Protecting dark skies and enabling more freedoms in how cities spend money are two topics Dripping Springs city leaders support during the 86th Legislative session.
Those priorities were outlined via a resolution approved by Dripping Springs city leaders March 3.
High on Dripping Springs’ priority list is supporting legislation that would allow General Law Municipalities to annex an area upon request of the property owner. The legislation would impact cities with a population of 1,599 to 2,900 and would only be allowed if the area to be annexed is adjacent to the city limits and doesn’t have utility services.
Over a decade ago, an amendment was made to the Texas Local Government Code granting cities within a 1,500 to 1,599 population bracket the ability to annex an area upon request. Dripping Springs, however, has surpassed that population, which means this section of the code is obsolete.
“We used to work with this particular section of the code, but we outgrew that population bracket,” said City Administrator Michelle Fischer. “This would create a new section of the code to allow cities like Dripping Springs to once again utilize these annexation rules.”
Under this change, the city would annex upon request from a property owner, or within a development agreement, which is not an uncommon strategy.
Fischer said the city has been working with Rep. Erin Zwiener (D-Driftwood) on a plethora of bills that could affect Dripping Springs. During the remainder of the legislative session, Dripping Springs officials will be eyeing key bills that could affect the city.
Mayor Pro Tem Bill Foulds said there are three bills relating to Hotel Occupancy Tax funds that could offer municipalities flexibility in how to use it.
“With HOT funds, you can only use that money towards the hotel and lodging industry, heads and beds so to speak, to help bring tourism. These bills would give us a little bit more financial freedom with those funds,” Foulds said.
Included in that list is Zwiener’s House Bill (HB) 4581, which would allow municipalities to apply HOT funds to the construction of paths and trails. For the city, this could potentially aid in a vast network of trails connecting lodging centers to downtown Dripping Springs on Mercer Street and other commercial developments.
“Dripping Springs is a very popular tourist destination, and we want our visitors to have the opportunity to walk to places of interest in the city,” Fischer said. “We’re missing that currently. But once again, as a city, we’d have to prove that these funds will be reinvested back to our hotel and lodging industry.”
Foulds said more local control for HOT funds would allow the city to continue its push for tourism, including funding for the Dripping Springs Visitors Bureau.
“We will always fund the visitors bureau because it’s a great asset to this city and we appreciate all the work they do,” Foulds said. “These bills are just more tools in our box that would allow us to do different things.”
Dripping Springs also supports legislation allowing HOT funds to be used to protect Dark Sky Communities such as Dripping Springs.
If approved, the legislation could allow municipalities to utilize HOT funds for maintenance and operations of lighting around the city.
“Part of our tourism includes people visiting Dripping Springs for our dark skies and you’d be surprised how much astro-tourism we get because of it,” Fischer said. “We support legislation that would allow us to use our HOT funds to maintain our lighting around the city so we can protect our dark skies that bring so many people to the city throughout the year.”