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Balancing Williamson County Needs with Mandates

Oped by Commissioner Cook

  • 15 August 2018
  • Author: Doris Sanchez
  • Number of views: 1568
  • 0 Comments

Commissioner Cook Cook sits at her office desk in front of her laptop with magnifying glass in one hand and pen in the other as she reviews and analyzes budget requests from county departments

August brings on the hard work of refining a county’s budget as the beginning of the fiscal year begins on Oct. 1. So, what does a county government need to spend taxpayers’ hard-earned cash on?

Your taxes pay for infrastructure, such as buildings to house county offices, county equipment, maybe utilities, airports, parks and museums; elections support so each of us can exercise our right to vote; and a court system with county attorneys, prosecutors, courtrooms, court administrative support, judges and juvenile justice services.

Other services you pay for include public safety, requiring fire stations, emergency medical services, law enforcement, jails, probation services and justices of the peace. A sizable portion of funds for transportation support — building and maintaining roads and bridges, drainage, on-site septic system planning and approvals and long-range highway planning — are also on the taxpayer.

Emergency management with hazardous materials mitigation, swift-water rescue, emergency conditions planning and response teams — including our 911 emergency network — is funded by taxpayers.

Your tax dollars also pay for public health, especially provisions for indigent and emergency conditions, solid waste management and social services.

And finally, you help fund community oversight with tax assessing and collecting, vehicle registrations, and recording and records retention of births, deaths, marriages, divorces, real estate property, contracts and real estate platting.

But beneath all this are support functions to keep a county running, such as facilities and fleet management and technical services for computers, radios, cameras and other electronic equipment and data.

Then there’s the landshark at the door — unfunded legislative mandates — requiring more people, more equipment, more work and more room but no funding to help counties do what the law requires.

The Texas Association of Counties conducts a biannual survey of county spending specific to those functions dictated by statutes but not funded by the state Legislature. They show that the costs to cover these between fiscal years 2011 and 2016 rose 20.9 percent.

One classic example of an unfunded mandate is the Michael Morton Act. Morton, who was found guilty of killing his wife in 1987, spent 25 years in prison until it was revealed that evidence corroborating his innocence had been suppressed.

The Michael Morton Act requires all evidence — including police reports and witness statements, regardless of whether the evidence is material to guilt or punishment — to be available at any time to the accused and all defense teams.

Two Precinct 1 Constituents Appointed to Williamson County Historical Commission

The Williamson County Commissioners Court voted July 10,2018, to approve the nominees

  • 24 July 2018
  • Author: Doris Sanchez
  • Number of views: 1730
  • 0 Comments

Photo shows Jane DiGesualdo seated.Longtime community volunteer Jane DiGuesaldo has served on numerous organizations from PTA when her children were in school to the Chamber of Commerce. Her interest in history has led to the establishment of an Oral History and Archives collection at the Round Rock Public LIbrary. She has been a member of the Williamson County Historical Commission and the Williamson County Sesquicentennial Commission.

She's a member of the Daniel Coleman Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Described as a wealth of information, Jane has participated in historical groups and organizes excellent field trips to various historical sites. The Tonkawa Springs HOA Board member can be seen around town almost daily visiting multiple nursing homes and assisting seniors with transportation and other needs. The wife, grandmother, gardener and caregiver once owned and operated an automatic repair and body shop. As an Indiana transplant, Jane has been in the Round Rock area since 1974

Some of her biggest contributions to the area's history are a book she authored on Round Rock and numerous history columns she has written through the year for various publications, along with recording interviews of historically interesting people.

Jane looks forward to serving on the Williamson County Historical Commission once again and will be a tremendous asset to preserving and restoring the area's history. 

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Photo of Tina Steiner-Johnson with a nature backdrop.

Tina Steiner-Johnson has an impressive genealogical background as a descendant of Wade Sauls, Sr., an African American landowner at the turn of the century renowned locally for his successful farming techniques. Tina is an active member of the Round Rock Black History Organization and the Round Rock Preservation Committee.

Her interests and community support are varied. She is also a volunteer with the Ambassador and Operations Committee of Rodeo Austin.

The middle and high school teacher holds a Master's degree. Her combined interests, activities and talents will serve Wilco highly as a new member of the Williamson County Historical Commission. 

NOTE: The Williamson County Historical Commission is dedicated to the preservation of the history of the county. For more information, please visit http://www.williamson-county-historical-commission.org/default.htm

The Long Road to T. Don Hutto

Oped by Commissioner Cook

  • 25 June 2018
  • Author: Doris Sanchez
  • Number of views: 2192
  • 0 Comments

A long line of protestors--some carrying signs--march around the Historic Courthouse on Tuesday, June 26, petitioning the Court to end the contract with T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor. Long before Tuesday’s vote of 4-1 in Commissioners Court to end the Taylor-based T. Don Hutto Residential Center contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and CoreCivic, Inc. (formerly Corrections Corporation of America), much has been written in newspapers and more disseminated through social media concerning this facility.

Why do we have it in Williamson County? Well its history is a circuitous, disjointed story.

Jose Orta, past president of the League of United Latin American Citizens Council in Taylor and an advocate for immigrants, said, “This facility sits on land (Welch St.) originally owned cooperatively by Mexican workers before the 1950s. Denied a place in town to park their trucks during cotton season, the workers pooled their wages to purchase the land, which also became a place to congregate and hold fiestas. Part of this land became Hidalgo Park.”

Between the 1980s and 1990s, Orta said the workers were unable to pay the property taxes and donated the land to the local Catholic Church, St John Vianney, with the understanding that the land would be parish property. Orta explained that the Archdiocese actually owned the land, and in 1995, sold part of it for revenue to CoreCivic, a private prison company.

County records show that in 1995, CoreCivic sold the land to a new subsidiary, Taylor Detention Center Corporation, to build a private minimum-security prison. CoreCivic bought back the prison the following year at the end of July. 

In July 1997, the prison became the T. Don Hutto Correctional Facility, named after one of the company’s founders. According to Orta, in March 2004, CoreCivic announced it was closing TDH, citing low inmate demand in the region. This was one of several times TDH would be “mothballed” as CoreCivic sought prisoners to house.

Protect Property Taxpayers

Billions in higher property taxes are hurting Texans. You DESERVE to know why.

  • 15 June 2018
  • Author: Doris Sanchez
  • Number of views: 2170
  • 0 Comments

It's no secret that Texas relies on property taxpayers as their source of funding for more and more each year...

Texas Association of Counties

When the state does not fund its mandates, property taxpayers are stuck with the bill.

Did you know?

Property taxpayer protections can be put in the Texas Constitution.

A proposed amendment, HJR 73 by Rep. DeWayne Burns, passed the House on a vote of 127-18. Despite overwhelming bipartisan support, it stalled in the state Senate, never getting a hearing.

Similar measures already protect taxpayers in many other states.

If the Legislature acts, voters will get the chance to stop the Legislature's practice of passing costs on to homeowners.

If the Legislature believes something is important, shouldn't they pay for it? Homeowners shouldn't be treated like the state's no-limit credit card.

We can have a responsible, pay-as-you-go state government. Ask the Texas Legislature to give voters a voice in ending unfunded mandates!

Unfunded Mandates:

  • Drive up your property tax bill.
  • Drive up the size and cost of county government.
  • Remove accountability from government spending.
  • Cost Texans billions of dollars.
  • Force property tax increases that strain YOUR budget.

Take action below to protect property taxpayers:

http://protectpropertytaxpayers.org/

Commissioner Cook Views Preparation of New Section of Williamson County Landfill

Work was performed to open another section of the landfill before accepting refuse

  • 11 June 2018
  • Author: Doris Sanchez
  • Number of views: 1983
  • 0 Comments

Crews work quickly using an excavator to clear out more dirt from the base of the new landfill section and place the dirt onto a large yellow dump truck.Recently, Commissioner Cook visited the Williamson County Landfill  in Hutto as they were preparing a new section to receive refuse. Landfills are regulated by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), and these landfills must meet their many requirements and reviews. Did you know there are many layers that go into building these things? Their construction involves more than just digging a hole and putting trash on top of the ground. Care must be taken to release safely the methane gas that is generated by the piling up of trash and making sure that our groundwater does not become polluted from the rain runoff.

Landfills are fairly site specific, in that they are almost always located in areas that have a thick layer of clay soils, because clay is impervious to water seeping through to our groundwater. But, landfills don’t only rely on clay to keep out pollutants. The Wilco Landfill uses sail construction. 

The base of a landfill is built in such a way that moisture is collected in the middle and then removed using pumps. The clay is covered up by large, heavy-duty plastic sheeting, as a secondary buffer. The seams between sheets are bonded with heat. On top of the plastic sheeting is a thick permeable layer of cloth-like material to protect the sheeting underneath, because there cannot be any punctures to protect the groundwater. The edges of this material are actually sewn together with a handheld, industrial-strength sewing machine. A thick layer of dirt is then laid over to complete the base of the landfill.

The crews putting this together were working quickly because a storm was scheduled to come through the area in a day or two. If water had gotten under the plastic sheeting, the whole job would be ripped up and started over. A $1M job. They got it done in time, thankfully.

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