Judge delivers ‘State of the County’

By County Judge Tom D. Bonn

This is a year end report to the taxpayers and citizens of Caldwell County.

The County is within my prepared budget for 2011-2012, financially solvent and with four months of reserves totaling well over $4 million. Sales tax and federal inmate revenues continue to exceed forecast projections of the budget for the first quarter of our fiscal year. Property tax collections are beginning to be paid year-end and will be reported by the Appraisal District in January. Expenditures are proceeding according to budget projections.

We relocated our County Commissioner’s Court site to the Scott Annex to accommodate the citizens from the crowded Room 100 at the Courthouse.

Execution of the budget is proceeding smoothly. Our Human Resources Department is fully staffed and will begin full operation in January. This department will begin assisting the Auditor’s office with preparation of the payroll. Additionally conducting new hire procedures, evaluating employee benefits, scheduling of drug test of employees, employee reviews, exit interviews, safety training, lawsuit prevention and other related services.

New equipment for the Unit Road, backhoe ordered and dump trucks bids received, Sheriff’s Department, new transport van for federal and local inmates has been ordered. Maintenance departments received an 80 ft. mobile lift to be used for repairs on County facilities.

Subdivision applications have increased over this quarter compared to last year. Our new County Engineer, Mr. William Gardner, reviews these subdivision documents eliminating the need for contract engineer services. We will continue with our monitoring of septic systems in Caldwell County to insure our clean water doesn’t become contaminated.

The Plum Creek Water Partnership was formed with all local taxing entities’ while managed by GBRA to insure continued monitoring of the water quality and ecosystem. It will hire its local coordinator in January 2012. Twelve applicants have been received for the position of monitoring this natural resource. We will provide the office, and vehicle for this position as in-kind not financial support. Lockhart State Park closure was prevented with the ILA signed with the city, county, TPWD, TxDOT and GBRA. Once again the County contribution will be in-kind, heavy equipment services.

Commissioners have approved the Unit Road department to pursue an aggressive schedule of seal coating many miles of our existing County roads to prevent further degradation of the pavement.

We are joining with the City of Lockhart, Luling and Martindale via an interlocal agreement to manage our County/City 700/800 MHz trunked, public safety radio network. All services:  tower rent, equipment maintenance/software contracts, utilities and other services as required will now be managed as one network. This ILA will combine the management requirements with each individual radio user paying an equal prorated share. This will insure a unified County communications network with command and control while sharing expenses by users. Combining these services, save taxpayers investment dollars while insuring continued current operational state of the art equipment.

As Judge I declared our County to be in emergency drought conditions and issued a Disaster Relief Declaration. These conditions continued until December contributing to the Delhi fire, the largest County fire of record.

As a result of our September Delhi 6,000-acre fire, commissioners decided to provide our Emergency Management Coordinator, Jim Parker with a mobile command post trailer equipped with necessary communications equipment to operate on site when we have our next emergency or disaster. With the County providing 60 new portable radios to our 10 VFDs, this will insure a compatible network with interoperability for our public safety personnel throughout the Capitol Area of Council of Government region. It is our desire to use this equipment to alert and inform the public to take the appropriate actions when these incidents occur.

Utilizing the proceeds for the bonds issued in the fall of 2010 has allowed the County need facility repair funding. You may have noticed the repairs completed to the justice department with the new roof and relocation of the AC units from the roof to the ground. Continued maintenance on the Courthouse has kept our contractor busy reglazing and painting the windows and doors. Our pigeon abatement contract has been taken over by “Mother Nature,” by a pair of Peregrine falcons nesting on our roof. If you are lucky you can observe the process as they eliminate the problem one pigeon daily. Luling Annex and Slater buildings will receive a new roof, windows and insulation.

It should be noted that after waiting over 16 years, the TxDOT grant for renovation of the County Jail Museum has become a reality. Contract bids have been received a contractor approved and remodel should begin in January. Because of the length of time to receive this award, the grant funding provided is insufficient.

As your County Judge I requested additional funding for the project and was granted a dollar for dollar match up to $43,000 from TxDOT Regional Engineer Carlos Lopez. The remaining deficit will be paid from our facilities improvement bond.

We are nearing completion of our energy grant, which has allowed us to replace over $80,000 or end of life AC compressors through out the County. Our solid waste grant was renewed allowing us to conduct Precinct clean-ups providing roll-offs and trash service for County residence. One of our biggest grants was $250,000 from CAMPO to fund our County transportation plan, now in the RFP review process.

Recent acquisition of the existing Wal~Mart store was possible because of our reserve deposits and credit rating. Our purchase was unanimously approved by the Commissioners Court. The County will be looking at financing mechanisms that are best suited to finance the remodel of the building into functional County offices with out over-burdening our future operating budgets or the taxpayers. The remodel of this 53,000 square foot facility will be conducted after the commissioners agree on a design offered by the architect chosen, after we issue the RFQ. Local contractors and architects will be welcome to present their proposals.

The facility will be converted into our new Judicial Center and house as many essential County services as possible to insure the convenient accessibility to our citizens with adequate parking as we anticipate the growth of Caldwell County in the near term. As available, some existing County buildings will be sold or leased as they are vacated. We anticipate the closing on this purchase by late spring or early summer 2012.

We have hired a new County Agent, Michael Haynes, raised in Bandera County. He has a MS from TAMU in Agriculture Leadership and Communications this will be his first job as an extension agent. We welcome Michael to Caldwell County. Commissioners redistricting plan was approved by the U.S. Department of Justice, however the alignment of the voting precincts’ are still not completed.

In conclusion, as your Chief Financial Officer and County Judge, I have delivered a lower tax rate, balanced budget, with four months reserve funds exceeding $4 million in our treasury, while continuing to provide our employee’s 100 percent health benefits cost and a $1,600.00 pay increase.

This has been a busy year and promises to be just as busy for 2012, may God bless you and Caldwell County, Texas!

Happy New Year!

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