By Sam Kaufman

March 3, 2019 – Andrews County News

The most recent quarterly payment from Waste Control Specialists to the county was the largest amount in quite some time.

The first quarter check was nearly $700,000—$689,053 to be exact—for a great start to the county’s fiscal year, according to county officials.

WCS is required by state law to send five percent of its gross receipts from its Texas-Vermont Compact low-level disposal landfill to the county.

Last fiscal year, the county received $1.07 million from the WCS surcharge, boosted largely by a $454,000 payment the final quarter.

The first quarter payment this fiscal year started the county off on a high note.

“We’re already at about 70 percent of what we got all of last year,” a county official said. “So things must be picking up (with the compact landfill operation).”

In over eight years of compact landfill operation, $11.5 million has been generated to the county through the surcharge, according to county auditor office records.

Of that total, around $7.5 million remains in two separate funds, county auditor’s office records show. However, around $2.25 million of that total is dedicated toward upcoming projects recommended by the Community Legacy Committee and approved by the commissioners court.

In subtracting the $2.25 million earmarked for projects, approximately $5.25 million remains in the funds.

The majority of the WCS funds—90 percent—go into the Legacy Fund for projects related to “public good,” while the other 10 percent is dedicated to the county’s Fund 39, they added.

The Community Legacy Committee, which began functioning in 2017, accepts project applications for possible WCS funding, before vetting the requests and potentially recommending them for commissioners court approval. Projects involving local governing entities and non-profit organizations can be accepted for WCS money, according to county officials.

Presently, the Legacy Fund, or Fund 47, includes roughly $6.81 million, while the county’s Fund 39 has nearly $700,000, according to county records.

Recently, the commissioners court has contemplated dissolving the Legacy Committee, but an actual decision was tabled two weeks ago to further discuss the situation in a workshop session with other local governing entity representatives.

The court’s consideration of potentially dissolving the committee was based on a recent Texas Attorney General’s Office opinion regarding the county’s oversight obligation after WCS funds have been distributed to a non-profit organization or another governing entity.

The issue came to a forefront with the county seeking an AG opinion last year after the court approved around $700,000 in WCS funds to construct a new Andrews Food Pantry facility and parking area on school district land.

Those with the Food Pantry selected a contractor for the project, but county officials wanted to determine the legalities involved because state law requires the commissioners court to provide the construction bid process and project oversight regulations with publicly funded projects exceeding $50,000.

The question at hand was whether WCS money, which has its own state regulations, could fall under statute language that would free the county of obligations once funding has been disbursed to a non-profit organization or governing entity.

The recent AG opinion stated WCS monies should be considered public funds and that county guidelines with the bidding process and project regulations should be followed.

Additionally, Andrews County Attorney Tim Mason recommended dissolving the Community Legacy Committee because it would be “difficult” to involve multiple entities in applying standards to the funds as outlined in the opinion, county officials said.

A county official said last week the AG opinion conveys that the commissioners court can’t shirk its duties of oversight of the funds.

“With that being said, to properly monitor the money, it was felt the court needs to have total control of oversight for whatever project is awarded for (those funds),” a county official explained.

But commissioners on Feb. 19 tabled a decision to possibly dissolve the committee. Andrews County Judge Charlie Falcon said he believed the opinion “doesn’t say you can’t have a committee,” but that spending has to be according to state guidelines for the county.

A county official said this week the Legacy Committee is still functioning, but the Food Pantry project will have to be bid out by the county and county oversight regulations with construction will also apply.

The other significant project involving WCS funds right now–$1.5 million for ball park improvements at Lakeside Park and the sports complex—is also going on as planned, but could require an additional $150,000 for engineering costs not included in the original recommendation to the commissioners court.