by: Nicole Barrios / Round Rock Leader
Williamson County Judge Dan Gattis’ staff knows that you should never tell him, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.”
Gattis said the same is also true of Williamson County officials: “Change seems to be the common core of what happens in this county.”
The county looks back to see where they’ve been, but are not hung up on “that’s the way we’ve always done it,” he said, and “Change is happening, and it’s happening fast.”
Gattis focused on the topics of change and growth in Williamson County during his speech Wednesday at the Round Rock Chamber’s monthly luncheon.
He said one example of exciting growth in store for the county and Round Rock is the planned Kalahari resort and convention center. “I think it’s totally a game changer for the county,” he said. “I really give all the kudos to Round Rock and your leadership for getting out and being able to pull something off and getting it into this county and this area.”
Regional mobility also plays a role in the fast growing county, Gattis said. The county is working on a long-range transportation plan, which was adopted in 2009 and was recently passed by county commissioners. Both county and city officials met to create a mobility plan reaching to when the entire county is developed.
“If you’re talking about Round Rock, it ain’t very long,” he said of the city’s total build out. “If you’re talking about Taylor or Granger, it’s probably going to be a longer time.”
Public hearings have been held on the transportation plan that is still “just a bunch of lines on a map, and that won’t be exactly what gets built,” he said. But he said the plan gives landowners or developers an idea of where future roads will be and will help people provide feedback to officials.
“Discuss it and cuss it,” he said. “Don’t hesitate to tell us in the county how we screwed up.”
Gattis said he uses A.W. Grimes Boulevard as an example of a collaborative effort between the state, county, landowners and developers. Those kinds of partnerships make the county a great place to live, he said.
On the topic of economic growth, Gattis noted increasing property tax appraisals throughout the county.
“It’s amazing how fast we’ve grown in the last 10 years, and it is almost breathtaking when you look at how much valuations have gone up since last year,” he said.
The Williamson County Association of Realtors reported that a seller’s market has led to the median home price increasing by 13 percent and a 20 percent increase in home sales in May compared to the same month last year.
“It’s something that we’ve got to keep in mind,” Gattis said. “I assure you that we as a county, we don’t want to get in a place where we’re taxing people out of their homes.”
That delicate balance between economic growth while staying affordable must be maintained, Gattis said. In a growing area, officials must continue to improve roads and infrastructure or else economic projects will head elsewhere, he said.
That same growth could also put a strain on water resources in the area, he noted. Officials are currently working on water projects that will benefit the county for years to come.
“If somebody doesn’t do it now, it won’t be here to grow this county out,” he said.
Officials are looking at wells in the county for ancillary water sources in times of drought, among other things, he said.
Gattis said he recently learned that the county had the most cotton gins in Texas in 1938. “The world’s changed,” he said. “Those cotton fields are going to all have roads over them — the ones that are left.”
Back then people were living on more acres and planting cotton, he said.
“Now we’re planting homes, which, by the way, make a little more money than that cotton farm,” he said.