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TipSheet: Travis County, 9.15.20

Tuesday, September 15, 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. The public can access the meeting by watching the livestream or tuning in to public access channel 17. This week, budgets remain at the forefront of the conversation as the deadline to approve final budgets for the next year is rapidly approaching.

6. Consider and take appropriate action on appointments to the Sobering Center Board of Directors. (Judge Biscoe)

Monitor’s Take: Finding a replacement for Travis County’s two outgoing appointees to the board of the Sobering Center, a facility jointly operated by the city of Austin and Travis County to provide an environment for intoxicated people to sober up outside of a jail cell, has been a drawn-out process. However, the day for the Commissioners Court to make a decision on the matter has finally arrived. After interviewing five candidates on Sept. 10, commissioners are tasked with filling two open spots. Likely, most of the discussion on the matter has already occurred, but it is worth noting that the commissioners’ selection will place these individuals in the role until September 2023.

9. Consider and take appropriate action on an order approving setting the Travis County tax rates for the year beginning January 1, 2020: A. Total Maintenance and Operations Tax Rate (31.6206 cents per $100 valuation) B. Total Debt Service Tax Rate (5.7847 cents per $100 valuation) C. Total County Ad Valorem Tax Rate (37.4053 cents per $100 valuation) (Judge Biscoe)

Monitor’s Take: This item has been ongoing for some time as well. As county staffers finalize the budget, the next step in the process is to officially approve the proposed tax rate, which was up for a public hearing last week. As a reminder, the math from the county’s Planning and Budget Office says the average homestead will experience a $46.52 annual increase in an effort to help the county fund a $1.3 billion budget and make up for the losses caused by the pandemic. However, Budget Director Travis Gatlin clarified at the hearing last week that this increase is for a home worth $1.15 million. Houses worth less than that on the market will, obviously, have a smaller increase in tax obligation.

10. Consider and take appropriate action on proposed Fiscal Year 2021 Budget Rules. (Commissioner Gómez)

Monitor’s Take: Along with the new budget this year will come new rules focusing on emergency response. The Planning and Budget Office will have the authority to automatically process emergency budget adjustments from the Emergency Reserve to the Emergency Event Fund Center in Emergency Services with the approval of the county judge. These emergency transfers will later be presented to the full Commissioners Court. While this is a big change, the Commissioners Court already bestowed this power on the Planning and Budget Office this spring as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Thus far, the authority has not been used, but the office hopes to retain it, just in case. Although the rules will be presented Tuesday, there will be a one-week period for the new rules to sink in before the court votes on them on Sept. 22.

17. Approve setting a public hearing on September 29, 2020, to receive comments regarding the proposed fees for the commercial use of ramps and docks at Travis County Parks. (Commissioners Travillion & Shea)

Monitor’s Take: This item would implement commercial use fees for boat rental and charter companies that operate within Travis County parks. Boat owners need not worry unless they run a commercial enterprise. As of now, the proposed fee structure includes a $2,500 base fee for watercraft rental that will increase at a rate of $200 per boat. Similarly, parks will charge reservation fees of $30 per boat and $15 per Jet Ski. The county estimates this revenue source will generate between $80,000 and $100,000 per year for the parks department. While this new charge would be a financial boon for a county operating on a tight budget, more commercial enterprises also bring risks and headaches such as crowds and watercraft traffic. Expect the court to have a discussion about the matter before deciding whether or not such a program would be beneficial for Travis County.

18. Consider and take appropriate action to approve an amendment to the FY 2019-2021 interlocal agreement with the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority (CapMetro) for Federal Transit Administration funding and local match to fund the Travis County Transit Development Plan. (Commissioner Travillion)

Monitor’s Take: Travis County needs more public transport. To start the county on the path, the Transportation and Natural Resources Department is asking the Commissioners Court to authorize the necessary budget to provide local fund matching for the $233,000 in federal funding for transit planning. For capital projects, the local funding match is set at 20 percent and for operations and maintenance costs, local matching must be at 60 percent. Funds pulled down from the feds and matched locally will go into projects outlined by the Travis County Transit Development Plan that is part of Capital Metro’s service expansion program. On Tuesday, the county is specifically looking to amend the interlocal agreement with the transit authority to expand routes 233 and 237 as well as a CARTS route out in Hornsby Bend.

24. Approve a $1,000 increase (new balance of $9,770) in the change fund for the County Clerk. (Judge Biscoe)

Monitor’s Take: The County Clerk’s Office is moving its Probate Division to a new courthouse facility on Sept. 25 and is asking the Commissioners Court for an additional $1,000 in order to make change. This is a good sign for those who still pay in cash, as Travis County remains conscientious that not everyone swipes plastic for all transactions. These dollar bills and coins will be divided into two cashier tills and a public copier.

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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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