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TipSheet: Travis County, 9.22.20

Tuesday, September 22, 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. 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 to approve the extension of the appointment of Mark Escott, M.D., as Interim Health Authority, and the designation of Jason R. Pickett, M.D., Ming Tang, M.D., and Jonathan MacClements, M.D., each individually as Alternate Health Authority, for Travis County, effective on October 1, 2020, and ending on March 31, 2021. (Commissioners Shea & Gómez)

Monitor’s Take:
It has been an unexpectedly wild ride for Dr. Mark Escott in his role as interim health authority for Austin Public Health. After stepping into the position last October, Escott found himself guiding the county through the pandemic response. Not only has his time in this leadership role solidified his candidature to continue as interim director, the lingering coronavirus crisis has prevented Austin Public Health from finding a permanent replacement for the post. To compensate, the public health authority is looking to extend Escott’s position through March 31, 2021, as the search for a replacement continues. Additionally, Escott has designated Dr. Jason R. Pickett, Dr. Ming Tang and Dr. Jonathan MacClements as alternate health authorities.

9. Consider and take appropriate action to approve an updated interlocal agreement between Travis County Constable – Precinct Three and the Shady Hollow Municipal Utility District for law enforcement services. (Judge Biscoe)

Monitor’s Take: Shady Hollow is a neighborhood in Southwest Austin that was slated to transition from being a municipal utility district to a full-fledged component of the city this December. However, due to the passage of Senate Bill 1468 in 2019, the automatic transition from MUD to city is halted. The state of Texas now requires an election to approve an annexation. Now that Shady Hollow will remain a MUD, Travis County and the city of Austin are scrambling to ensure that basic public safety services remain functioning in that area. Thankfully for Travis County, not much is changing in terms of providing law enforcement. The Travis County Sheriff’s Office has provided services to Shady Hollow since 2007, and this item will merely be updating the contract. In the renewed contract, the Shady Hollow MUD will pay $10,370.31 per month for services from the Travis County constable. Shady Hollow will also be responsible for officer overtime charges.

14. Consider and take appropriate action on FY 2021 budget issues, including: A. Programmatic allocation of unclaimed capital credits B. Updated capital project lists C. Final changes list D. Continuation of hiring freeze E. Encumbrance of remaining resources within the Emergency Event Fund Center for COVID-19 response F. Other remaining items

Monitor’s Take: This item on the agenda is a bit like a final hurrah or a last-minute plea for resources, depending on the department and its request. On Sept. 29, the Commissioners Court will adopt the proposed $1.28 billion budget which will dictate the next 12 months of county operations. In order to make sure that everything critical is funded and avoid delays on capital projects, this item will serve as a final run-through for staff, commissioners and the public before everything is solidified next week. Sept. 29 will also be the final chance for a public hearing on the budget.

15. Consider and take appropriate action on Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding [Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF)] allocation and expenditure update. (Commissioner Gómez)

Monitor’s Take: Travis County’s deadline to spend its $61.1 million in federal pandemic relief funding is now just three months away, and to keep commissioners abreast of the spending status, the Planning and Budget Office will come for its monthly update. Last month, county staff showed that they had distributed the majority of the $7.3 million direct assistance fund for smaller cities but the county was waiting to finalize its share of costs for the interlocal public health program response to Covid-19. Perhaps this month, more of these funding agreement kinks will be worked out and county government will have hammered out a full allocation plan for the remaining months it has to spend these dollars.

33. Receive the Travis County Healthcare District DBA Central Health FY 2021 proposed budget and associated tax rate. (Judge Biscoe)

Monitor’s Take:
Rarely has health care been more important than at the present time. However, not everyone in Travis County has access to health insurance and the care that comes with it. To fill those gaps, there is Central Health and its health care centers. As a governmental entity, the Travis County Healthcare District must present its budget for the upcoming year as well as the tax rate that ensures funding for the services it provides. This item will step through next year’s funding needs and will likely start a discussion about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and how it has affected the health care provider’s budget.

34. Consider and take appropriate action to direct County staff to allocate space for a satellite tax office at the Wilson Parke Avenue building in Precinct Two. (Commissioners Shea & Daugherty)

Monitor’s Take: Travis County is getting more tax offices. In 2019, the Commissioners Court approved the purchase of a building in Northwest Austin to provide tax office services to those in the far-flung reaches of the county. This year, the county hopes to turn the building into a functioning satellite hub, but will need $424,925 to do so. On Sept. 3, the Commissioners Court approved funds for this effort during a budget markup meeting. This item would approve the project as something that can take place in the upcoming fiscal year.

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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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