Routine business presses forward for Commissioners
By LPR Staff
With little fanfare and a small, dignified plant placed on the dais in his honor, the routine business of the Caldwell County Commissioners’ Court continued on Monday, after the county bid farewell to longtime County Judge H.T. Wright last week. Many would suggest it was exactly as Wright would have said it should be.
p>Chief among the business attended to on Monday morning was the issuance of an order calling for an election on May 8, 2010, to determine whether an Emergency Service District will be formed in the area currently covered by the Maxwell Volunteer Fire Department.
The measure, which has been petitioned for by the VFD and area residents, and approved by the three cities whose extraterritorial jurisdiction will be impacted (Lockhart, Martindale and San Marcos), still faces hurdles before a taxing district is created to help fund fire protection and emergency services.
According to Ronnie Duesterheft, who has been instrumental in spearheading the project, the May 8 vote whether to create the district is only a portion of the battle. After the election, if the measure allowing the district to be formed and to levy a tax of $100 per $100,000 of property valuation, the votes must then be recounted to determine whether the voters in each of the three extraterritorial jurisdictions will be covered.
“This is something that we didn’t really know about at first, and that we want to make sure our residents are clear on,” Duesterheft told members of the Court. “We thought it was going to be just a “yea or nay” vote. Now, we find out if the voters choose it, than a majority of the voters in each ETJ have to approve it as well, or that ETJ won’t be covered.”
A lack of coverage in extraterritorial jurisdictions could complicate things, Duesterheft said, because Caldwell County will have to figure out an alternative means of providing fire protections. In many of the extraterritorial jurisdiction areas, the municipal fire departments do not provide service, instead relying on the rural VFDs.
As an emergency service district, however, the Maxwell VFD would not be able to provide those services unless the ETJ voters approve it.
In a related item, the Commissioners opted to leave the outdoor burning ban off in Caldwell County.
Despite making the recommendation to leave the ban off, Emergency Management Coordinator Jim Parker offered advice and a warning to Caldwell County residents, reminding them that although danger is not high today, things could change quickly.
“Things are wet right now, and that’s caused the brush and the grasses to grow kind of high,” Parker said. “Right now while it’s still wet, and before things start to dry out, people should check out where the high grasses are, and make sure to cut those back from around homes and outbuildings.”
Parker said property maintenance now could help alleviate property dangers later, as the summer bears down and the county becomes a dry tinderbox.
In other news, the Commissioners rescinded an action taken in September 2009 regarding the abandonment of an unidentified right of way in Lytton Springs.
The original request, approved on Sept. 14, 2009, came from the Lytton Springs Cemetery Association, which asked the Court to abandon a platted, but unused right of way near the Lytton Springs Cemetery.
However, according to attorney Ron Heggemeier, an assistant district attorney assigned to advise the Commissioners’ Court, the request was improper, because the Association does not own property immediately adjoining the right of way in question. On Heggemeier’s advice, the Commissioners rescinded the abandonment of the right of way.
As a result of the action, Heggemeier advised the Court to work toward modifying current rules to put a procedure in place to handle such requests in the future. Apparently, an appropriate course of action was not spelled out in Court rules at the time the request was originally made.
The Commissioners also considered a request from the Tri-Community Water Supply Corporation regarding assistance in acquiring a grant to help the water supplier address a series of issues that could cause problems with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in the future.
Although the organization has not yet received a citation, a warning letter from TCEQ suggested some of the water supply’s equipment, particularly a well, should be updated soon to avoid issues of mixing ground water with other water. The Tri-Community WSC presently does not have the funds available to pay for such repairs.
After some discussion, the Commissioners learned grant funding for such a project might be available through the Federal government at no cost to the Caldwell County taxpayers at large. However, according to grant writer Philip Ruiz, that funding is only available to the county once per year.
While Ruiz said some other water supply corporations have taken advantage of the program, he suggested the best course of action for the Court would be to work with all the local WSCs to determine where the need was greatest – and to help that organization apply for those grant funds.
A committee will research the issue and deliver a recommendation at a future meeting of the court.
In brief news:
Barbara Shelton spoke to the Court on behalf of the Lockhart Business Cooperative regarding a miscommunication during the Rites of Spring event last month. Evidently, the automated sprinkler systems at the Caldwell County Courthouse were not deactivated for the event, and several vendor booths were soaked by the overnight use of the sprinklers.
Commissioner Neto Madrigal read into the record an proclamation declaring April 2010, as County Government Month.
Commissioner John Cyrier read a proclamation asking the Texas Department of Transportation to save the historic oak trees in the proposed route of State Highway 130. Cyrier said there was a possibility of re-engineering the current route of the embattled highway, in an effort to keep from having to cut down or move two oak trees measuring more than 14 feet in circumference and estimated to be more than 230 years old.
Cyrier was appointed by the Court to serve as the county’s representative on the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organizations transportation policy board. In his absence, any other commissioner may serve as an alternate.
The Court authorized representatives from the Texas Association of Counties to move forward with an ergonomics and employee safety study, at the recommendation of Caldwell County Treasurer Lori Rangel-Pompa, who also acts as the county’s human resources director. The study is expected to address points of concern regarding employee safety, which may help protect the employees from workplace injury and, by extension, the county from lawsuits.
The county paid bills in the amount of $262,363.59, which included $17,988.98 in indigent legal defense costs.
No word was available at press time as to whether an Interim County Judge would be appointed to fill the vacancy left by the late Judge Wright. Presently, Judge Pro Tem Joe I. Roland is acting as County Judge, and will continue to do so until a decision is made as to Wright’s successor.
The Caldwell County Commissioners Court meets on the second, third and fourth Monday of each month at 9 a.m. in Room 100 of the Caldwell County Courthouse. The meetings are open to the public and the public is encouraged to attend.