County, GBRA eye joining forces for river cleanup
By LPR Staff
Nearly four months after a rush of floodwaters devastated Caldwell County along the San Marcos River, officials are still trying to determine the best way to clean up the mess.
On Monday, the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority (GBRA) approached the Commissioners asking them to become part of a plan t
o effect that cleanup, particularly in the areas near the river crossings at FM 1979 and FM 1973. To that end, GBRA is planning an application for a $200,000 grant under the Emergency Watershed Protection Program, and has asked the County for their help.
Ultimately, the proposal, according to GBRA Director Oscar Fogle and project coordinator Mary Newman, would entail a financial or in-kind match from Caldwell County up to $25,000. GBRA would contribute the other $25,000 to achieve the total funding.
The clock is ticking on the proposal, however, and despite Commissioners’ concerns about funding the project, Fogle said GBRA was committed to the program and needed an answer right away, in advance of the Sept. 23 application deadline.
“Our staff has jumped through all the hoops and taken the meetings,” Fogle said. “We’ve surveyed the damage areas in Caldwell County.”
Those areas, however, have also been the focus of County Civil Attorney Jordan Powell, who noted the cleanup areas fall under the jurisdiction of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT).
“I’m hoping to get them involved in a PPDR program,” Powell said. “And that way, TxDOT could fund [the cleanup].” Efforts in the area have been stymied, because Caldwell County has no legal jurisdiction to perform maintenance or cleanup on state-maintained roads.
Also, concerns over the County’s budget, already stretched tight, raised eyebrows among the Commissioners.
“Right now, the budget won’t cover it,” County Judge Kenneth Schawe said. “In the next budget, we have some contingencies.”
Fogle said the funding source did not have to be pinned down right away, as it would be months before GBRA receives notification of receiving the grant. The agreement to participate, though, he said was urgent.
“If we go into this agreement, and then get into the fiscal year and discover that we can’t afford it, are we still bound to come up with the funds,” Commissioner Alfredo Munoz questioned. Fogle and Powell both noted that obligation would be a feature of the language in the interlocal agreement between the County and GBRA, which Powell said she had not yet reviewed. She also said she would prefer to work with TxDOT to provide the grant match, so that neither Caldwell County nor GBRA had to provide the funds, but said she was uncertain, given the short timeline, whether that would be possible.
“We just don’t have the money there to allocate, even though we want to help,” Schawe said. “I feel like we should go out there and try to find the funds, but it’s difficult for me to commit to that right now.”
Unit Road Administrator Dwight Jeffery also expressed concern about the possibility of offering in-kind services to cover the project.
“The equipment needed for this kind of mitigation is above and beyond the county resources available,” he said. “I think this is a TxDOT issue.”
Still, over those concerns, Commissioner Neto Madrigal made the motion to “work with GBRA” to acquire the grant funding, and to review the budget to determine whether the funds are available, with the caveat that, if the funds are not available, the County and GBRA will attempt to determine other means of making the partnership work.
In other business, the Commissioners discussed, but tabled, a measure that would change employee payroll dates to the seventh and 22nd day of each month.
The change, according to Schawe, was prompted by the need for payroll processors to often correct payroll, after paying County employees for work not performed, based on estimations of their timesheets.
Evidently, the deadline for submitting timesheets overlaps the deadline for issuing paychecks, and the issue is something that Schawe hopes to correct.
In the future, he will meet with a committee comprised of the County Treasurer, the HR Department and the County Auditor to determine a solution that will be comfortable for both administration and staff.
In brief news:
The Commissioners accepted the recommendation of Emergency Management Coordinator Martin Ritchey, to keep an outdoor burning ban in place.
They heard from a member of the community who alleged a prior personal relationship between Schawe and County Auditor Debra French was tantamount to a conflict of interest. Both Schawe and French expressed outrage at the allegation, and reminded the public that the County Auditor is chosen and employed not by the Commissioners Court, but by the elected District Judges, outside the authority of County Government.
They considered the possibility of joining the Lone Star Rail District, and will schedule that organization for a series of public information meetings at a later date, prior to making a final decision.
They were encouraged to consider adding provisions for the County’s unincorporated areas within the scope of their negotiation of a Host Agreement with Green Group Holdings.
The County paid bills in the amount of $590,794.11.
The Caldwell County Commissioners Court routinely meets on the second, third and fourth Monday of each month at 9 a.m. in the second floor courtroom of the Caldwell County Courthouse. The meetings are open to the public and are webcast at www.co.caldwell.tx.us.