A public hearing was held on Wednesday, August 31, in order for county commissioners to receive public comment on redistricting of county election, justice of the peace and commissioners court precincts. The public was invited to attend and to participate in the meeting but there were few in attendance.
Commissioners heard a report by Vanessa A. Gonzalez of Allison, Bass and Associates, LLP, who presented to the court some options that would meet the legal requirements of balancing the various entities to bring them into conformity with the law in relation to voter numbers and minority status.
It was reported that Precinct One is the smallest in land area but is the most populated. It contains 21.29% of all the minorities residing in Blanco County. John Wood is the Commissioner over Precinct One; James Sultemeier is over Precinct Two which takes in the middle section of the county; Chris Liesmann is over Precinct Three that includes the most northerly portion of the county; and Paul Granberg is over Precinct Four. The City of Blanco is divided between Precincts One and Four. It is important that citizens check the map to determine in which precinct they reside in order to go to the appropriate polling place to vote.
According to the United States Department of Justice there must be roughly the same number of people residing in each precinct in order assure “one person one vote.” Each single person is to have the same voting power throughout the county. The lines are being re-drawn in conformity with the results of the 2010 U.S. Census.
After the public hearing, Commissioners voted to approve plan 2B as outlined by Ms. Gonzalez. Mr. Sultemeier stated that the boundaries of Precincts One and Three follow the school district boundaries, which makes it easier for those residents to know where they will vote. The motion to approve the order adopting a redistricting plan for Commissioners Court Precincts was made by Mr. Sultemeier and seconded by Mr. Wood. The vote was unanimous in favor.
At its regular meeting on September 13, Commissioners voted to approve the adoption of the Blanco County Budget for fiscal year 2011-2012. The motion to approve was made by Commissioner Granberg, seconded by Commissioner Liesmann.
Commissioners ratified a tax increase of $63,345.00 which is the net increase occasioned by the addition of new properties that have been added to the tax rolls. The motion to approve was made by Mr. Wood, seconded by Mr. Granberg.
The tax rate for FY 2011-2012 was set as the effective rate of $0.351900 of which $0.064900 is for debt service. The motion to approve was made by Mr. Sultemeier, seconded by Mr. Granberg.
Commissioners approved setting the homestead exemption at 1% of the appraised value with a minimum exemption of $5,000.00. The motion to approve was made by Mr. Granberg and seconded by Mr. Wood.
Commissioners considered setting early payment discounts for those paying property taxes as follows: 3% for payments made in October 2011; 2% for payments made in November 2011; and 1% for payments made in December 2011. Mr. Sultemeier made a motion to approve the payment discount schedule which was seconded by Mr. Granberg. A discussion followed that indicated that the school districts in the county had done away with the early payment discount system.
“This is a practice that has been in place in Blanco County for as long as I can remember,” said Judge Guthrie. “The Blanco County school districts have elected to give no more early payment discounts. Keep in mind that the biggest tax in the county is the school tax. This used to really bring the money in early.” Mr. Liesmann stated that “Many will now say it is no longer advantageous to pay taxes early.” When the discussion was ended and the vote was taken to approve the early payment schedule for the county, Mr. Sultemeier voted against his own motion to approve. The motion carried.
Commissioners approved authorization to use the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) grant funds for the purchase of nine electronic poll books for $16,547.00. Hollis Boatright, County Tax Assessor/Collector, said that it changes nothing on the voting itself but facilitates poll registration. “The first year we will still maintain a paper copy,” she said, “until all our poll judges are fully trained.” Mr. Liesmann made the motion to approve seconded by Mr. Granberg.
At the recommendation of Sheriff Elsbury, Commissioners authorized the County Judge to sign the interlocal assistance agreement with the Regional Auto Theft Enforcement Task Force. This will be at no cost to the county. Mr. Granberg moved to approve seconded by Mr. Liesmann.
An administrative order was approved setting compensation expenses of court reporters for the 33rd and 424th Judicial District Courts. “You don’t have to like it,” said Judge Guthrie, “Just approve it.” The vote was unanimous in favor after a motion by Mr. Granberg seconded by Mr. Wood.
And last but not least, in response to the continued drought conditions throughout the Hill Country, the burn ban remains in effect until the Commissioners meet again in regular session. Mr. Wood asked if outdoor cooking was prohibited by this action. Judge Guthrie clarified that many counties have included an outdoor cooking ban but, said he, “I don’t know if we can enforce it due to the way the statute is worded. I will ask this of our citizens: At this time I urge you to please be extremely careful in all your outdoor activities.” The motion to approve was made by Mr. Sultemeier and seconded by Mr. Wood.