04.25.10

May local election news

Posted in Cedar Park, Georgetown, Hutto, Jarrell, Leander, Liberty Hill, Local Elections, Round Rock, Taylor, Williamson County at 6:25 am by wcnews

Local elections are coming up May 8th with early voting starting on Monday. Here are the local races, via the Williamson County Elections page, (includes early voting schedule):

Liberty Hill ISD
Leander ISD
Pflugerville ISD
Round Rock ISD
City of Cedar Park
City of Georgetown District 3
City of Granger
City of Hutto
City of Jarrell
City of Leander
City of Liberty Hill
City of Taylor (citywide)
City of Taylor District 4
City of Thrall
Block House Creek MUD
Brushy Creek MUD
Fern Bluff MUD
Sonterra MUD
Wells Branch MUD
Anderson Mill Limited District
Chisholm Trail SUD
Austin Community College

Below are some recent news articles on the elections.  Any candidates or supporters of candidates have any articles to add for any of these races or information on the candidates, feel free to do so in the comments.

Get to know the candidates: 2010 Leander City Council Candidates.

Get to know your candidates: 2010 Cedar Park City Council.

RRISD School board candidates address issues at PTA forum.

Hutto Council races heat up.

Impact News has a good synopsis for Georgetown, Hutto, and Taylor.

Taylor Council candidates respond to city issues.

From the AusChron, ACC Board Elections: Meet the Candidates.

03.26.09

The future of transportation in Williamson County

Posted in Bad Government Republicans, Commentary, Commissioners Court, Liberty Hill, Road Issues, Transportation, Uncategorized, Williamson County at 10:54 am by wcnews

Two weeks ago EOW posted on the upcoming series of “Open Houses” planned by the county commissioners seeking input on their 25 year transportation plan.  Please see the current information on the county web site as the dates have changed.

  • Precinct 1 – Monday, March 30, at the Rattan Creek Community Center, 7617 Elkhorn Mountain Trail, in Austin.
  • Precinct 4 – Tuesday, March 31, in the Taylor Public Library Meeting Room, 801 Vance Street, in Taylor.
  • Precinct 2 – Monday, April 6, at Pat Bryson Hall, 201 N. Brushy Street, in Leander.
  • Precinct 3 – Tuesday, April 7, at the Central Maintenance Facility, 3151 S. E. Inner Loop, in Georgetown.
  • County-wide open house – Thursday, April 16, from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m., in the Commissioners Courtroom in the Williamson County Courthouse, 710 S. Main Street, in Georgetown.

It is in the best interest for the future of Williamson County if we all show up to at least one of these meetings.  That said, this is Williamson County,  and we must be extremely skeptical of any plan that is being put forward by our one-party government that takes so much money from those that profit from transportation and development in this county.

A couple of interesting recent developments regarding transportation in the county came up this week.  First, as reported by Philip Jankowski in the Taylor Daily Press (TDP) the upcoming plan will not come cheap, Report: $1.8 billion for transportation by 2035.

With projections that Williamson County’s population will top one million by 2035, a report by transportation consultants to the county projected more than $1.8 billion in transportation spending over the next 25 years.

The report indicates no matter what commissioners do in regards to road infrastructure, traffic will continue to get worse. The transportation plan recommends the construction of 116 miles of new roadways and 354 miles of roadway lane expansion to mitigate congestion.

Even if all those projects are pursued, the amount of “highly congested roadways” will grow from its current level of 17 percent to 32 percent according to the report. If none are pursued, 59 percent of roads in the county would become highly congested during rush hour.

The sky is falling, the sky is falling. Please, please commissioners, act quick, on this 25-year plan and save us.

Commissioners will consider approving the plan in early May. After which, the county will submit the plan to the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Austin-area regional transportation organization, which is also currently creating a 25-year plan.

Is it just me, or does it seem ludicrous to anyone else that the WCCC wants to decide on the fate of transportation in Williamson County over the next 25 years in a little over two months? You may also be wondering how they plan on getting that $1.8 billion. Well hold on to your hat, or wallet, all you conservative GOP voters out there, County backs car fee, and increasing the local gas tax too.

Williamson County Commissioners showed their support Tuesday for pending state legislation that would allow the county to pay for bonds with a gas tax or automobile registration fees.

The Local Option Transportation Act was authored by State Sen. John Carona (R-Dallas) and is currently being reviewed by the Transportation and Homeland Security Committee.

Commissioners voted unanimously to be included as an eligible local government entity, should the legislation be passed.

[...]

If the bill passes, Williamson County Commissioners have the power to call public elections to create new taxes or fees to fund transportation projects. Any new tax or fee would have to be voter approved. Possible funding sources could be a 10 cent gas tax, an additional annual vehicle registration fee for the county or one-time fees to new residents to the county.

“It gives local governments and local counties additional ways to get money by going to the voters. Everything has to be voter approved in a very transparent process,” Steven Polunsky, a spokesman for Carona’s office, said.

The bulk of commissioner’s discussion involved a vehicle registration fee in addition to the state registration fee. Commissioners could levy an annual fee between $10 and $60 on each of the 400,000 cars registered in Williamson County. Such a fee would garner between $4 million and $24 million of annual revenue to finance transportation bonds.

Here’s EOW’s take on the Carona’s plan, Enough of the half-measures and tinkering. In essence what the WCCC is doing is allowing a consultant to come up with this grandiose 25 year plan for transportation, and attempting to use fear and scare tactics, to trick county residents into voting for tax and fee, same as taxes, increases to pay for it.  And the beauty, for the politicians, is that they put the burden for approving the money on the taxpayer.  That’s what they wanted to do but it appears state Sen. Steve Ogden (R-Bryan) has, at least for now, blocked that option, Transportation bill clears first hurdle; opposition still lurks.

Williamson County, near Austin, would be excluded from the bill under another amendment adopted on behalf of Senate Finance Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, who is cool to the legislation and whose district includes the county.

In a vacuum, if you discount the last 17 or so years, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this so-called “local option” plan that’s being put forward. But we must remember that this huge hole we now have in our transportation funding infrastructure, in Texas and Williamson County, is because it has been neglected  for the last 17 or so years. We’ve been sold a bill of goods over that time that we can have everything if we just lower taxes, and use toll roads instead.  But as the cliche says, if something seems to good to be true it usually is, Forget Toll Roads Let’s Raise The Gas Tax – It’ll Save You Money.

Of course no one’s seen the plan yet, and we will likely get to see very little of it, and even less influence over it, before it’s approval in early May.  I would advise everyone, but especially thos who own land in Williamson County, to show up at least one of these meetings and seriously scrutinize what your elected officials, and those who fund their campaigns, are proposing to do in your county over the next 25 years.  As anyone in Liberty Hill can tell you our county elected officials don’t have a good recent tract record.

03.13.09

Sales tax receipts dropping statewide, down 2.6% from 2008

Posted in Around The State, Cedar Park, Commentary, Georgetown, Hutto, Leander, Liberty Hill, Round Rock, Taxes, Uncategorized, Williamson County at 12:19 pm by wcnews

Via the AAS, Sales tax revenue falls sharply for most Central Texas cities.

Sales tax collections for most Central Texas cities fell in January, with a 23 percent drop in Round Rock and a 13.8 percent decline in Austin, according to a new report from the Texas Comptroller’s Office.

Georgetown had the biggest percentage drop, down 27.3 percent from a year ago.

Of the region’s 10 largest cities, only Cedar Park, Lakeway and Kyle had increases. San Marcos was essentially flat from a year ago.

Here’s the full list from the Comptroller of Cities by County – March 2009.  Of the large counties Harris seems to be faring the best.

Bexar -2.00%
Dallas -2.74%
Harris 7.11%
Tarrant -3.63%
Travis 10.36%

Here’s a link to Top 20 Cities. Definitely the Houston, Southeast Texas, and the Corpus Christi seem to be doing the best. Also West Texas Midland, Amarillo, and Lubbock are on the plus side.

Williamson cities,and county total are listed below:

Bartlett  0.53%
Cedar Park 1.54%
Florence 28.13%
Georgetown -12.11%
Granger -7.51%
Hutto -0.31%
Jarrell -1.99%
Leander 4.76%
Liberty Hill -3.40%
Round Rock -16.87%
Taylor -33.41%
Thrall 11.96%
Weir 20.91%
County Total -13.90%

Without a state income tax in Texas and so much of our state government funded by the sales tax this is going to cause serious problems at the state level too, not just the local level.

Here’s the press release from the Comptrollers web site.

Texas Comptroller Susan Combs today announced state sales tax revenue in February totaled $1.74 billion, down 2.6 percent compared to February 2008.

“State sales tax collections declined in February as important sectors such as retail trade and construction continue to struggle,” Combs said. “While state sales tax revenue has grown 2.8 percent through the first half of fiscal 2009, further declines are expected as the economy continues to weaken.”

Combs delivered $433.4 million in March sales tax payments to Texas cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts. Local sales tax allocations are down 0.6 percent compared to March 2008. So far this calendar year, local sales tax allocations remain up 2.2 percent compared to the first three months of 2008.

State sales tax revenue for February and March payments made to local governments represent sales that occurred in January.

Combs sent March sales tax payments of $291.1 million to Texas cities, down 0.7 percent compared to March 2008. Since Jan. 1, city sales tax allocations are 1.5 percent higher than the same period last year. Texas counties received sales tax payments of $27.5 million, up 2.5 percent compared to one year ago. Calendar year-to-date, county sales tax allocations are 7.2 percent higher than last year.

The 150 special purpose taxing districts around the state received $17.3 million in sales tax revenue, up 21.6 percent compared to last March. Ten local transit systems received $97.4 million, down 4.3 percent.

08.05.08

Eyewitness Report From SH 29 Forum

Posted in Commentary, Liberty Hill, Precinct 2, Precinct 3, SH 29, Williamson County at 2:13 pm by wcnews

(Anonymous comment received via email).

I left the house at 5:30 pm. Plenty of time, I thought, to find a seat. Pulling into the high school parking lot, there were so many cars, I thought there must be football practice tonight. Walking up to the entrance, I was met by the Keep29Local group handing out flyers and red ribbons. The hall walls of the school had huge maps of the routes on them. Tables were setup where everyone was asked to sign in and handed information sheets that dated back to July 3rd’s “Frequently-Asked-Questions” from the county. My thought, we already know this stuff – what a waste of paper.

Upon entering the cafeteria, it was apparent I had left the house too late to get a seat. It was warm and I wondered if the air conditioner needed a boost or if it was just anger in the air? While waiting, Greg Windham, candidate for Pct 3 Commissioner, introduced himself to me and a friend of mine. Soon after that, candidate for County Attorney Jaime Lynn came up and introduced himself. As he stood talking current County Attorney, and candidate for re-election Jana Duty, passed by and smiled at Lynn asking “how are you?”. Shortly after that some lady with flaming red hair came up to Lynn stating he couldn’t hand out his campaign push cards. When asked why, she became irritated and told him “it was a county funded event and it was illegal”. Lynn responded by saying “this is an open house”. I think her hair went another shade of red with anger. She pointed behind us and stated “or do you need a cop to tell you” and she walked off to take a seat. Those of us within ear shot of this, just stood looking at each other in disbelief. Lynn politely put his push cards away and remained standing with us.

The meeting, or should I say lecture, started around 6:30. The panel introduced themselves with a mike which was turned down too low and most couldn’t hear what was being said. Cynthia Long was met with a low rumble of boos from the crowd. The slide show of questions appeared on the screen and they were off with their pre-scripted answers. Over in a corner close to the stage, Jim Dillon stood with a large dry erase board writing one liners. Getting laughter from writing “Thou Shalt Not Lie” when a consultant was giving an answer, and “Bertram Population 1,000,000″ when another commented on future growth expectancy. The crowd had the biggest laugh of the evening when the answer to “is this going to be a toll road” was “we don’t know”. The laughter didn’t last long as those around me including myself started growing frustrated that this stuff we were forced to watch and listen to, was not answering what we really wanted to know.

Some started shouting out questions and statements in anger. A gentleman, I believe to be JT Cox, stood up and addressed the crowd requesting we let the panel speak and when they had finished we would get our turn. I didn’t keep count of the questions, but I was thinking we were going to be there all night by the time they get to questions we had submitted. Then I was jarred back to reality when it was stated that “we are going to let everyone get a drink of water and then you can go to one of the selected areas with the hands that are raised and get your questions answered”. What? People started looking around in disbelief and some stood up and walked out. It was clear we weren’t going to “get our turn”. JT Cox jumped up from his seat and with a commanding tone asked Covey and Long to answer the question, “are you going to go North, South or listen to the Keep29Local proposal?”. No answer. With that, he turned to the crowd and asked for those of us that supported the county’s plans to stand up. Realizing we were standing, we hit the floor. Then he responded by requesting that those of us supporting the Keeping29Local plan to please stand and clap your hands. It sounded like the Liberty Hill State Champs had just scored a touch down in a game. At that point, Covey took the mike in her hands and in a demeaning and condescending tone gave us the last words to be spoken on the matter. She thanked us for coming out and showing support, but all in all, what hit me the hardest was when she said, “in the future, you people will be coming to us and begging us to help you out”. I was just about to lose it when some lady in front of me decided to speak up and shouted a question to Covey who quickly told her, “let me finish and then you can yell at me all you want”. The lady tuned to me and said, “I’m not going to get that chance, just watch”. She was right. Covey put the mike up and the meeting was over. People started filing out mumbling among themselves. Some stood around shaking their heads. That was that, so I left.

I cannot speak for everyone there, but to me it seemed we did not get the same respect and chance to speak that was given to Covey and Long. As one citizen pointed out, “you, the county, hired those on the panel. They work for you, but you work for us”. Oh, yes they do and as of November 4th, you will be giving noticed that your last day is December 31,2008.

GOP Commissioners, It’s There Way On The Highway (SH 29)

Posted in Bad Government Republicans, Commissioners Court, Liberty Hill, Precinct 2, Precinct 3, Road Issues, SH 29, Transportation, Williamson County at 9:22 am by wcnews

From all reports, so far, the Republican county commissioners, Valerie Covey and Cynthia Long and their $1 million PR firm, are giving the people two choices. North or South. They still refuse to discuss with the people of Williamson County why this Perry-like corridor needs to be built in the first place. There’s a great crowd picture at Liberty Hill River, as well as this take on last night’s “forum”.

The Wear Red campaign was a huge success in one respect: there is no doubt that County Commissioners Cynthia Long and Valerie Covey saw the number of people wearing red and vocally opposing both remaining Highway 29 bypass options. Hundreds of people showed up at the meeting to hear county’s consultants and engineers answer questions sent in advance. But when Linda Rife tried to adjourn the meeting, JT Cox stood up and asked politely but firmly how many people in the audience opposed both options. The huge crowd of Liberty Hill citizens stood as one and applauded.

The citizens of a united Libery Hill made it clear they don’t want an Interstate 29.

Unfortunately the county wanted to make tonight a multiple choice quiz:

* Go North
* Go South
* None of the above, not on the test

The county is happy to listen to us and wants our input, but the only question left is to choose the Northern Route or the Southern Route.

To be fair, the county commissioners make a pretty clear cut case:

* The county can’t stop growth
* People will continue to move to Williamson County
* Highway 29 will someday be overwhelmed with traffic jams
* The road has to either go through Liberty Hill or around it
* It’s better to plan early than later

How can you reconcile the will of the people with the harsh realities of demographics?

I have one idea to propose, but it will probably take a change to Texas law to implement, and it won’t make everyone happy.

And also this comment from K29L:

I wanted to hear for myself last night what the commissioners had to say at the open house. At about 2 am it hit me. I heard the benevolent politicians tell me, a member of the uneducated masses, what is best for me. After all “they” have the right numbers and insights because “they” have been working on this project and similar projects for years. I had the privilege of going to Beijing in March. Everywhere there were pictures of Mao. That is the picture that woke me up at 2 am. The benevolent politician who knows more than I do and who of course is doing it all for my good. I am a politician’s worst nightmare because I cross party lines when I vote. I vote based on the issues that the individual politician puts forth. I would not vote for Covey or Long even if they were the only two people on the ballot. I would write my name in first. Sign me not an uneducated member of the masses.

It appears it was nothing more than an attempt, and a bad one at that, by GOP commissioner Covey and Long, and their $1 million PR firm, to tell the people what a glorious plan they’ve concocted. Instead of allowing the people to question their elected officials and voice their concerns. Accountability comes in November.

08.04.08

SH 29 Open House/Public Forum Tonight In Liberty Hill

Posted in Bad Government Republicans, Commissioners Court, Good Stuff, Liberty Hill, Road Issues, Transportation, Williamson County at 1:48 pm by wcnews

First a quick note. The site originally created to keep SH 29 from taking a Northern route has been renamed to show the unity the entire community of Liberty Hill has in making sure this Perry-like corridor plan is not run through their community. No matter which path the GOP county commissioners would like, North or South. The effort is now www.Keep29Local.com (K29L).

The forum is tonight from 6 – 9 PM at the Liberty Hill High School cafeteria, 13125 W. SH 29.  Anyone needing more information can just go to K29L where they have the list of questions they want answered tonight. And their solution [.pdf] to this issue. Going there with a solution in hand is great way to show the elected officials in Williamson County that they’re not just at the forum to complain but to work out a solution. I would recommend to get there early and don’t forget to wear red.

Also there’s an interesting read about another site for a park in the Liberty Hill area that was in the AAS late last week, . (See previous EOW post on park issue here). This article makes it seem like that no matter which route they choose, a park will be near the route of the GOP WCCC’s plan to expand SH 29.

The county’s plan to put a park near Liberty Hill has been controversial; some residents there said the original parkland was overpriced and is part of a ploy to get right of way land for a major expansion of Texas 29.

County officials — led by Long and Commissioner Valerie Covey — are evaluating routes near Liberty Hill for the expansion, which would turn a 19-mile section of the current four-lane road into a six-lane expressway (with up to six total frontage road lanes).

Under an initial agreement with the county, Joe Birdwell, an Austin developer and owner of the 865 acres of proposed parkland, agreed to reserve 16 acres for the county to use as right of way in the event that one of the expansion routes goes near the land.

The county is considering two routes for the expansion: one north of Liberty Hill, which would go near that possible parkland, and one south of the city. The southern option would not run through the new property being considered for the park, Long said.

Long said the park and expansion are in “no way, shape or form connected.”

“A road through a park is not a good thing; it’s not adding value to the park,” she said. “It runs contrary to common sense, and the whole goal we’re trying to achieve with a park is a place you can go and get back to nature and in the outdoors.”

Either way, North or South, the county wants to build a new toll road and a park near Liberty Hill. Accountability comes in November!

07.29.08

Update On SH 29 “Open House” Monday August 4th

Posted in Commissioners Court, Liberty Hill, Precinct 2, Precinct 3, Road Issues, Transportation at 1:46 pm by wcnews

The forum at Noto29 has all the information. Originally scheduled for 6 – 8 pm, it’s been extended an hour and will now go from 6 – 9 pm. As well as a format change.

The format has also been modified from the initial meeting announcement. In addition to an open house with visuals, including maps of the alignments and the issues matrix, a presentation will be made to provide attendees with the latest update and progress report. If you would like to submit a question to be answered during the presentation phase of the meeting next Monday, please do so in writing to roads@wilco.org or fax to 512-943-1662 by Thursday, July 31, at 5:00 p.m.

“We hope Monday night’s open house will serve to provide a thorough update of where we are in the process, clear up any misinformation and respond to questions that are important to the citizens,” said Commissioner Covey.

Much of the format will remain in place with multiple ways to provide input. Citizens still will have the opportunity to visit individually with the engineering firm leading the study, as well as representatives of the County. The primary objective for the evening is to provide a venue in which members of the community can provide feedback about the various alternative alignments under review and the plan to eliminate 13 alternatives.

That statement makes it clear that they still don’t get it. Their primary objective is to get residents to buy into their scheme, by goading them to choose their preferred route. They don’t appear to want to discuss whether or not their Perry-esque corridor should be considered in the first place. Williamson County has much more pressing traffic needs at this time.

I would also recommend this comment at NT29 that speaks to how Liberty Hill is coming together as one to combat this radical idea. The comment also mentions what those that live in the area are expecting on Monday, and what they’ll do if they don’t get it:

If you check the signs around our town that used to represent my old team, you will notice the “send it South” and “noto29north.com” parts of the signs have been cut down. I personally did this at the request of the family of the gentleman mentioned above. I did this because it was the right thing to do and the time to do it in support of a united front. Those signs did a lot of things, but at the end of the day, they woke up a lot of people and got them to support to a united front. This is the best result we could have hoped for. We all represent Liberty Hill now. We also represent Gabriel’s Overlook and they represent us. Were working our way down the 29 corridor with ranches willing to represent us and in return we represent them. If we have our way, we will get Georgetown on board with this mutually beneficial relationship. We all have an interest in a responsible solution that addresses our growth, but does not include a 400 ft wide road.

If you can, please attend the 8/4 meeting and please wear something red. Red shirt, red hat, red sweats, red top, red boots, red bandana in your pocket, red whatever. Wearing red means you support one solution that is acceptable to all with a stake in this.

[...]

Our politicians need to understand were the best so bring your best. Bring your best engineers and bring your best consultants to this 8/4 meeting. We will have better ones in the audience taking notes. If the responses we receive to our questions in this meeting are “spun” or not factual, we will be running editorial pages (as opposed to comment sections), setting the record straight in terms we can all understand. If we get “we need to look into that” answers, they have failed to adequately prepare for this meeting and bring the appropriate resources (put 7 more on our scoreboard). Please bring every expert, every computer, every server, every white board, every statistic, every report any most importantly, everything else you need to objectively answer every question we pose. You have been working on this, on our dime, for over a year. If you don’t know by now, we know you are wasting our tax money.

[...]

Last, lets treat our friends, neighbors and politicians with respect at this meeting. Anything less opens the door to “spin” us into a bunch low class, low budget, unreasonable, unworkable rednecks from backwater Liberty Hill. Were way better than that.

If we get anything less that honest and truthful answers, bite your tongue. We will set it straight in as many pages as required in our local papers.

All very good information. Wear red and be polite.