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TipSheet: Travis County, 1.12.16

Tuesday, January 12, 2016 by Caleb Pritchard

The Travis County Commissioners Court meets at 9 a.m. Tuesday. In the interest of space, we’ve decided not to post the entire agenda here. The County Clerk’s office hosts a copy at its website.

5. Receive update regarding proposed changes to Travis County Code Chapter 47 – Food Establishment Permits regarding the following: a. Adding requirements for food handlers and certified food protection managers; and b. Approving the setting of a public hearing on Tuesday, February 9, 2016, to receive comments. (Commissioner Gómez)

Monitor’s Take: Before you dine out at a restaurant or cafe in unincorporated Travis County, you might want to consider that there are no rules requiring the cooks to have any official food handling certification. That could change if the Court opts to accept a staff recommendation to bring the county code in line with the City of Austin. First, it will have to schedule a public hearing, so maybe postpone those reservations at that charming Hill Country brasserie until then.

8. Consider and take appropriate action on the following requests: a. Recommendations on the use of existing certificates of obligation balances; b. Funding for FY16 approved capital projects; and c. A resolution expressing Travis County’s intent to finance expenditures to be incurred for approved capital projects and to reimburse itself from certificates of obligation. (Commissioner Gómez)

Monitor’s Take: The Planning and Budget Office is requesting permission to do a little budget and bond juggling with this item. First, through the accounting magic known as “scrubbing,” staff has found more than $1 million in existing bond money that can be used to reduce the budgeted bond debt the Court approved for this year. Second, PBO wants to include in this year’s bond issue money almost $33 million to finance the construction of both the Ronnie Earle Building (which will house the DA’s Office) and the new Medical Examiner’s Office. Finally, to get a jump-start on the ME’s Office and two other projects, PBO wants to briefly borrow existing money from one account and then reimburse those funds when the bonds are issued in the spring. Fun!

9. Consider and take appropriate action on Public Improvement District (PID) policy. (Commissioner Gómez)

Monitor’s Take: Not to be confused with a TIF, TIRZ, MUD, or PUD, a PID is a — to the county, at least — a novel tool in the toolbox by which to finance infrastructure in new or existing developments. The gist is that bonds are issued to pay for the construction projects then repaid through tax assessments on individual properties. The county received its first petition from private developers to set up a PID in October of last year, but before proceeding, the Commissioners Court must first write an operational framework by which to guide PID policy. With this item, staff will ask the Court for input on a preliminary draft. The final product is still several meetings away.

10. Discuss and take appropriate action on Palm School Committee and Committee Charge. (Commissioner Gómez)

Monitor’s Take: When last we left the Palm School discussion, Judge Eckhardt had delayed a vote to deputize a committee to explore the options for the site after Commissioner Gerald Daugherty raised concerns that the proposed list of members heavily favored the prospects of preserving the building on what is otherwise highly valuable downtown real estate.

13. Receive briefing regarding the recruitment for the position of County Executive of Operations Management. (Judge Eckhardt)

Monitor’s Take: In September, the Court commissioned a consultant to start searching for candidates to fill a new executive position that is aimed at streamlining county government, a major goal of Judge Eckhardt’s. That consultant is now ready to report to the Court on the progress of that search, as well as give the commissioners a list of recommended candidates. The next step will be to determine to whittle that list down and select a finalist by next month.

15. Consider and take appropriate action on the following requests: a. Repeal Travis County Code, Chapter 66 – Firearms or Other Deadly Weapons on County Property or in County Vehicles, retain § 10.008 Smoking and delete § 10.008 Firearms or Other Deadly Weapons; b. Amend Travis County Code, Chapter 9 by adding § 9.006 Firearms or Other Deadly Weapons. (Commissioner Daugherty & Commissioner Gómez)

Monitor’s Take: Late last year, the Court delayed a decision on adapting its rules for firearms on county property to reflect the newly permissive state law regarding guns. The issue promises to feature a feisty, charged discussion with Republican Commissioner Daugherty arguing for allowing employees to pack heat at work while his Democratic colleagues will stake out a position just a smidgen to the diametric opposite of that. For a more in-depth preview of what the Court will discuss, dig this.

16. Consider and take appropriate action of Travis County appointments to the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA) Board of Directors. (Judge Eckhardt)

Monitor’s Take: In November, the Court started taking applications for candidates looking to fill one of its three appointments to the CTRMA. Charles Heimsath has held the seat and for more than six years but was given the opportunity to re-apply. Now that the application period is closed, the Court must appoint a subcommittee to start reviewing résumés and pick out finalists to be presented later this month.

18. Receive update on the Travis County PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) Program. (Commissioner Shea and Commissioner Daugherty)

Monitor’s Take: This is the latest update on a highly lauded loan program boosted by the bipartisan team of Commissioner Daugherty and Commissioner Brigid Shea. PACE allows businesses to take out loans for costly energy and water efficiency improvements that are then paid off through assessments on their property taxes. In June, a confab of private interests and county officials was the very image of polylateral satisfaction. It remains, of course, to be seen whether PACE still has that special moxy.

21. Consider and take appropriate action on a Reimbursement Agreement for Relocation/Protection of MCI Facilities adjacent to the Ronald Earle Building between Travis County and MCIMetro. (Judge Eckhardt)

Monitor’s Take: Back to the aforementioned Ronnie Earle Building, a minor obstacle to its construction at W. 11th and San Antonio streets has appeared. To get around it, the county will pay MCIMetro $122,350 to relocate several overhead telecommunication lines to a new underground conduit. As of press time, it was unclear whether this money is coming from the project’s budget, but it’s worth remembering that the building was almost torpedoed last year when Commissioner Daugherty raised his concerns about cost overruns.

23. Consider and take appropriate action regarding an order to modify designated Early Voting and Election Day polling places for the March 1, 2016, Joint Primary Elections. (Judge Eckhardt)

Monitor’s Take: County employees and downtown workers and residents who are accustomed to voting early at the Heman Marion Sweatt Courthouse will have to change their cherished spring primary tradition. This year, first-floor construction at the courthouse appears to be forcing an audible that will likely see the voting booths moved across the street to the Granger Building.

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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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