A county already burdened by disproportionately high debt and rampant spending habits is asking voters – you guessed it – for even more debt this November. Predictably, residents are not happy about officials piling on debt as if they’re on a perpetual Christmas shopping binge.
Hays County residents will be asked to approve two bond propositions in November; one for prison expansion, and another for roads. Totaling $106.4 million, Proposition 1 contains two main components: $62.4 million is ostensibly planned to go toward expanding the Hays County Jail in order to increase its capacity, and the remaining $44 million would go towards building a new emergency services call center.
As with many debt-financed projects, the proposal is riddled with problematic issues. Firstly, the call center serves a duplicative function: there is already an Emergency Management Center in Hays County and separate 911 call centers funded by separate municipalities. Even if it were necessary, it’s poorly planned—the center is slated to be built on land that’s both prone to flooding and served by water systems that produce unusable, black water.
Additionally, the jail renovation in Prop. 1 seems both unnecessary and expensive. According to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, the Hays County Jail was 74.6% filled this year with people simply awaiting trial. The $62.4 million in renovation would supposedly add a capacity of 192 inmates – at a cost of $325,000 plus interest each- which would, if recent history is any indicator, merely be used to hold people for petty crimes while they await trial.
Since it costs $50 per day to house people at another location on the rare occasion the jail is at capacity, this measure seems to simply make crime costlier for Hays County residents.
The second proposal on the ballot, Proposition 2, seeks to take on $131.4 million in debt for roads. While this portion of the proposal is filled with comparatively modest projects on several roads, traffic is simply not a major concern for the rural central Texas county.
The most concerning thing about Proposition 2, however, is the inclusion of what essentially amounts to a slush fund – $32.5 million has no designation for any particular project. Padding a proposition with unnecessary debt authority should be a major concern to residents in a county that already has $347 million in debt – a figure which has grown by a staggering 608% in twelve years, or eleven times faster than its population during the same period (54%).
It is this kind of poor strategic planning that’s led to Hays County having the second highest debt ranking amongst counties with a population higher than 40,000.
Considering the fact property taxes in Hays County have risen an average of 26% over the past three years alone, residents should pay attention to who is attempting to stem the rising tide of unaffordability – and who is pushing it. And after raising taxes substantially, on top of excessive debt levels that far outpace its population, where’s all the money being spent?
Hays County residents seeking more information and getting involved regarding Propositions 1 and 2 can do so at www.savehays.com