Rain quenches land, but doesn’t break drought

Rain quenches land, but doesn’t break drought

By Kathi Bliss

Editor/POST-REGISTER

Despite a delightfully wet winter, officials from the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority (GBRA) are still concerned that the drought pressing down on Central Texas hasn’t broken and, in fact, expect that “exceptional drought” conditions will continue through the summer.

During a presentation to the Caldwell County Commissioners’ Court on Monday morning, GBRA Executive Manager for Water Resources and Utility Operations Jim Murphy said the only reason the 2011-2012 drought has not yet become the “drought of record,” outweighing the 1947-1957 drought, is because of the shorter duration of the dry spell. He did warn, however, that if drought conditions continue, GBRA may have to recalculate their drought management plan.

“[State law] requires we ask our customers to ‘share and share alike’ if we have to change our plan,” Murphy said. “When we get to 50 percent of our firm yield in ‘storage,’ then we have to start curtailment and offering reduced supplies to our customers.”

Presently, GBRA’s main source, the Canyon Reservoir, is at 80 percent, Murphy said, and faring better than other organizations water containment reservoirs throughout the state.

“We’ve been fortunate, in that some of the development that we planned on hasn’t happened, so some of the use we were expecting has been over-estimated,” he said. “That’s why we’re in so much better shape than others around the state. But if those developments had happened and that use had increased, than we might be at stage two or three like some others in the state.”

Though Caldwell County has a director seated on the Board of Directors and works closely with GBRA, much of the county’s actual water supply is overseen by the Edwards Aquifer Authority, which Murphy said had a “different view of how to handle things” as the drought progresses.

In summation, Murphy said GBRA was still eyeing the situation, and noted the recent rains, though helpful, did not yield as much runoff as they should have, and said that the soil still needed to be broken up and quenched so the reservoirs could collect more rainwater.

In other news, reports from County Administrator Ron Heggemeier revealed that the county is over budget on collections for both sales tax revenue and Federal prisoner revenue for the current fiscal year. Overall, sale tax revenue has exceeded expectations by $76,500 thus far, and prisoner revenue, although under budget last month, is over budget for the year by $27,538.

Related budgetary news came from County Auditor Larry Roberson, who said external auditors had finished their review of the County’s books last week, and brought forward two written policies he asked the Commissioners to put in place, one regarding the County’s investment policy, and the other addressing a fund balance policy.

The policies, Roberson said, are standard in county operations, but have not been written and approved by previous Commissioners’ Courts. His goal, he said, is to have policies in place so that future Courts and Auditors will have a stronger basis for doing business than the statement, “that’s how it’s always been done.”

In discussing the Fund Balance Policy, Roberson noted the County presently reflects a General Fund Balance of $6 million, while the auditors suggested a stable fund balance of three months’ operating expenses, or about $3 million. He said it was up to the Court to determine whether they wanted a larger fund balance, or how they chose to reduce that balance.

Though the Court decided to table votes on both policies until their next regular meeting on Feb. 27, Commissioner Joe Roland initiated discussion about the possibility of using the fund balance to provide a mid-year pay raise to employees.

Roberson cautioned the Court that dipping into the fund balance was, in effect, deficit spending, and said it was generally more advisable to use those funds for one-time expenses, such as building purchases, rather than issuing bonds for large expenditures. The issue, he said, is a function of the fact that if the Court decides to use the money to fund pay increases, they have to continue that level of spending in future budgets, which may trigger a tax increase in future budgets. Ultimately, however, he said it was the decision of the Court.

In brief news:

The Court heard a brief presentation from 9-1-1 Coordinator Jaclyn Archer, who said she has been working with EMS and the volunteer fire departments to clarify and realign addresses in the county. She said she’d entered several new addresses in recent weeks, and had changed others to make addressing throughout the County more consistent.

She also noted she would be putting additional information on the County’s website and working to help residents who are undergoing changes of address.

They voted to approve the final plat of the Bridgestone Ranch subdivision on FM 1185.

The Commissioners approved an interlocal agreement between Caldwell County and the City of Uhland regarding subdivision regulation in the extraterritorial jurisdiction surrounding Uhland.

The Court tabled discussion on the possible installation of speed cushions on Meadow Lane until further negotiations with area business owners can take place, and they appointed several new members to the Caldwell County Historical Commission.

The Caldwell County Commissioners routinely meet on the second, third and fourth Monday of each month at 9 a.m. in the Conference and Training Room at the LW Scott Annex at 1403 Blackjack St. in Lockhart. The meetings are open to the public and concerned stakeholders are encouraged to attend.

kathibliss@post-register.com

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