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TipSheet: Travis County, 5.5.20

Tuesday, May 5, 2020 by Jessi Devenyns

The Travis County Commissioners Court meets every Tuesday at 9 a.m. This week’s meeting will be broadcast to ensure everyone is able to follow social distancing regulations. The public can access the meeting by watching the livestream or tuning into public access channel 17. To help our readers stay informed, each week we offer a selection of interesting items from the voting session agenda. The entire agenda is available at the Travis County website.

3. Receive briefing on eligible projects and activities for CDBG-CV funds issued to the County through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. (Commissioners Shea & Gómez) 

Monitor’s Take: Relief funding from the federal government is beginning to find its way into the coffers of county departments for dispersal. While there are many programs coming to life, the Commissioners Court will take a look at the funding available from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act that is allocated for Community Development Block Grants and eligible programs. Travis County received a total of $700,683 for CDBGs and the money must be used for initiatives that are aimed at “prevention, preparation, and response to Covid-19.” Although no specific projects were called out in the backup, perhaps county staff will have some ideas at the meeting.

8. Consider and take appropriate action to: A. Approve order exempting the purchase of Small Business Grant Program from the competitive procurement process, pursuant to County Purchasing Act § 262.024(a)(1) B. Approve Contract No. 4400005068 with Business & Community Lenders (BCL) of Texas for Small Business Grant Program, and authorize County Judge to sign contract (Commissioner Daugherty)

Monitor’s Take: Much like last week, there is an item on the Commissioners Court agenda to exempt a contract from the traditional competitive procurement process. While there are risks – like non-optimal pricing – associated with not allowing all eligible vendors to bid on the contract, staff from the county’s Planning and Budget Office already expressed last week that they were looking to partner with Business & Community Lenders of Texas to execute the county’s new Small Business Grant Program. According to the backup, implementing this grant program will necessitate the hiring of a third party to market the program as well as undertake and manage the eligibility/underwriting process. The county will also be relying on BCL to provide business coaching and assistance with the development of a business continuity plan for each company selected to receive a grant. As the request to work with BCL is not a surprise, it is more than likely the Commissioners Court will approve the request. 

15. Consider and take appropriate action on: A. Proposed new job postings B. Proposed personnel actions – excepted from freeze C. Proposed personnel actions – subject to freeze (Commissioners Travillion & Gómez)—tie in with 7.

Monitor’s Take: Three weeks ago, the commissioners voted to authorize staff to implement a hiring freeze for nonessential personnel until the end of the 2020 fiscal year in September. But although this belt-tightening is expected to curtail the county’s expenditures by $4.7 million, there are still plenty of proposed new job positions and exceptions to the freeze that the court will be reviewing. Exceptions include essential positions like maintenance, building security, medical staff and corrections officers. There are also special dispensations made for job offers that were extended before April 14 and for regularly scheduled promotions. One specially requested exemption comes from the Planning and Budget Office for a budget analyst position that county staff said they have a candidate waiting in the wings to fill. The Commissioners Court will receive an overall update on the progress of the hiring freeze in Item 7 on today’s agenda.

21. Consider and take appropriate action on a license agreement with Central Texas Community Health Centers DBA CommUnityCare, a Texas nonprofit corporation, to establish a COVID-19 testing location at Southeast Metropolitan Park. (Commissioner Gómez)

Monitor’s Take: In an effort to provide more Covid-19 testing to the community, CommUnityCare announced in April that it will begin operating a mobile testing center at various locations throughout eastern Travis County. One of those locations will be at the Southeast Metropolitan Park. Although testing at that site began in April, operations were approved temporarily until the county could draft and approve an official license agreement. Today the Commissioners Court will vote to extend a license to the community health care provider to operate at this site every Thursday for six months. While CommUnityCare will provide all materials and staffing for the testing operation, the county will provide law enforcement for security.

24. Receive update and take appropriate action on preparations for elections through the end of 2020, including upcoming special and runoff elections. (This item may be taken into Executive Session under the Consultation with Attorney exception.) (Judge Eckhardt) 

Monitor’s Take: Now that it is official that the runoff elections from the March primary will be on July 14 instead of May 26, following an order signed by Gov. Greg Abbott, the question remains, how are Texans going to vote? There is no telling when Travis County residents will feel safe to queue up in voting lines to cast their ballots, so the Commissioners Court is likely to discuss provisions to accommodate as many voters as possible. Voting by mail has been proposed at the state level, and there was a lawsuit filed in Travis County district court in which Democrats asked a judge to expand the category of voters who qualify to vote with a mail-in ballot. Typically, voting by mail is limited to those who are 65 or older, have a disability or illness, are confined to jail, or are outside of the county during early voting and on election day. While this item may not be ready to discuss in open court, expect the commissioners to determine and outline a plan of action in the coming weeks.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Travis County Commissioners Court: The legislative body for Travis County. It includes representatives from the four Travis County Precincts, as well as the County Judge. The County Judge serves as the chair of the Court.

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