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Daugherty, the odd man out, finds ways to make it work (mostly)

Wednesday, December 27, 2017 by Caleb Pritchard

Commissioner Gerald Daugherty is the only Republican on the Travis County Commissioners Court, but as long as that body maintains its track record of financial prudence, he’s okay with that.

In 2017, the court lowered the county’s property tax rate, the fourth year in a row of reductions even as other jurisdictions have raised their rates.

“We’re pretty damn mindful about how we spend our money, especially as it relates to trying to keep the tax rate as low as we can,” he told the Austin Monitor last week. “I think it’s a function of the court working together and being at the same end of the rope.”

Indeed, that accord is illustrated by Daugherty’s support of each of the annual budgets the court has considered since he returned to the seat in 2013 after a four-year hiatus.

The county’s relatively restrained track record drew surprise praise from Republican state Sen. Paul Bettencourt of Houston, the author of a bill that would have restricted local jurisdictions’ ability to raise taxes to keep up with growing demand for services. Daugherty went to the Capitol multiple times to convince his fellow Republicans to sink that bill, and it ultimately never made it to the governor’s desk.

“That didn’t make a bunch them over at the pink building very happy. But I certainly didn’t mind looking them in the eye and going, ‘If you’re going to send unfunded mandates to us, you’re playing us as chumps,’” he said. “Luckily, we dodged the bullet on that.”

However, it’s not all kumbaya for the Precinct 3 representative and his colleagues. Looking back on 2017, Daugherty was quick to highlight his biggest frustration. In the buildup to the bond package that voters ultimately supported, Daugherty voluntarily surrendered his push to put spending for Reimers-Peacock Road on the ballot. Instead, he attempted to secure for each commissioner stronger discretionary power to shape bond spending within his or her own precinct.

That play was knocked down by his colleagues in what Daugherty characterized as “the evisceration of the Precinct 3 commissioner.”

“I wasn’t happy at all about how that turned out,” he noted dryly.

To salve the sting from that defeat, Daugherty can look toward State Highway 45 Southwest, a long-delayed toll road project that finally broke ground in 2017. He said he is “thrilled with five exclamation points” over the progress of the work on that roadway which will connect the southern terminus of MoPac Expressway with FM 1626.

As for 2018, Daugherty expects the county to make progress on selecting a site for a new civil courthouse. He is quick to point out that the aging Heman Marion Sweatt Travis County Courthouse is thoroughly inadequate for the community’s needs.

Following the narrow defeat of a civil courthouse referendum in 2015, the county went back to the drawing board. This past summer, the court approved a lucrative deal to lease to private developers the downtown property that would have been the location of the new courthouse had that referendum succeeded.

With a new location up in the air and uncertainty about whether to put the issue before voters again as opposed to funding the project through other means Daugherty conceded that not much is known about how the process will shake out.

“The only thing that I think is sure is that it will not be between Third and Fourth streets on Guadalupe,” he said.

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