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TipSheet: Travis County, 7.30.19

Tuesday, July 30, 2019 by Jack Craver

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 on the Travis County website.

4. Consider and take appropriate action on Census 2020 matters, including: A. Introduction of Census Program Manager; B. Update on Austin-Travis County Census 2020 Complete Count Committee activities; C. Adoption of a resolution supporting Travis County participation in Census 2020 activities. (Judge Eckhardt)

Monitor’s Take: Because the census plays such an important role in determining federal funding for a variety of local programs, Travis County and the city of Austin have entered into a unique agreement to fund a temporary census program manager “to energize and coordinate census outreach and education efforts throughout our community.” The person hired for that role, which will be located in county government, is John Lawler, a former aide to Council Member Greg Casar who recently directed a major campaign effort in support of the $250 million affordable housing bond that city voters approved last fall. Various local officials, activists, clergy and the publisher of the Austin American-Statesman will also sit on the Austin-Travis County Census 2020 Complete Count Committee to oversee the census efforts. This is all part of an aggressive campaign to make sure the county gets the highest participation possible in the census.

5. Consider and take appropriate action on the grant application to the Texas Indigent Defense Commission for a public defender office in Travis County. (Judge Eckhardt)

Monitor’s Take: This is the final vote the Commissioners Court will take in its attempt to establish a public defender’s office. The court is poised to approve a revised application for a grant from the Texas Indigent Defense Commission that will provide roughly $19 million in startup costs to set up the new program. The application was revised by county staff to reduce the total cost of the new program due to revenue caps the state Legislature imposed on local governments in May. The main change is the removal of a guarantee that a defense attorney would always be present, round the clock, to provide immediate counsel to a defendant being booked into jail.

14. Consider and take appropriate action on the following regarding Travis County Code Chapter 28, Economic Development Incentives: A. Placing a moratorium on new applications for incentive agreements; B. Directing staff to research revising the policy to align it with Commissioners Court goals and focus on programs for which external funding can be leveraged. (Commissioners Shea & Gómez)

Monitor’s Take: In light of the pending revenue caps, the Commissioners Court is considering a moratorium on offering property tax rebates to companies that locate in the county and create jobs. Since 2008, the county has given seven companies $75 million in tax rebates, $65 million of which went to Samsung. City and county officials have publicly suggested that ending business incentives may make the business community reconsider its support for the governor’s property tax policy.

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