Photo by Travis County
Margaret Gómez has learned to take the long view
Thursday, January 5, 2023 by Andrea Guzman
For Margaret Gómez, Travis County’s longest-serving county commissioner, listening to community members’ concerns is the first and most important step toward guiding initiatives for the 1.3 million-plus residents of Travis County.
In a recent interview with the Austin Monitor, Gómez – who earlier this year won a tight reelection race for Precinct 4 commissioner – shares how that strategy helps get projects off the ground.
One case where community voices played a major role was in efforts to boost access to naloxone, the opioid overdose-reversing medication. Texas Harm Reduction Alliance was one of the groups that helped the county shape its response to the soaring rate of opioid overdoses last year.
The alliance arranged for commissioners to meet some of the people whose lives had been directly affected by overdose tragedies. “They talked about their stories and so I think that we saw that it was necessary to take action,” Gómez said. “And I’m very glad we did.”
While that lifesaving action felt like a highlight of 2022, Gómez also expressed pride at addressing housing issues by dipping into the millions in federal funds the county received.
In addition to the Commissioners Court setting aside funds for rental assistance, Gómez described progress on her resolution to allocate $110 million toward assistance for unhoused people, to be administered via contracts with local nonprofits.
One drawback with using federal funds is that “It’s just one time. And so we have to be real careful that we use it in such a way that maybe we can solve (the problem of homelessness) with this money,” Gómez said. “And then after that, we’ll see how we deal with those needs again. So it’s been a very good journey through that.”
Tempering her excitement around these projects, Gómez noted that the rising cost of living in Travis County is pushing residents to move to other areas such as Bastrop, Hays or Caldwell counties that offer fewer social services for residents.
“Those are nice counties, but they’re smaller than we are. And they don’t have the tax base that we have, in order to provide services. So folks will move there, but they’re basically on their own, taking care of their needs, without help from a social service department such as ours,” she said.
Looking ahead, Gómez is pleased about a possible effort to push broadband in southeastern Travis County. The FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program is providing subsidies for low-income residents in places like Austin, where high costs and service inequity have deepened the digital divide.
Through efforts like these, Gómez aims to handle the needs of a county she described as changing. She sees additional issues ahead for the court, like her prediction that some of the non-urban areas of the county will eventually be annexed by the city of Austin.
“But the county will be here, the city will be here,” Gómez said. “And together, we need to make sure that we’re good partners to serve our constituents.”
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