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Court settles May-November dilemma on bond election

Wednesday, August 16, 2017 by Caleb Pritchard

After a short week of suspense, it turns out that Travis County voters will get to decide on a $185 million bond package sooner rather than later.

On Tuesday, the Commissioners Court voted 4-0, with Commissioner Gerald Daugherty absent, to send the referendum to the Nov. 7 ballot.

The court had approved the project list at its meeting last week but left open the possibility that the election could be delayed until May.

Tina Cannon, the Austin Chamber of Commerce’s senior director of local government relations, had attended last week’s meeting and several prior bond discussions to remind the court that a November bond campaign would coincide with the Austin Independent School District’s attempt to sell voters on its own $1.05 billion package.

Her remarks were inferred by Daugherty and County Judge Sarah Eckhardt to be a suggestion on the chamber’s part to consider moving the county election to next year. However, on Tuesday afternoon, Cannon emphasized that she simply wanted the court to be “cognizant” of their timing at a time when property values are rising and taxpayers are wary of new spending packages.

“I think our position was to give them as much food for thought and ultimately they made the choice to put it in November and voters will decide what they can palate,” Cannon told the Austin Monitor.

After Tuesday’s vote, which came without any debate on the dais, Eckhardt said that the county has engaged in direct talks with the district and other taxing jurisdictions over the years about bond timing. She said the county had long been clear that it would send its package to voters in 2017, a package that had been under construction by the Citizens Bond Advisory Committee since February.

“We had a well-defined process we’ve been engaged in for months that presumed a November election. To move it to May would have reopened that process,” Eckhardt told reporters.

The $185 million list of projects will be divided into two separate propositions. The first will feature about $93.5 million worth of transportation projects, including new bike lanes, sidewalks, improved stream crossings and road expansions. The second proposition would fund about $91.5 million in park improvements and conservation easements.

According to county staff, the entire package, if approved, would cost the typical homeowner an extra $24 each year. For its part, AISD says its bond will not affect tax rates at all.

The court is expected to consider and approve the ballot language at its Sept. 12 meeting. The week after, it will weigh in on official bond educational materials, including flyers and maps of the project locations.

In the meantime, Eckhardt said she will use her off time to assemble an independent campaign to support the bond package.

“I wanted to get the policy baked before moving to build a political apparatus,” she said.

Photo by Matthew Rutledge made available through a Creative Commons license.

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