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Feeding growth – one expensive omnivore

Column by Commissioner Cook

  • 15 June 2023
  • Author: Doris Sanchez
  • Number of views: 1031
  • 0 Comments

Williamson Commissioner Cook: Feeding growth – one expensive omnivore (statesman.com)

Cars driving on both sides of I-35 in Round Rock.

The march towards a population topping 1 million by 2040 continues for Williamson County. Companies and ventures desirous of a presence in our county are numerous, and the draw for families to live here and commute to local jobs remains strong.

There are now over 74,000 single-family homes outside of municipalities. This means they do not have city services and protections, such as abundant law enforcement, noise and nuisance abatement ordinances, libraries, local ballfields, access to water and wastewater treatment facilities (unless contracted through a local municipality) and bulk trash pickup days.

Many of those county neighborhoods do not feel nor look rural, and homes are purchased without realizing that the mailing address may not be an indicator of whether that neighborhood is within the boundaries of a city. We now have more residents in the county than in our largest city, Round Rock. The residents in our unincorporated areas request city services; after all, they pay taxes, but those services do not exist for them. Those who live in a city pay both county and city taxes. For that, they get both worlds.

Growth also leads to packed road. Our 2023 Williamson County Citizens Bond Committee selected by the Commissioners Court to discuss future needs for county roads and parks, just completed its tour through the precincts. They conducted public meetings and voted on proposed projects they analyzed as the most needed improvements and additions. They will be bringing proposed road projects cresting $1 billion in costs to the Commissioners Court for adoption, modification or rejection. Most of the projects have city/town shared costs.

As for parks, the Bond Committee will be recommending almost $80 million in improvements and expansions, many of which are also in cities, and in one case the YMCA, as it operates our Twin Lakes Park, bringing money to the table.

The EV Diaries

Column by Commissioner Tery Cook

  • 18 May 2023
  • Author: Doris Sanchez
  • Number of views: 1470
  • 0 Comments

Commissioner Cook’s set radio stations are displayed on her 2022 Hyundai Ioniq 5 dash. This past summer, I had to consider that my 2000 Sienna van may be reaching its expiration date with the mileage approaching 380,000. I knew I didn’t want to invest in another internal combustion engine, yet it is still early for an electric vehicle adoption. 

I hit the internet and Consumer Reports shopping for prospects and reviews. Early on I was drawn to the 2022 Hyundai Ioniq 5 with its designation of 2022 Car of the Year (not just EV car of the year). The videos were strong selling points. I was sold on a car I’d never touched nor ridden in. I wasn’t even sure of the interior, other than the console could be pushed back, freeing valuable floor space. 

My husband and I visited Round Rock Hyundai for pricing and availability. Well, high and long were two descriptors — quite the price and an eight- to 10-month wait list. Regardless, I put $500 down — my husband thought it was crazy — and we hoped for the best.

Next, I explored what all these charging stations for garages are all about and if we had the ability to add a 240V line to our power panel for a charger. I contacted an electrical contractor to do the analysis and lo and behold, we had a breaker slot that could accommodate the 60 amp/2 pole 120/240V circuit breaker. This is not a Home Depot item. Off to Elliott Electric Supply I went, but this breaker was in short supply, so I had to go to a Bastrop location to pick it up: $32.48 + gas + time.

Another research project informed me the level 2 charging station was the most affordable and practical. What brand? We settled on the ChargePoint Home Flex EV Charger from Amazon costing $810.79 with tax. We took our 100-foot climbing rope we brought from Colorado and routed it through our attics and to an exterior wall with the circuit panel (outdoors) to estimate how much power line we needed. Again, Amazon Prime came through for us and delivered the incredibly heavy power line. My husband was game to do this himself, or should I say on the cheap?

Next, where to install it? Last available wall space was also the perfect spot for the charging unit. Down came the drywall as hubby had to create a very strong framing assembly to support the charger and a long cable that could reach the car even if it was backed into place. We even purchased a fire extinguisher and mounted it as you walk into the garage from the house, as if it’s really going to make a difference should a fire occur. We also threw the circuit breaker, and nothing blew up. Then we waited, and waited; fortunately, the van kept running.

I did check in with the salesperson twice over the following four months. The bulk of the orders were for models that I wasn’t ordering, nor my color, the lone wolf on the prowl. Then on Feb. 8, as I pulled into the parking lot near the Homerun Dugout at Dell Diamond, my phone rang — strange number — however, I answered. My now new salesperson announced that my long-awaited 2023 car would arrive about Feb. 28.

Mental illness impacts us all

Column by Commissioner Cook

  • 18 May 2023
  • Author: Doris Sanchez
  • Number of views: 1424
  • 0 Comments

Attendees chat during the April 6 open house of the Williamson County Diversion Center in Georgetown, a partnership between the Commissioners Court and Bluebonnet Trails Community Services. Williamson Commissioner Terry Cook: Mental illness impacts us all (statesman.com)

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. So much is being declared the result of mental illness, but why?

Yes, our youths are suffering from high levels of anxiety post-pandemic. Would it be the same without COVID having gotten in the way of their developing social lives? Is it the result of being tied to social media on smartphones? Is it the result of failing to develop social skills (phone/pandemic/isolation)? Have they just lost the hope previous generations held to in the maturation journey?

The data on mental illness is pretty clear: one in five people are affected by mental illness each year; one in 20 adults in the U.S. will experience a serious mental health illness that negatively impacts their lives, their families, schools, places of employment and their community. The National Alliance on Mental Illness states that 50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14(!), and 75% of all lifetime mental illnesses begin by age 24. Sadly, it is reported that the average delay in treatment following onset symptoms is a whopping 11 years.

Why the county needs a groundwater conservation district

Column by Commissioner Terry Cook

  • 16 March 2023
  • Author: Doris Sanchez
  • Number of views: 1817
  • 0 Comments

This is one of many springs feeding into Brushy Creek discovered by contractors while building the .933-mile stretch of the Brushy Creek Trail that traverses the pedestrian bridge in Round Rock north of Round Rock Avenue.

Williamson Commissioner Cook: Why county needs a groundwater conservation district (statesman.com)

On March 9, the Aquifer Conservation Alliance of Williamson County announced it had withdrawn its petition for annexation by the Clearwater Underground Water Conservation District of Bell County.

The combination of wells going dry from the pressures of development and industries, the absence of any type of drawdown monitoring or conservation practices for the Trinity Aquifer and the drought have all combined to negatively impact wells in Williamson County. Many residents are facing tremendous costs for drilling deeper and deeper wells.

By 2021, 1,775 wells were registered in western Williamson County. Most of those wells serve homeowners, but also municipalities and ranchers. For rural local industries, aggregate mines and batch concrete plants are the primary users of wells. It’s the "Rule of Capture” in Texas, and “he who gets to the water,” that allow unlimited well water draw outside of the protective monitoring by a groundwater conservation district.

Across Texas, approximately 99% of the rural population gets their fresh water from groundwater via wells. Groundwater accounts for 30.8% of the freshwater on this planet, whereby surface water such as rivers, lakes and reservoirs account for only 0.3%. Our creeks and rivers are largely the result of groundwater surfacing along their water basins. It was surprising to find the number of springs and weeps our construction contractors, Chasco, encountered when building the .933-mile stretch of the Brushy Creek Trail that traverses the pedestrian bridge in Round Rock just north of Round Rock Avenue. Without groundwater, those streams would cease to exist. Then where would our municipal wastewater treatment plants send their output? How would life in nature be sustained?

Rural landowners do not benefit from the ordinance and land use planning of municipalities. The Legislature has not granted county government those tools to manage growth – it’s really the wild, wild West. If you’ve got money, that land is yours. 

So, neighborhoods in the unincorporated areas of Texas have seen concrete batch plants move next door with 400 heavy trucks per day driving by their homes and destroying their narrow, low-load county roads. The same is true for the number of active aggregate mines, of which Williamson County leads Texas. Besides that, there’s no limit as to how much free water is pulled from the aquifer for these businesses. Don’t even think about the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality as help; it is a permitting agency, not an environmental protection organization.

One heck of an ice storm

Column by Commissioner Cook

  • 17 February 2023
  • Author: Doris Sanchez
  • Number of views: 1798
  • 0 Comments

Ice from storm Mara split a large tree in front of Jan Pelosi's house in Williamson County Precinct 1.

Jack Frost doubled down on Central Texas this month — not with extreme cold, nor extreme rainfall, but with temperatures primarily 30 to 32 degrees and every drop of moisture freezing. This layered on our already stressed woody plants from Mother Nature’s onslaught over these past two years and brought them to their breaking point. Long-timers in this area were in total agreement of never having experienced such widespread destruction.

Texas, long used to hurricanes and tornados, experienced broad assault from this cold front, Winter Storm Mara, with up to 1.5” of ice on roads. Trees tumbling and being stripped of large branches downed power poles and lines, and blocked roads. Darkness ensued. Life was jolted back for many to 1880, although those hardy settlers were better prepared for those conditions. 

Although several customers were still struggling Feb. 10 in those no-power areas where extensive repairs were needed, Austin Energy finally restored power to all remaining customers Saturday, minus those who needed electrical home repairs.

On Jan. 31, Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell issued a local disaster declaration for our county. Later, the governor issued a disaster declaration for Texas. What does that mean for us citizens? Almost nothing. 

First, damage estimates and costs to address the disaster must pass thresholds for the county, then the state. While the county has passed its threshold, the state is near $48 million for its threshold of $51.5 million, which could mean funds for disaster response work and costs incurred, and possibly some assistance for qualifying residents with property damage, not debris pickup.

All involved need to generate and maintain careful records and receipts: costs for fuel, overtime, salaries, damages to buildings and equipment or any other related costs. Our Williamson County auditor is ensuring county employees are reporting all possible eligible reimbursements. Other entities such as independent school districts, emergency service districts and cities must do the same.

Note: We did all this for the tornados in 2022 and didn’t reach the necessary damage thresholds for county or state and received no FEMA reimbursements for expenses incurred by the county. Much of the damage was within Round Rock. Individual property owners who applied received financial assistance for damage to their homes, outbuildings such as barns and sheds, and businesses. The FEMA-determined threshold for Wilco is $2.7 million based on $4.14/person from the 2020 census of 609,017 residents. Reimbursement of expenses does not exceed 90% of costs incurred. If we’re lucky, reimbursements for the ice storm could start within six months.

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