STAFF WRITER JARED FIELDS
Llano County commissioners bashed a $100,000 donation from the Lower Colorado River Authority and argued over how to proceed with flood debris cleanup during their Nov. 13 regular meeting.
An agenda item regarding the LCRA donation turned into heated debate about whether to even accept the money before commissioners voted 4-0 — with Judge Mary Cunningham abstaining — to table the item.
LCRA donated $100,000 to both Burnet and Llano counties to be used at the discretion of the county judge. Cunningham brought the item to the commissioners to consider how to use the funds. LCRA asked counties to try to use 70 percent toward the cleanup of rivers and lakes.
Precinct 2 Commissioner Linda Raschke voiced concern that accepting the $100,000 meant accepting 100 percent of the responsibility to clean up the county’s rivers.
“I would like to know what the expectations of LCRA are of the county,” she said. “We can’t get into the river bed; we don’t have the equipment or monies to do that. I’m concerned about our obligations.”
Precinct 3 Commissioner Mike Sandoval also called the donation a “bad deal” and voiced the possibility of giving it back had the money not already been receipted.
“One hundred thousand dollars in my opinion is an insult to both our counties,” he said.
Peter Jones, Precinct 1 commissioner, said, per discussions with LCRA General Manager Phil Wilson, the authority will not enter into contracts for cleanup.
“His response was that we are concerned about the infrastructure of the dams and the power plant,” Jones said.
“But we will place the burden on the county,” Raschke quipped.
Sandoval first made a motion not to accept the donation but withdrew it and made a motion to table the item.
Jones asked that, instead of accepting the funds at the moment, to make a plea to the LCRA “to assist in the cleanup better than they’ve offered.”
Earlier in the meeting, the commissioners addressed an agenda item on the county’s disaster declaration. At issue seemed to be whether the county should remain under a declaration of disaster from the Oct. 16 flood and how to proceed with Requests for Bids due to open Nov. 14 for debris removal in the county.
Precinct 4 Commissioner Jerry Don Moss placed the disaster declaration item on the agenda because he questioned if it was still needed.
“I do not think we need to be under a disaster declaration any longer if it does not affect us,” he said.
County Attorney Rebecca Lange said the declaration was useful to allow for possible Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursement down the road should a disaster be declared at the federal level.
“As soon as that goes away, our powers go away and our ability to help our citizens with their private stuff,” she said. “Right now, we’re indemnified. The minute the declaration goes away, the entire operation goes away with it.”
Moss said his concern was that actions to ensure possible federal reimbursement at a later date was delaying debris cleanup efforts.
“If it will cost Llano County taxpayers some money that’s theirs already, I am fine with that,” Moss said.
He continued, “I don’t want to wait five months. I want to get it fixed and hauled off. If it will cost money, I am fine with that.”
Cunningham said people without flood insurance are relying on the county to act according to guidelines to ensure the most federal funds.
“I think if FEMA comes in and we’re not in an emergency (declaration), and I think a lot of people in this county did not have insurance that need FEMA loans are going to be denied because we decided that we’re going to just be like the cowboy and do it on our own when we can follow the law,” Cunningham said.
Moss interjected, “So you can be like a cowboy and do it on your own.”
After a “no” from Cunningham, Moss continued.
“As a commissioners court, we are elected to represent and look out for our constituents,” Moss said. “This is our decision that could potentially cost us a lot of money in the long run also, and it should be (the commissioners’) decision. Not yours.”
Cunningham responded, “I understand that’s your opinion.”
Eventually, Jones made a suggestion for Cunningham to open the bids with one commissioner present to assist in the review.
“I have full faith in Judge Cunningham to make the appropriate decision on RFQs,” Jones said.
Moss was asked if he would be willing to be the commissioner present.
“I’ll do it, but I don’t think it’s going to matter,” Moss said.
Later, Moss told Jones he was surprised he would entrust the judge to make a “million-dollar decision” without the court.
“I am willing to follow the law. My preference would be not to make the decision on my own, frankly, because all I get is contempt and attitude about the decision, so I am fine having a commissioners court meeting Friday afternoon and y’all make the decision,” Cunningham said.
Even as the commissioners neared a vote to remove the item from the agenda, Moss kept asking Cunningham of her plans.
“I think the judge should agree not to make this decision herself and agree to honor what the county commissioners vote,” Moss said.
“Even though we want to serve the taxpayers? Even though it’s going to take three more days or longer?” Jones said.
“Well, we’ve been a month, Mr. Jones,” Moss said.
“But we need to move forward,” Jones said.
“We’ve been a month,” Moss said.
“I know, so why make it three days longer?” Jones said.
“Because this is a big deal. I’m surprised that you’re willing to make one person, or two, or whatever, make this commitment for Llano County,” Moss said.
Jones replied he was going by the law and statute.
Moss made a motion to remove the item from the agenda, and it passed by a 5-0 vote.
The commissioners court will meet at 4 p.m. Friday, Nov. 16, for a special meeting to consider the submitted bids for debris removal.