County approves hiring lobbyist on split vote
by Joe Baker
Jan 17, 2013 | 1623 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
KARNES CITY – On a split vote, county officials approved an emergency budget amendment to help pay for a lobbyist whose work is hoped will help convince state legislators to approve additional state funding for repairs to county roads.

The action was taken during the Jan. 8 meeting of Commissioners Court.

Before the court considered the item, during the “citizens to be heard” portion of the meeting, Maurice Yarter expressed opposition to the court taking action on the item because it was not an emergency or unforeseen situation.

“It appears to me that because the Commissioners Court does not have a long range plan for roads that this is an ongoing issue, for quite some time now, and could have reasonably been thought of,” Yarter said.

Yarter also expressed opposition to the court taking action on another agenda item related to the modification of a contract.

“Anything put before Commissioners Court has to be sufficiently detailed so that anybody can understand it and also the author be included. These two details have not been met in this particular agenda item,” Yarter said.

When the court considered the agenda item related to hiring a lobbyist, County Judge Barbara Shaw, who placed the item on the agenda, offered an explanation.

“We have been going to Austin a lot to meet with the transportation committee,” Shaw said. “We don’t have that much money coming into the road and bridge fund.”

“Judge Fowler and I got together with Judge Teal and Judge Huff and we started looking at ways to see if we could get somebody to assist us with this county road issue,” Shaw said. “It is not going to be an easy position to get these people to come in and understand exactly what is going on. Nobody understands how dilapidated our roads are.”

Shaw said the counties are seeking a portion of the severance tax, legislation to authorize counties to negotiate an oil and gas lease under county roads or bonus royalty to help pay for repairs to county roads, and asking that the effective tax rate modification will alleviate the need to publish “alarming” tax rate increases and notices.

“We need somebody to keep their eyes on these bills every day and we have nobody to keep their eyes on these bills every day,” Shaw said, explaining the need to hire a lobbyist for this purpose.

Shaw said DeWitt County has already approved financial support of contracting with Steve Holzheauser as a consultant. Holzheauser’s compensation for a one-year contract is $90,000. The cost for Karnes County’s participation, would vary depending on how many counties decide to contribute – as much as $45,000 or as little as $22,500.

Commissioner Pete Jauer said the idea is to support DeWitt County in sharing the cost of hiring Holzheauser.

“$117 million went in from the gas and oil royalties from this county and we got $28,000 back,” Jauer said. “This is an attempt to get a larger portion back for the damage that is being done.”

“We can’t be up there every day,” Jauer said. “I think that the amount if we can do this – if we can get four counties to go together for $22,500 (each), will be a good investment and we may get several million back from it.”

Commissioner Shelby Dupnik said that the county should seek help from the state senator who represents Karnes and several other counties.

“Zaffirini’s district runs right through the heart of all of this,” Dupnik said. “I think we ought to be bending her ear, as well.”

Commissioner James Rosales said he would like to meet Holzheauser and hear a presentation before taking action on the item.

Dupnik suggested contacting Karnes County’s state representative, as well.

“The lobbyists are probably the strongest branch of government we have right now,” Shaw responded. “We just need that extra help.”

“I believe in the lobbyist’s system because I know they do some good,” Dupnik said. “But my question is I don’t know how much we have done, or how much the court has done, to modify or try to create what tools have been available for us to do more on these roads. You are asking to spend $45,000 or $22,000. That’s good, but that’s one employee, or two employees or three employees, if you look at it that way, not that that would help fix the roads.”

Jauer made a motion to enter into an interlocal agreement with DeWitt and other counties to contract with Steve Holzheauser as a consultant.

Commissioner Tracey Schendel seconded Jauer’s motion.

Rosales said he is opposed because he thought the county should consider other possible consultants before moving forward.

Dupnik said his constituents are not in favor of going in this direction.

The motion carried on a 3-2 vote with Jauer, Schendel and Shaw voting in favor while Rosales and Dupnik voted against.

A related agenda item amending the budget to pay for Holzheauser’s services also passed on a 3-2 vote with Jauer, Schendel and Shaw voting in favor while Rosales and Dupnik voted against.
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