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TipSheet: Travis County, 5.12.20

Tuesday, May 12, 2020 by Jessi Devenyns

The Travis County Commissioners Court meets every Tuesday at 9 a.m. 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. 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 in to public access channel 17.

6. Consider and take appropriate action on: A. Update to FY 2020 debt issuance and debt model that includes revisions to projects for the November 2017 voter-approved road bonds, permanent improvement bonds, and certificates of obligation (Commissioner Gómez)

Monitor’s Take: As Travis County faces the reality of bringing in $61.3 million less revenue than originally planned for the 2021 fiscal year, staffers are looking every which way to cut expenses and shore up the county’s cash reserves. To stabilize cash flow, county staffers are proposing taking $27 million of planned project expenses from approved road bonds and sliding it into next year. Likewise, staffers propose adding $9 million in cash flow from critical safety project bonds and $2 million from jail energy savings project bonds to fiscal year 2021. With those projects rolled into next year, the grand total of debt that the county is proposing to issue for spring 2020 is $103.9 million. 

17. Consider and take appropriate action on: A. Proposed new job postings 1) Elected/appointed officials 2) Commissioners Court departments B. Proposed personnel actions – excepted from freeze 1) Elected/appointed officials 2) Commissioners Court departments C. Proposed personnel actions – subject or encouraged to freeze 1) Elected/appointed officials 2) Commissioners Court departments D. Non-routine actions by policy (Commissioners Travillion & Gómez)

Monitor’s Take: After postponing their decision last week to vote on allowing exceptions to the hiring freeze, the Commissioners Court will take another look today. This week there are even more requests for exceptions with five new positions, totaling an annual cost of $431,737, coming before the court for consideration for approval. There are also 13 new hire positions that are excepted from the freeze that commissioners will more than likely approve. Lastly, there are 25 positions that are subject to the freeze that the court will consider for approval in order to increase salaries, hire personnel on already extended offers and rehire some staff.

19. Consider and take appropriate action on: A. Letter of support for the City of Austin for their application for a Flood Infrastructure Fund (FIF) grant that will provide new floodplain mapping based on Atlas 14 for the majority of Travis County and its ETJ’s B. Resolution supporting the County’s application for a FIF grant with the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) regarding the development of a Flood Master Plan for the County (Commissioners Travillion & Shea)

Monitor’s Take: In the fall of 2018, the National Weather Service released Atlas 14, which altered floodplain maps all over Austin and Travis County. However, it remains up to local governmental entities and their staff to update the details of these new floodplain maps with the unique characteristics of each watershed. The city of Austin has already embarked on this project and plans to take three years to map 90 percent of Travis County and its extraterritorial jurisdictions based upon Atlas 14 data. In order to complete the task, the city is applying for a grant from the Flood Infrastructure Fund managed by the Texas Water Development Board. This item would have the county sign on in support of the grant and the project it will fund.

27. Consider and take appropriate action to direct County Staff to create and implement a plan to increase teleworking at the County, and encourage other Travis County elected/appointed officials, other local governments, and the private sector to pursue an equally significant goal. (Commissioner Shea)

Monitor’s Take: After nearly two months of mandatory telecommuting, county officials have seen that the impossible might actually be possible. In order to encourage working from home as a long-term solution to Austin’s traffic woes and air quality concerns, the court will discuss this item and begin hammering out the finer details of how to implement a policy that will enable those who can continue working from home to do so for the foreseeable future.

A1. Receive legal briefing and take appropriate action in State of Texas v. Texas Democratic Party, et al., Cause No. 14-20-00358-CV, and in Texas Democratic Party et al v. Abbott, Governor of Texas, et al., Case No. 5:20-CV-00438-FB. (This item will be taken into Executive Session under the Consultation with Attorney exception.) (Judge Eckhardt)

Monitor’s Take: The combination of Covid-19 related health concerns and the upcoming runoff elections have made voting by mail a hot topic. Last month, there was a lawsuit filed in Travis County District Court in which Texas Democrats asked a judge to expand the category of voters who qualify to vote with a mail-in ballot. While the courts have not yet made a decision on the case, it is likely that the Commissioners Court will support the arguments made by the Texas Democratic Party. After all, the county is already preparing to spend $968K to prepare for mail-in ballot voting in 2020.

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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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