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Commissioners look for more authority during 2009 legislative session

By Judith Pannebaker

When it comes to managing growth, Bandera County Commissioners are clearly caught between a rock and a hard place.

On one hand, constituents level charges that elected officials are unresponsive to unmanaged and unbridled growth. On the other hand, state legislators, caught in the grip of developers, realtors and producers of manufactured homes, are reluctant to grant county elected officials more than a modicum of authority. In fact, the Texas Legislature has never approved a bill allowing counties increased authority to manage growth and land development.

To approach legislators in Austin from another angle, commissioners have attended meetings of the Hill Country County Coalition for the past year - joining colleagues from Blanco, Burnet, Comal, Edwards, Hays, Kendall, Kerr, Kimble, Llano, Mason, Medina, Real and Uvalde counties - as well as state representatives and senators.

The brainstorming sessions were designed to determine common goals and changes that could be presented to state legislators this session. Topics discussed included rapid population growth, maintenance of necessary infrastructure, increased traffic, flooding issues, potential contamination of water supplies, non-compatible land uses and protection of tourist, recreational and retirement venues.

“Bandera County was represented at every meeting,” said County Judge Richard Evans. To forestall charges of violations of the open meeting act, he added, however, “but (commissioners) didn’t sit together.”

For elected officials in individual counties, the Hill Country County Coalition offered a way to secure increased authority to manage growth and protect the quality of life, public safety, natural resources and economic future for Hill Country residents.

During a meeting last month, Bandera County Commissioners unanimously signed a resolution supporting the mission and goals of the Hill Country County Coalition. According to Evans, involved counties will ask that the legislature approve “bracket legislation based on regional concerns.” However, counties can also “opt out” of the legislation if they choose.

According to www.texaspolitics.laits.utexas.edu, because of constitutional limitations on types of local bills, the Texas Legislature has developed the practice of passing so-called “bracket bills,” which do not name a specific local government or entity. Instead, bracket bills pertain to a certain local government by specifying, as an example, that the bill would apply to all counties with a land area between 6,190 and 6,200 square miles. In this case, there is only one - Brewster County.

However, the Texas House of Representatives has placed some limits on the use of bracket bills, forcing legislators to be more general when writing legislation targeted to specific local areas.

“This (legislation) would not mandate to counties what they must do,” Evans said, “but it would protect people who live here now and those who are going to live here - everyone in our community.”

Essentially, the resolution requested that the Texas Legislature pass legislation to assist Bandera County and other counties in the Hill County manage present and future challenges by:

• clarifying the authority of counties to manage subdivision development in unincorporated areas;

• providing authority of counties to require set-backs between incompatible land uses;

• providing specific authority for counties to regulate population density as determined by minimum or average lot sizes within a designated area; and

• providing authority for counties to assess impact fees to help counties fund changes in infrastructure due to development.
These resolutions would pertain only to those counties represented in the Hill Country County Coalition.

Evans felt the outcome of the yearlong meetings would be beneficial to the Hill County. “I feel good about what went on,” he said.

After being signed, the resolutions from the affected counties will be forwarded to legislators in Austin.