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Commissioners Court looking for a bond bundle that is just right

Wednesday, May 31, 2017 by Caleb Pritchard

Travis County is taking the Goldilocks approach to planning a potential bond package to put before voters this November.

On Tuesday, the Commissioners Court voted unanimously to instruct the Citizens Bond Advisory Committee to cobble together three separate bonding scenarios: small, medium and large.

The move comes amid heightened anxiety that a concurrent Austin Independent School District bond referendum expected to reach the upper heights of nine figures could choke out the county’s attempt to ask taxpayers to pay a little extra for road and park projects.

The general obligation bond amount of each package the CBAC will construct starts at $50 million and rises to $100 million and then $150 million.

Commissioners Margaret Gómez and Gerald Daugherty both worried aloud that the small package would not have enough projects to attract countywide support. Gómez even broached the idea of pulling back from having a referendum at all, a point that County Judge Sarah Eckhardt reminded her has been discussed.

Daugherty asked Steve Manilla, county executive for the Transportation and Natural Resources Department, to gauge that body’s feelings toward the scale of a bond package, as he has been wrangling the CBAC since its members were seated in March.

“They want a larger one,” Manilla answered without hesitation.

Cynthia McDonald, chief deputy at that department, elaborated. She explained that the CBAC was originally instructed to simply prioritize projects on a list containing roughly $1 billion of potential investments. In a twist on the county’s usual bond creation protocol, this year the court has adopted a more nimble strategy of graduating the most urgent safety projects to the annual budget, leaving park, road and less direly needed investments up to the voters.

Because of the almost overwhelming list of projects committee members must consider, “They seem to be very comfortable with prioritizing as a whole,” McDonald said. “But I don’t think they’re married to any particular number.”

The CBAC is now charged with developing its three different bundles for the Commissioners Court’s review on June 20.

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