Companies and ventures desirous of a presence in our county are numerous, and the draw for families to live here and commute to local jobs remains strong.
There are now over 74,000 single-family homes outside of municipalities. This means they do not have city services and protections, such as abundant law enforcement, noise and nuisance abatement ordinances, libraries, local ballfields, access to water and wastewater treatment facilities (unless contracted through a local municipality) and bulk trash pickup days.
Many of those county neighborhoods do not feel nor look rural, and homes are purchased without realizing that the mailing address may not be an indicator of whether that neighborhood is within the boundaries of a city. We now have more residents in the county than in our largest city, Round Rock. The residents in our unincorporated areas request city services; after all, they pay taxes, but those services do not exist for them. Those who live in a city pay both county and city taxes. For that, they get both worlds.
Growth also leads to packed road. Our 2023 Williamson County Citizens Bond Committee selected by the Commissioners Court to discuss future needs for county roads and parks, just completed its tour through the precincts. They conducted public meetings and voted on proposed projects they analyzed as the most needed improvements and additions. They will be bringing proposed road projects cresting $1 billion in costs to the Commissioners Court for adoption, modification or rejection. Most of the projects have city/town shared costs.
As for parks, the Bond Committee will be recommending almost $80 million in improvements and expansions, many of which are also in cities, and in one case the YMCA, as it operates our Twin Lakes Park, bringing money to the table.
Why do we need these roads and park funds? The number of vehicles registered in Williamson County has increased 41.3% over the past 12 years to around 530,000 this year. In addition, we have those coming into the county to work (in excess of those leaving the county to work) and those passing through. Populations are exploding in several of the cities, with Hutto leading the pack with a projected change of 32.89% just since 2020. While the Georgetown population has increased the most in Wilco in the past two years, it is in second place in the county for percentage of growth at 29.09%.
Our parks and trails are loved to death. A great deal of proposed additions is for the completion of more shared-use paths connecting trails to trails, cities to parks and parks to trails. A most interesting proposal is to negotiate with the Army Corps of Engineers to assume responsibility for the parks (some or all) around Granger Lake. They are suffering from neglect and could open additional camping and water sports capacity for residents.
Growth requires increased capacity for water and wastewater treatment plants. We do not have a river with sizeable flow to help disperse effluent from wastewater treatment plants but rely on our small creeks such as Brushy Creek and the San Gabriel, so there are major challenges for wastewater plants in times of low rainfall. Every community with water and wastewater plants is under pressure to expand. Most communities are searching for additional fresh water sources, as is much of Texas.
Population growth puts pressure on our criminal justice system: space, employees, judges, courtrooms, staff, prosecutors and lawyers in general. Wilco sees continued pressure for medical services and hospital space. Have you tried to get an appointment with a specialist in the past six months? It also leads to increased numbers of those unhoused from evictions, loss of employment and inability to afford the increasing rents or home prices.
Government entities are challenged to meet the increasing needs and challenges of this swelling number of residents and can’t rely on past experience. We’re facing a brand new, hot, dry future. We sure need more ability to manage what we have at the local level, not less, as the Legislature continues its assault on our abilities to govern.