County officials lock horns over properties
WAELDER — Three Gonzales County officials are in a dispute over the potential location of new offices for the Precinct 2 Constable and Justice of the Peace.
Gonzales County Commissioners Court on Monday tabled a motion to purchase a two-acre tract from the City of Waelder pending a survey in the property.
Constable Raleigh Measom and JP Jesse Almaraz have proposed buying that two-acre property, part of a five-acre parcel owned by the City of Waelder on Highway 90 just southeast of town, as a location for a new office building for the constable’s office and JP court.
But Precinct 2 Commissioner Donnie Brzozowski says it would be more financially prudent for the county to demolish the existing Precinct 2 maintenance barn in downtown Waelder and renovate that property instead. Measom and Almaraz maintain that Brzozowski’s suggestion is equally financially unfeasable, because the property may require an extensive environmental cleanup.
Both sides of the debate say the other is being unreasonable and suggest that ego, rather than the public good, may be the primary stumbling-block to progress.
“We are precinct-level elected officials, all three of us, we’re all the same level,” Measom said. “Donnie’s agenda is simple, ‘I’m the commissioner and it’s my precinct.’”
“I think a lot of times if you move too fast you waste tax dollars,” Brzozowski said. “I just want to make sure that if we build a building, we build it in the right location.”
Measom’s office is currently housed in a renovated FEMA trailer adjacent to St. Patrick’s Catholic Church; Almaraz’s office and staff are housed in the Waelder Community Center. Brzozowski’s maintenance barn and office (also an old FEMA trailer) are located just a few blocks away on South Railroad St.
Both Measom and Almaraz maintain that the space in the community center, while welcome, has issues, particularly with security.
“His offices are split by a public hallway,” Measom said. “His clerks, if they want to go to the bathroom, they have to walk out to a public room, that’s a security problem.”
Almaraz pointed out that because of space constraints, some of his filing cabinets actually have to be kept in the hallway, which is open to public traffic.
“It’s not how you’d like it,” he said.
The county this year budgeted for a new precinct 2 office and maintenance barn on a county-owned property on H Ave., and Brzozowski said the slab has been poured for that new building.
“The property they’re talking about buying, we’d have to budget money for it,” he said. “We get someone to pay us to demolish (the existing maintenance building), and then you pave the whole thing over, you have plenty of parking space.”
Measom and Almaraz maintain that while the county has used the property since the 1940s, it doesn’t have ownership of the property, saying they’ve been unable to locate a deed. Brzozowski, however, produced a copy of the property’s estimated taxable value from the Gonzales County Appraisal district.
“They say we don’t own it, but the tax appraisal board says we do,” he said.
Measom, however, said because the property had been used as a maintenance facility for so long, it is highly likely that expensive environmental cleanup would be required before the county could put a new building there.
“They’ve been using it as a county facility since the 1940s,” he said. “They used to change the oil and just dump it. When they were putting in the plumbing for Donnie’s trailer, the plumbers said they had to wear masks because the (oil) smell was so strong.”
“I wouldn’t think we would have to, since we’re talking about paving the whole property,” the commissioner responded.
Brzozowski said his biggest objection to the property proposed by the constable and judge is that it would require extensive earthwork. The five-acre tract slopes from south to north, ending in a drainage culvert; the portion Measom and Almaraz would like the county to purchase is roughly in the center of a gentle portion of the slope.
Both Almaraz and Brzozowski have backgrounds in construction, but differ on the need for extensive earthwork.
“I just don’t think we want to put a building in that hole down there,” the commissioner said. “If you tie a string from one (power pole) where they’re talking about building and even it up with the one on the other side, you can walk under it.”
Brzozowski also questions whether the county can even act to buy the property. Minutes of the Waelder City Council meeting from Aug. 2, 2011 indicate the city council went into executive session to discuss trading land with the county — but after re-convening in open session instead voted to offer it for sale.
“Three years ago they offered to swap this (current county maintenance facility) and our three acre property (on H Ave.) for those five acres on the hill,” Brzozowski said. “I don’t know when it changed over to buying property.”
“We discussed that with the city council, Judge Almaraz talked to them that night,” Measom said. “They agreed to sell two acres for $4,500 an acre. That’s a pretty good price for land around here.”
While they have their differences on the subject, however, all three officials said they’re simply trying to do what’s best for the citizens of the precinct.
“I don’t want a fight, I just want to get moving forward,” Measom said. “I don’t want these people in Waelder to lose. We’re trying to get us into the 21st century.”
“I’m not against building a building here in Waelder for the constable and judge,” Brzozowski said. “Let’s take our time and find the right land and don’t create a lot of expenses we don’t need.”