsible for taking ownership, or let the systems be privatized. Hays County is bleeding taxpayer dollars at every level and allowing our elected officials to expand that bleeding should be opposed by every citizen of the County. This ill fated venture will be a disaster and lay the grounds for even higher property taxes for decades to come.
Send your comments and questions to email@example.com, to LCRA West Travis County systems Janet Stephenson at firstname.lastname@example.org, 512.473.3334; to Pct. 4 Hays County Commissioner Ray Whisenant at email@example.com, 512.858.7268; to Judge Cobb at firstname.lastname@example.org, 512.393.2205, or click on the "comments" at the bottom of the story
LCRA anticipates recommending a buyer or buyers for its water and wastewater systems at the August 24 Board of Directors meeting.
May 23 was the deadline for interested buyers to submit preliminary bids to BMO Capital Markets, LCRA's financial consultant. The interested bidders have been narrowed to a shortlist, Chief Financial Officer Brady Edwards told the Board Wednesday, June 15. Organizations on that shortlist are now performing detailed due diligence on the systems before submitting final bids.
Three people spoke Wednesday about the Board's plan to sell the systems. Hays County Commissioner Ray Whisenant thanked the Board for allowing time for a coalition of local governments "to participate in a positive way" in the bidding process. Water Control and Improvement District 17 Board President David Steed said he agreed with Whisenant's statements. Jim Rumbo of the Westminster Glen Homeowners Association asked the Board to deal with the system that serves his community in an alternative way.
Also on Wednesday, the City of Sunrise Beach and LCRA agreed to the sale of LCRA's Sunrise Beach water system to the City. The City has maintained an interest in acquiring the system for several years, and after the Board decided in November 2010 to seek a buyer for the utilities, the City and LCRA began earnest negotiations. LCRA and the City will work together to complete the sale by mid-December 2011.
LCRA's Board decided Nov. 17 to seek a buyer or buyers for its water and wastewater systems and two of its raw water pumping systems. LCRA believes it will take until mid-2013 to complete the sale. LCRA remains committed to continuing to provide reliable utility service to our customers during this process.
The Board will choose a buyer or buyers based on these criteria:
Ability and commitment to provide reliable, quality utility services;
Ability to invest capital for needed infrastructure;
Commitment to meeting state regulatory requirements; and
Willingness to compensate LCRA for its investment.
For more information, visit www.lcra.org/divestiture
Monday, June 20, 2011
To many participants in the water planning process, the bottom line is clear: Water habits must adjust to new constraints
Update, 5:13pm – Livestreaming, House Committee on State Affairs is now taking public testimony on sanctuary city-related bills. Part of the proposed legislation includes withholding of state funds for non-complying cities/counties. Due to lack of a quorum, the Texas House has adjourned until 11am Tuesday. The Texas Senate stands at recess until 2pm Wednesday. With several major bills still pending, lawmakers are hoping to conclude the special session this week.
Politico.com | By Jonathan Martin & Alexander Burns | GOP Magic Trick: Making George W. Bush Vanish: NEW ORLEANS, June 20 2011 — Republicans head into 2012 united in their disdain for an unpopular, big government-loving, internationalist president. The name of that president: George W. Bush. From Capitol Hill to the statehouses to the presidential primary, Republicans are turning their back on almost every important accomplishment of the Bush administration. Bush’s attempt to reposition the GOP to the center-right has been rejected in favor of an unmodified brand of conservatism that would rather leave people alone than lift them up with any “armies of compassion.” Many of Bush’s distinctive policy ideas have fallen by the wayside, replaced by a nearly single-minded focus on reducing the size of government.
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On the cliffs surrounding Central Texas’ large Lake Buchanan, a white ring extends some 13 feet above the shoreline, marking where the water reaches when the lake is full. At nearby Lake Travis, staircases that once led to the water’s edge now end well above it.
These two lakes serve as key water sources for dozens of cities and hundreds of farmers, as well as for several power plants. With Texas gripped by drought, water levels have fallen dramatically. Combined, the two lakes now hold 28 percent less water than their long-term average.
“This is scary,” said Janet Caylor, who owns two marinas on Lake Travis, the larger of the two lakes, and has had to move her docks as lake levels drop.
The current drought, drier than any other October-through-May stretch in Texas history, has heightened the stakes in an already contentious long-term planning battle over water from these lakes, which feed the lower Colorado River as it runs southeast to the Gulf of Mexico.
It has pitted fast-growing cities like Austin, which depend on the water for drinking and recreation, against rice farmers near the Gulf, who need vast amounts of water for irrigation. Lakeside residents and business owners like Caylor, frustrated by dropping water levels, want to keep the lakes as full as possible.
Last week, the Lower Colorado River Authority, a powerful state organization that controls the water in the two lakes and much of the river, postponed a controversial decision on whether to grant a contract to another major user. A coal plant planned near Bay City, downriver near the rice farmers, had sought to pay the LCRA $55 million up front, plus additional fees, to build a reservoir and ensure a 40-year supply of water to cool the plant.
Bill Maher's "New Rules" takes on Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry That's what America needs, "a president who's not really sold on the whole 'United States' concept." Warning: Maher doesn't pull punches and uses salty language . . . the Perry segment is last in the line up
A one-cent increase in the sales tax would more than replace the $19 billion in property taxes that fund public education
Sunday, June 19, 2011
Rick Perry is a hypocrite when he preaches against federal government involvement and then in the name of his elite supporters, drives to give the State more power in the daily lives of Texans
Politico.com | By Jonathan Martin
NEW ORLEANS, Sunday June 19, 2011 – Rick Perry’s closest political adviser said Saturday that the Texas governor is “50-50” about whether to run for the White House. That was before Perry brought down the house here with a rousing speech at the Republican Leadership Conference. On the RLC’s final day, the governor got a rapturous response from over a thousand GOP activists, demonstrating why both donors and the party’s grassroots want to coax him into the still-unsettled primary.
Question: What do you call an incumbent Governor who wins with a mere 39 percent of the total votes? Answer: Texas Governor Rick Perry.
So, why would Perry even consider a run for the presidency in 2012? The man is delusional. In his own words, he thinks he is “a prophet” doing God’s work. Perry has won an unprecedented 4th term as governor because the other Republican and Democratic candidates scare-off Texas voters even worse than Perry does.
Somehow Perry wrote a book against the Federal Government’s intrusion into State’s rights. However, Perry pushes for the State’s intrusion into the daily lives of Texans, as per his determination in approving the recent law to force all women who seek an abortion to first view a mandatory sonogram.
In 2007, by employing executive order and bypassing the legislature entirely, Perry ordered STD vaccinations to prevent cervical cancer for ALL young girls and then demanded that Medicaid pays for it.
The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is manufactured by Merck & Company, which supports Perry and has contributed large amounts of campaign contributions into Texas politics. According to a February 03, 2007 article by the Associated Press:
"Merck is bankrolling efforts to pass state laws across the country mandating Gardasil for girls as young as 11 or 12. It doubled its lobbying budget in Texas and has funneled money through Women in Government, an advocacy group made up of female state legislators around the country."In addition, Merck lobbyist Mike Toomey, is a former Perry Chief of Staff. Perry’s current Chief of Staff’s mother-in-law is GOP State Representative Dianne White Delisi who is a state director of Women in Government. Perry’s special interest ties are well-known to watchful Texans.
Consequently, Rick Perry is a hypocrite when he preaches against federal government involvement and then in the name of his elite supporters, drives to give the State more power in the daily lives of Texans.
During the past 11 years as Governor of Texas, Perry has strengthened his core of special interests and he feels he can do no wrong. One of his inner core special interests is the Religious Right who shares Perry’s religious convictions against abortion.
One thing U.S. taxpayers do NOT need is another special interest driven Presidential candidate who will make his wealthy special interest supporters richer. Republican and Democratic voters should look past the Perry hype and see the man for what he is: Another bought, special interest driven Texas politician who cares little about resolving the urgent issues and instead caters to the greed and desires of an elitist constituency.
Driftwood area resident Peter Stern, a former Director of Information Services in private industry and government, a University Professor, Public School Administrator and Teacher, is a disabled Vietnam Veteran and holds three post-graduate degrees.
Firearms prohibition, Mill Race Lane back on public street list, and Blanco, Cypress Creek safe for now
Note: City Hall Briefs is written and edited by Bob Flocke to inform the citizens of Wimberley about city activities. It is neither an official nor an authorized publication of the City of Wimberley. Any views or opinions expressed are those of the writer, and they do not necessarily reflect official policies or positions of the City of Wimberley, other members of the City Council or the city staff. Anyone who wishes to be added to the distribution list should send their email address to Mayor Flocke, email@example.com. The Briefs have been edited for style and length.
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firearms discharge prohibition
The city of Wimberley has been notified of a recent Texas Attorney General’s opinion upholding the city’s right to regulate the discharge of firearms within the city limits.
City officials requested the AG’s opinion following a municipal court case in which the defendant’s attorney argued that the city did not have the authority to regulate the discharge of firearms because of a portion of the Texas Local Government Code which states, “A municipality may not apply a regulation relating to the discharge of firearms or other weapons in the extraterritorial jurisdiction of the municipality or in an area annexed by the municipality after September 1, 1981.” The attorney argued that since Wimberley incorporated after September 1, 1981, the city cannot regulate the discharge of firearms.
In its opinion, the Attorney General’s office says that the limitation mentioned above applies to a city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction and to “certain annexed” property, but does not mention property located within the city’s original city limits. In Texas statutes, boundaries established by municipal incorporation, annexation and extraterritorial jurisdiction involve different concepts and authority.
Wimberley’s Code of Ordinances prohibits the discharge of firearms within the city limits except to dispatch predators.
Blanco, Cypress Creek waters safe for recreation, for now
Wimberley City Administrator Don Ferguson says that water quality testing of the waters of Cypress Creek and the Blanco River throughout the area shows that the waterways are currently safe for recreation. However, if severe drought conditions persist, it’s possible that those waters may become unsafe. The city tests the waters of Blue Hole weekly, and may go to daily testing. Water testing results and Blue Hole operations information are available on the city’s website, www.vil.wimberley.tx.us.
Council revisits Mill Race Lane issue, declares it a public street
The Wimberley City Council at its June 16 meeting voted to rescind a previous council action regarding Mill Race Lane and also determined that the street is a public street. Both votes were four to one with Place 2 Councilman Mac McCullough casting the negative vote.
On March 3, a motion to reaffirm Mill Race Lane’s status as a public street failed to pass on a three to two vote with Mayor Bob Flocke joining McCullough and Place 5 Councilman John White to oppose the motion. The effect of that vote was for the city to remove Mill Race Lane from the list of city-maintained roadways and to stop expending public funds for its maintenance. The council voted unanimously on Thursday to direct the city staff to place Mill Race Lane back on the list of city-maintained roadways and to move the street to the list of those scheduled for maintenance during fiscal year 2012.
The council also directed that property owners along the street be included in developing maintenance plans.
Blue Hole phase 2 development delayed
The city council decided unanimously to delay phase 2 development on Blue Hole Regional Park until all necessary funds to complete the project are on hand. Last November the city entered into a $3.145 million construction contract with T.F. Harper & Associates to develop Blue Hole Regional Park.
Phase 2 improvements include soccer fields with a wastewater effluent irrigation system; tennis courts; a playground and basketball court; community and recreation pavilions with restrooms; volleyball courts; park roads and parking; trails and planting native trees and vegetation.
Estimates show close to $1 million worth of work in Phase 2 remains to be done.
Construction of Phase 1 is nearing completion. This phase includes improvements to the natural swimming area of the park such as demolition of two structures; construction of a gatehouse and bathhouse with changing areas and restrooms; construction of water, wastewater and infrastructure needed for the new buildings; improvements to the swimming area parking lot; construction of a fully accessible stone ramp leading from the gatehouse to the swimming area; construction of an accessible stone path and rope swing landing areas along the creek bank, a stone path to picnic tables and an ADA water access area.
Additional cypress trees have been planted along the creek bank and more than 3,000 native plants have been planted in the area. Decomposed granite and mulch trails have been constructed throughout the area, and an amphitheater and scenic overlook completed.
The Friends of Blue Hole is aggressively working to raise the remaining funds needed to complete Phase 2. Currently, more than $3 million in grant requests have been submitted by the organization to various individuals and foundations—several of whom are expected to make decisions on their respective funding requests within the next 45 to 90 days. It should be noted that 30 percent of every dollar raised for development of the park is going into a maintenance endowment established by the Friends to help support the on-going maintenance of the park once developed.
Sign ordinance variance approved for physical therapy location
The city council approved a local business’ request for a variance to the sign ordinance to allow an outdoor sign to be installed on the side of the business instead of the front as permitted in the ordinance. The variance was approved for Physical Therapy and Rehab Concepts Clinic located on the former First Baptist Church property at 501 Old Kyle Road. The sign ordinance allows one sign per business housed in a commercial complex, and it must be located on the “front” of the building. In the case of the PTRC clinic, the “front” of the building is not visible from the street.
Charles Lancaster appointed to Planning and Zoning Commission by Place 1 Councilman Tom Talcott. Mark Bursiel appointed to Parks and Recreation Advisory Board by Place 1 Councilman Tom Talcott. Jean Ross reappointed to Planning and Zoning Commission by Place 5 Councilman John White. Thad Nance reappointed to Parks and Recreation Advisory Board by Place 5 Councilman John White.
Contact PEC's Anne Harvey at (830) 868-4933,
(830) 992-9976 (mobile) or firstname.lastname@example.org
Members also voted to recommend to the Co-op’s Board that PEC keep its current at-large system for future director elections. (Vote tally: At large – 8,122 | Single member districts – 6,400 | Hybrid – 4,212).
Members approved the addition of a Member Bill of Rights and three other amendments to the PEC Articles of Incorporation. Members also elected Chris Perry as District 4 Director and Ross Fischer as District 5 Director, giving PEC a Board entirely elected through a democratic process, with each director nominated by members.
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
“Texas is not Arizona. Our culture, history and economy are based on genuine and pragmatic good will towards all residents in our state,” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said. “We don't need the negative attention that would come to our state with enactment of laws perceived as anti-Hispanic.”
Update, 5:55pm – Senate debating sanctuary cities bill, SB 9, now livestreaming
Update 2pm: Poll: Education leaps ahead as most important issue facing Texas | KUT News By Nathan Bernier – Education has displaced immigration as the most important issue in the Lone Star State, according to an annual survey sponsored by the Texas Lyceum, a non-profit leadership group. Thirty-three percent of likely voters said education is the most important issue facing the state of Texas today. Immigration, at 11 percent, was tied for second place with the state budget/deficit.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram | Monday, June 13, 2011 | By Dave Montgomery Police agencies join Hispanic leaders in opposing 'sanctuary cities' bill – The state's largest law enforcement agencies joined forces with Hispanic leaders Monday in opposing a so-called sanctuary cities bill that supporters say is a needed tool against illegal immigration. The emotion-charged bill, which Gov. Rick Rick Perry has designated as a top priority, would let law officers ask about immigration status when they arrest or detain someone. The bill heads for an expected vote today by the Republican-controlled Senate after clearing a committee on a party-line 5-4 vote.
Bloomberg News | June 13 2011 | By Joe Caroll Worst Drought in More Than a Century Threatens Texas Oil Boom – The worst Texas drought since record-keeping began 116 years ago may crimp an oil and natural-gas drilling boom as government officials ration water supplies crucial to energy exploration. In the hardest-hit areas, water-management districts are warning residents and businesses to curtail usage from rivers, lakes and aquifers. The shortage is forcing oil companies to go farther afield to buy water from farmers, irrigation districts and municipalities, said Erasmo Yarrito Jr., the state’s overseer of water supplies from the Rio Grande River . . . The water crisis in Texas, the biggest oil- and gas- producing state in the U.S., highlights a continuing debate in North America and Europe over the impact on water supplies of a production technique called hydraulic fracturing.
By Patricia Kilday Hart
San Antonio Express-News
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From the testimony of a Houston police officer's widow to allegations of racism, a daylong legislative committee hearing Monday on a bill banning “sanctuary cities” brought the national immigration debate back to the Texas Capitol
The Senate's Transportation and Homeland Security Committee on Monday approved a bill that would ban cities from prohibiting police from asking about the immigration status of those they detain. Gov. Rick Perry last week added the proposal to the agenda of the Legislature's special session. A similar bill failed during the regular session.
The issue drew a crowd of advocates and opponents of the bill, with both sides staging rallies in anticipation of the hearing.
In one weekend rally, a leading proponent of the bill blamed the Legislature's inaction on the issue on the number of Hispanics who serve there.
“If you want to know why we can't pass legislation in Texas, it's because we have 37, no, 36 Hispanics in the Legislature. So, that's part of our problem, and we need to change those numbers,” said Rebecca Forest, a co-founder of the Immigration Reform Coalition of Texas. “We need to do something about that in fact.”
Her remarks drew condemnation from the state's top three elected officials, all of whom support the sanctuary cities legislation as a needed tool for law enforcement.
Monday, June 13, 2011
Most districts will probably set their budgets in August, but will begin finalizing expenses as soon as they know the exact details of the Legislature’s new school finance plan
From the Texas Democratic Party – Remarks delivered in front of the Capitol by Rebecca Forest, founder of the Immigration Reform Coalition of Texas and a prominent Tea Party leader:
TDP's response: “ . . . This legislation being debated today is yet another attempt by Republicans to pander to the Tea Party by attacking Hispanics. Cowardly Republican politicians like Rick Perry, David Dewhurst and the legislative majority have shown they are willing to trample the rights of Hispanic Texans in order to score points with their Tea Party base . . . "
From Politico.com – "The pro-business conservative group Americans for Job Security has bought up online ads in New Hampshire, touting Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s work enacting “loser pays” tort reform laws."
Update, 3:30pm – Senate has recessed until Tuesday 3pm. State funding, school finance and health care bills have been assigned to conference committees. Senators are expected to debate SB9 on Wednesday
Now – Livestreaming, Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee reconvening public hearing, sanctuary city legislation SB9 . . . requires RealPlayer
Facing cuts, will schools raise local taxes?
Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, is the latest lawmaker to say it: A $4 billion shortfall in state financing does not have to mean teachers lose their jobs.
Across the state, school districts are considering the last option (a "tax ratification election"). But will the same public that sent lawmakers to Austin in November with an overwhelming no-new-taxes imperative accept paying more locally to preserve programs and jobs?
. . . “It’s not a matter of if we are going to have a TRE — it’s a matter of when,” said Joe Smith, a former superintendent who runs texasisd.com, a clearinghouse of news and information for school officials.
* Stop Formula 1 state subsidies, and Central Texas water grab SB 341
Contact Linda Curtis at email@example.com to join the conference call
In the midst of budget cuts on ordinary citizens, the state legislature has not yet seen fit to cut the billionaires at Formula 1 racing, who do not need a subsidy. (Comptroller Susan Combs continues to push this $290M ($25M per year for 10 years) tax dollar giveaway. It must be matched by either the City of Austin or the County of Travis by $4M per year.