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TipSheet: Travis County, 7.28.20

Tuesday, July 28, 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.

9. Consider and take appropriate action on Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding, including: A. Allocating the remaining funding and setting a process for reallocating unspent funds B. Establishing a process for pursuing additional COVID-19 response funding (Judge Biscoe)

Monitor’s Take:
Even as the county inches closer to its Dec. 30 deadline for spending $61.1 million in federal Covid-19 relief funding, the Commissioners Court has yet to parcel out the remaining $33.8 million in unspent aid. After this item was postponed last week, it is coming back on the agenda with a supplemental ask from staff to seek out additional sources of funding. According to staff, there is “a long list of funding programs available” that the county can apply to in order to pad its coffers further. In the meantime, staffers have outlined a spending proposal with Guidehouse’s input that allocates $20 million of the remaining dollars to direct response funding, $8.8 million to joint response public health programs, $2 million for the Health and Human Services food distribution efforts, and $3 million for other social services administered through HHS.

10. Consider and take appropriate action on: A. Order designating Travis County’s “Designated Officer or Employee” under Texas Tax Code Chapter 26 B. Order designating the Budget Officer to calculate the tax rate for Tax Year 2020 (Fiscal Year 2021) in the manner provided for a special taxing unit due to a declared disaster (This item may be taken into Executive Session under the Consultation with Attorney exception.) (Commissioner Gómez)

Monitor’s Take: Changes to Texas tax code now require local governments to appoint a designated officer or employee to be responsible for guiding a local governmental entity’s actions related to taxing units, which in this case is Travis County. On Tuesday, the Commissioners Court will vote to appoint such an individual and also consider whether to direct Planning and Budget staff to calculate the voter-approval tax rate (previously known as the rollback rate) to allow for an 8 percent increase to property tax rates. This ability to blast by the 3.5 percent increase cap is due to Gov. Greg Abbott’s statewide disaster declaration that makes Travis County eligible to operate as a special taxing unit.

11. Consider and take appropriate action on the proposed FY 2021 Property Tax Rate, including: A. Setting Tuesday, September 22, 2020, as the date the Court will adopt the 2020 Property Tax Rate (Fiscal Year 2021)

Monitor’s Take: Preparing the preliminary budget for the county has been a roller coaster this year. After initially anticipating ending the year flush with cash, county executives are now considering hiking the property tax rate to 8 percent in order to help shore up what is estimated to be a shocking shortfall. This discussion Tuesday will help clarify what Travis County residents should expect on their tax bill in the upcoming year.

14. Consider and take appropriate action on the assignment of a review committee for the TCTX Thrive Small Business Grant program, funded by the Coronavirus Relief Fund through the CARES Act. (Commissioners Shea & Gómez)

Monitor’s Take: The pre-application period for $10 million in small business grants from the county is now closed after 522 small businesses participated. Businesses looking to submit the full application to receive the grant are now able to do so until July 31. Following that, Business & Community Lenders of Texas will review and prioritize applications for further review by a committee. At their meeting Tuesday, commissioners will vote on establishing a TCTX Thrive Review Committee in order to verify that BCL’s recommendations meet county-established priorities, and make a decision on the finalists to receive grant funding. While the committee was originally intended to be made up of external partners, time constraints prompted county staff to recommend forming the committee from internal Travis County staff.

28. Consider and take appropriate action regarding the “Travis County Resolution on Net Zero Carbon Emissions, July 2020.” (Commissioners Shea & Gómez)

Monitor’s Take: In June, Travis County adopted its first-ever climate action plan. Now, the county will look more closely at its net-zero carbon emissions goals. Although the county has already prioritized reducing its emissions – Travis County currently emits 40,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases a year – as of June, there was no budget allocated to projects aimed at reducing carbon footprint numbers. This discussion may look to more formally urge the county to reduce its carbon footprint through budget allocation or directives such as the effort to have 75 percent of the county’s eligible workforce work from home on a permanent basis.

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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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