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State Park dodges TPWD budget bullet

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By LPR Staff

Editor/POST-REGISTER

After weeks of uncertainty and confusion, representatives from the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife (TPWD) joined area residents in a resounding commitment on Tuesday evening, closing the door on the possibility that Lockhart State Park might be closed under the coming Legislative budget.

Texas State Parks Dire

ctor Brent Leisure joined Lockhart State Park Ranger J Hess in making a presentation to the Lockhart City Council and standing-room-only gallery audience, discussing the possibilities for the future of the park.

After praising the community for coming together to help the park find ways to increase revenue and usage, Leisure set the crowd to raucous applause by stating very simply:

“I think I can give you assurances that operations at the Lockhart State Park will not be suspended.”

Concerns began to arise this spring after TPWD announced that the statewide budget crunch would result to deep cuts in the State Park System. As a means of offsetting some of those cuts, the Department approached seven communities, including Lockhart, to discuss the possibility of turning over operations of state parks to local entities.

While the State never alleged that the parks would be closed if they weren’t taken over by local entities, a cadre of local residents gathered to “save” the Lockhart State Park, and encourage the city not to take over operations.

In an earlier meeting, the Lockhart City Council expressed a consensus, though not unanimous, opinion that they would not be interested in taking over park operations, which according to figures presented by Leisure and Hess, amount to a losing proposition.

“There is not a State Park in the system that operates in the black,” Hess reminded the council on Tuesday. Still, he said, the contributions parks make to their local communities in terms of educational opportunities, tourist spending and recreational activities reach far beyond the financial operations.

In an effort to maintain and expand those operations, Hess presented a plan to increase camping availability at the Lockhart State Park, with the hopes of adding 20 new campsites to the facility. The addition, he said, would double the park’s contribution to the local economy, and help offset the budget shortfall, which is estimated at $300,000 per year.

A part of that plan, he said, was a challenge to the local taxing entities and other organizations, to join a cooperative effort to keep the park moving forward. The coalition includes TPWD, the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority, Bluebonnet Electric Co-op, Caldwell County, the Texas Department of Transportation and – as of Tuesday’s unanimous vote – the City of Lockhart.

Half a dozen residents, including Lockhart fifth grader Bethany Visage, who spoke at a Save the Park Rally on the steps of the State Capitol last week, addressed the council to express their support for the Lockhart State Park, and to declare their commitment to doing whatever is within their power to help the coalition and the State Park succeed.

Leisure noted that of all the communities that were approached about state park operations, Lockhart was the only one wherein the residents stepped forward with enthusiasm and passion to keep their park. That commitment, he said, will be instrumental – now and in the future – in keeping the Lockhart State Park within the State Park System and operating without interruption.

Because of her employment with TPWD, Councilmember Angie Gonzales-Sanchez opted not to participate in the conversation, nor to vote on the city’s participation in the coalition, to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. In other business, the Council heard an extensive presentation from the legal firm of Bickerstaff, Heath, Delgado and Acosta regarding the need for redistricting as a result of the 2010 Census.

Census numbers were released last month, and the initial figures show that the council will be forced to redraw the lines for the single-member electoral districts within the city. Changes in the residential landscape in the last decade, and the growth of the population, have resulted in the four single-member districts being knocked out of balance.

The attorneys offered a wealth of information about the redistricting process, and informed the council about several legal requirements that the council will have to consider as they move forward with the process.

In order to complete the redistricting in time for the November election, the council will have to move forward quickly with redrawing the district lines, and hope to have the process finalized by June.

A series of workshops and public hearings will be scheduled in the near future to begin the redistricting process.

City Planner Dan Gibson brought forth a recommendation regarding the impact fees charged for new development in the community.

Long a source of contention between the council and the Impact Fee Advisory Committee, the current fee structure allows for a deep reduction in road impact fees for commercial, residential and industrial construction.

Over and over, Gibson and the committee have asked the council to increase the percentage of impact fees. Time and time again, citing concerns that Lockhart has been one of the only communities in Central Texas to charge a road impact fee, the council has refused to increase the fees.

This time, despite compelling cases presented by both Gibson and Impact Fee Advisory Committee Chair Philip Ruiz, the council once again decided not to increase road impact fees. A key factor in that decision was the concern that an increase in the fees, at this point, might have a negative impact on the proposed construction of a Super WalMart, slated for groundbreaking this summer.

The increase proposed by Gibson would create a spike in the construction costs for the store – a spike which City Manager Vance Rodgers said might not be a welcome change for Wal Mart.

In brief news:

Sanders read a proclamation to members of CASA of Central Texas and Roxanne’s House recognizing April 2011 as Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month.

He also proclaimed the month of April as “Fair Housing Month.”

The Council approved an ordinance prohibiting texting while operating a motor vehicle within the Lockhart city limits.

They enacted an ordinance that will allow for the inspection and registration of street-legal golf carts for use on certain streets within the City of Lockhart. Rodgers said it would take about 10 days for city staff to make preparations for the inspection and registration of those vehicles under the ordinance.

The Lockhart City Council meets on the first and third Tuesday of each month at 7:30 p.m. in the Glosserman Conference Center at Lockhart City Hall. The meetings are open to the public and are broadcast on Time Warner Digital Cable Channel 10.

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