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Travis County explores ways to overcome funding cuts

Tuesday, February 7, 2017 by Audrey McGlinchy, KUT

Travis County raised nearly $90,000 as of Monday afternoon through an online initiative set up after Gov. Greg Abbott cut $1.5 million in grant funding over Sheriff Sally Hernandez’s new immigration policy. State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) launched the fundraising site Friday in partnership with the Austin Community Foundation.

“It was really quite spontaneous, and much appreciated by me and I know all the other public servants at the county who are concerned about these programs,” County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said.

The $90,000 is only a fraction of the money needed to fund the affected programs through Aug. 31, 2017 – when most of these grant periods are set to end. The long-term future of these grants is even murkier.

A recent change to the grant application process requires any jurisdiction that detains people after a criminal arrest to have the local sheriff certify that he or she honors all U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer requests. Barring a change in Hernandez’s policy, Travis County would have to skip this part of the application.

Eckhardt said the county could seek alternate funding through foundations; another possibility is by raising taxes.

“That is always a possibility,” she said. “I want to be very mindful about a tax increase to cover the shortfall, but that may be what we will have to look to.”

Travis County commissioners will begin discussing long-term funding options at their meeting Tuesday.

Despite the recent eligibility change, Travis County Budget Director Travis Gatlin said the county likely will still apply for grants.

“The plan for now is that we would submit applications,” he said. Travis County commissioners would have to approve this, but Eckhardt said she’s on board.

“Current thinking is that there is great utility in going ahead and continuing to apply,” she said.

“It is certainly at the governor’s discretion whether or not he wants to continue to cut Travis County out of funding for these types of innovations,” Eckhardt continued, referring to programs to prevent prostitution and help veterans, among other initiatives.

Audio from McGlinchy’s KUT radio piece is embedded below:

Photo: Opponents of Senate Bill 4, which would penalize so-called “sanctuary cities,” disrupt the bill’s first public hearing on Thursday by Gabriel Cristóver Pérez/KUT. This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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