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Court approves one preliminary list of bond projects

Wednesday, January 12, 2011 by Michael Kanin

The Travis County Commissioners Court continues to move their jurisdiction toward a massive 2011 bond election. On Tuesday, commissioners approved a pared-down list of potential transportation and parks projects, as well as a handful of procedural guidelines designed to govern the evaluation process for the bonds. They also approved a set of regulations that will govern any public-private partnerships that should result from those funds.


More court action will come next week, when the commissioners will be asked to approve a list of projects from Travis’ facilities department. This will likely include details about what portion of the county’s central campus project will go to the voters in 2011.


Early indications still point to a roughly $500 million initiative. In what will amount to a reversal of a trend, the bulk of the initiative appears as though it will not be dedicated to roads and parks. Instead, county officials have indicated that they will ask for around $300 million in facilities funding and $200 million for roads and parks.


According to a list furnished by Travis’ Transportation and Natural Resources Department executive manager, Steve Manilla, his department has managed to cut its requests. The largest single current expense among the county-only funded projects would be $20 million for parkland in the Pedernales River corridor. The single most expensive item on the list is $25 million for the widening of five miles of FM969. That project, however, will be submitted for the Texas Department of Transportation’s pass-through financing program.


The list represents an early picture of potential transportation and parks projects. Both the court and Manilla were careful to point out that it will change significantly before it is sent to the ballot.


Just how the facilities department’s list will break down remains to be seen. It is likely that it will include some portion of Travis’ central campus project. A significant slice of that figure may be reserved for the new courthouse that the county is set to build.


At this early stage, Travis commissioners seem most focused on firming up the communication lines that will flow between the public, the county, and departments within the county. Precinct 3 Commissioner Karen Huber was concerned about the ability of the county’s Transportation and Natural Resources Department to carry the major load, as it has in the past.


“We have a new manager in (the Transportation and Natural Resources Department), and we have a unique set of circumstances this year in the economy and our facility needs,” she said. “I think it might be wise to have a double team working closely together.”


The court decided to create such a team. Included will be Manilla, Emergency Services Executive Danny Hobby, and the head of Travis’ Planning and Budget Office, Rodney Rhoades. County Auditor Susan Spataro, who has served as something of a liaison between the county and the district judges who will occupy its new courthouse, will advise the group. 


The county will eventually appoint a 15-member citizens advisory board to vet the bond initiative. Should the election indeed clock in at roughly $500 million, County Judge Sam Biscoe has indicated that county residents should anticipate a tax increase (see In Fact Daily, Jan. 5).

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