County, CCJLS clash over lease, rules
By LPR Staff
A lease that has existed for more than two decades fell under fire during the regular meeting of the Caldwell County Commissioners’ Court on Monday, raising questions about an organization’s rules that Commissioners called “discriminatory.”
In February 2009, the Caldwell County Fair Association gave the court n
otice of their intention to extend a lease on the Caldwell County Fairgrounds for 25 years. The original lease, dated Oct. 29, 1984, allows use of the fairgrounds for the Caldwell County Junior Livestock Show and Sale, as well as for other activities, and charges the association rent of $1 per year. The lease, which expires on Oct. 29, allows for a 25-year renewal.
Over the last several years, the Fair Association has made improvements to the property, including expanding the show arena and installing additional fencing and expanding the “barn.”
However, one of the Association’s rules for the Caldwell County Junior Livestock Show and Sale has caused the Court concern for quite some time, and Commissioners said Monday the Association’s refusal to change that rule prevented them from approving the lease in good conscience.
“It’s called the Caldwell County show, but kids that show in any other show in the county can’t participate,” said County Judge H.T. Wright. “That doesn’t seem right or fair to me.”
The official rules for the Caldwell County Junior Livestock Show and Sale indicate that any participant who shows a market animal in another show cannot show a market animal in the Caldwell County Show. This creates a problem for some Luling 4-H members who participate in the Luling show in January, and then are kept out of the CCJLS show in March.
“Since they’re premium sales, I can understand the idea that [show participants] shouldn’t be able to sell a calf in Luling and then bring the same calf to Lockhart and sell it again in the other show,” Wright said. “But it seems like because of the timing of the shows, this rule keeps the Luling kids from participating – and if we do that, we can’t call it the Caldwell County show, and we have to be careful about using a public facility like that – because the fairgrounds belong to all the people of Caldwell County, not just the fair association.”
The four Commissioners echoed Wright’s concern that the policy might be discriminatory, and said they were hesitant to renew the lease on that basis. Additionally, they suggested the Fair Association might have consulted with an attorney and asked Caldwell County District Attorney Trey Hicks to meet with that attorney to see if an agreement could be reached regarding the property.
They agreed to revisit the lease in the near future.
Sources inside the Caldwell County Fair Association confirmed the organization has sought legal counsel with regard to the lease, but declined on Monday to give additional information, suggesting the Fair Association’s directors may be willing to release a statement in the near future regarding the issues with the lease.
In other business, the Commissioners heard a summary of the 2009-2010 fiscal year budget, which will come to the Court for final approval in September.
Wright said the Court and County Auditor Sonny Rougeou had worked hard to create a level budget and to prevent tax increases. Those efforts included a decision not to offer pay increases to employees this year.
Although ad valorem tax revenue is expected to increase slightly during the next budget year, Rougeou said that increase could be attributed to growth within the county, and not to a tax increase.
The Court expects the combined tax rate to hold level at $0.6910 per $100 of valuation.
They will vote on the final budget and tax rate in September.
In budget-related business, Lockhart Emergency Services and Animal Services Director Melanie Tucker approached the Court to discuss the county’s portion of the shared budget for Lockhart-Caldwell County EMS and animal services.
Because Lockhart and Caldwell County share the services provided by Tucker’s departments, an interlocal agreement exists committing the county to pay half the expenses for each department.
The expected cost for the animal services budget in the coming year is $98,794. The EMS budget is $237,870.
The Commissioners expressed concern about the rapid growth of the animal service budget. However, Tucker noted the animal population in the county has grown substantially, to the point the Lockhart Animal Shelter is housing up to 400 animals each month, many relinquished or abandoned by residents in rural areas of the county.
Also, the Commissioners discussed the budget for the Caldwell County Appraisal District.
Earlier in the budget process, the Commissioners asked Chief Appraiser Carlton Pape to reduce his operational budget, which included pay increases and capital expenditures the Court could not confirm were necessary.
Although Pape did decrease the budget, the Court agreed to withhold their approval of the budget and ask for additional decreases before the budget is approved next month.
In brief news:
The Commissioners agreed to extend the outdoor burning ban.
They approved a revised grant application for the Caldwell County Sheriff’s Department, which if received will allow the department to purchase two new, fully-outfitted patrol vehicles.
They held an executive session regarding pending litigation, but did not make a public announcement regarding the topics discussed during that meeting.
The Court heard a request from election coordinator Mary Vicky Gonzales regarding closing certain polling places within the county on Nov. 3, 2009, when the state holds an election regarding several Constitutional amendments. Gonzales said she wanted to close the polling locations as a money-saving measure, because voter turnout is historically so low for Constitutional elections.
The County paid bills in the amount of $124,456.09, which included $30,85.63 for indigent health care.
The Caldwell County Commissioners’ Court holds a regular meeting 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 concerned residents are encouraged to attend.