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Travis County officials to begin planning for 2011 bond election

Tuesday, August 10, 2010 by Michelle Jimenez

Travis County officials plan to appoint within the next several months a bond committee to review a list of potential transportation projects to be included in a 2011 referendum, County Judge Sam Biscoe said.


However, the price tag isn’t likely to be on the order of $500 million, a figure an executive manager for the county put out there a couple of weeks ago during a presentation at a civil engineers’ conference.


“Frankly, I’m having a hard time seeing us get to $500 million,” Biscoe told In Fact Daily. “I don’t see that we could identify that many critical projects, to be honest.”


Biscoe said he could see the upper limits of a bond package at $300 million, if it included a new civil courthouse, but reiterated that the process of deciding a figure has not even begun. He said the county can afford to issue about $400 million in debt.


Joe Gieselman, executive manager of Transportation and Natural Resources, spoke to an American Society of Civil Engineers conference in late July and told them that he was hoping for a bond referendum in the realm of $500 million for transportation projects.


The estimate caught some Travis County Commissioners off guard because they had not yet appointed a citizens’ committee, one of the first steps in developing a bond recommendation and determining an amount to put before voters.


“I was totally … unaware of Joe’s thoughts along those lines,” Commissioner Karen Huber said. “We haven’t even begun discussing in any kind of definitive way what we might put in that bond package. What we do have is sort of an on-going wish list… knowing probably the greater percentage of those won’t make the bond list.”


“Five hundred million — that’s a stretch in this economy,” Huber added.  “I have to say I was disappointed to see that come out the way it did.”


Commissioner Ron Davis was emphatic that the court will follow the established process for developing a bond proposal, which the county typically puts before voters every five years.


He said the largest package he has seen since he was elected to the court in 1998 was about $160 million, in 2005. Taxpayers may be limited in their support for a big bond referendum, he said.


“We have to wait to see if we have some pocketbook issues,” Davis said.


Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt said there is a broader question to be answered beyond the price tag the proposal will carry.


“The big philosophical question here is not how much the bond package will be but what kind of items we are funding with intergenerational property tax and whether that’s the appropriate source to fund them from,” she said.

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