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TipSheet: Travis County, 9.8.20

Tuesday, September 8, 2020 by Jessi Devenyns

After a long Labor Day weekend, the Travis County Commissioners Court is returning to the dais with an agenda chock-full of contracts and budget items. While many of these items are routine, there are a few that we thought it pertinent to pay attention to. Also noteworthy is that the Commissioners Court will meet Thursday, Sept. 10, at 1:30 p.m. in order to hold final interviews for appointments to the Sobering Center Board of Directors. As always, the Commissioners Court meets every Tuesday at 9 a.m. 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.

1. Receive comments regarding the Travis County Tax Rate for the FY 2021 County Budget. (Judge Biscoe)

Monitor’s Take: The big day is here for those who care about property tax rates. After settling on a tax rate of 37.4359 cents per $100 of property valuation for the upcoming year, it is now the public’s turn to weigh in on this proposal before final approval of the budget happens later this month. Thanks to the disaster declarations issued at federal, state and local levels for the pandemic, the tax rate will be 4.59 percent above the no new revenue tax rate limit. The average homestead will experience a $46.52 increase in an effort to help the county fund a $1.3 billion budget and make up for the losses caused by the pandemic.

11. Consider and take appropriate action on budget amendments, transfers, and discussion items. (Commissioner Gómez)

Monitor’s Take: This is usually an interesting item when the Commissioners Court takes it up. Last week, the discussion was postponed, but Tuesday, the commissioners will discuss last-minute transfers and additional funding requests for departments that are squeezing changes across the finish line before a new budget year begins in October.

13. Consider and take appropriate action to approve re-budgeting of debt-funded Fiscal Year 2020 capital projects into Fiscal Year 2021. (Commissioner Gómez)

Monitor’s Take: Part of each budget cycle includes evaluating the status of capital acquisition and improvement projects for potential rebudgeting in the upcoming fiscal year. While the Planning and Budget Office says no projects from this year that were paid for with taxpayer dollars will be rebudgeted for next year, they are asking to rebudget debt-funded projects for Fiscal Year 2021. This is a cost-neutral financial management tool that the county can take advantage of due to the extremely low rate it was able to extract earlier this year when it sold bonds on the market. Of course, this rebudgeting technique requires behind-the-scenes staffers to wield the levers of budget transfers and balance sheets, but the end result will be a lower overall cost for these multi-year bond-funded projects if the county can take advantage of a lower interest rate.

14. Consider and take appropriate action on the following related to the Travis County Small Business Grant program, funded by the Coronavirus Relief Fund through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act: A. Approval of initial list of 225 businesses, Waitlist #1, and Waitlist #2 B. Approval of the form of the beneficiary contract C. Delegation of authority to the County Judge to execute the beneficiary contracts as they are submitted (Commissioners Shea & Gómez)

Monitor’s Take: Nearly five months ago, Travis County originally approved a $10 million grant allocation from its federal Covid-19 relief dollars to fund small businesses in need. The Commissioners Court limited the number of recipients to a maximum of 250 businesses. After wading through the application and review process, Business & Community Lenders of Texas, which was reviewing the applications, identified 335 businesses that were eligible for funding. The Commissioners Court will vote to approve an initial 225 businesses and spread the remaining companies across two waitlists. The vast majority of the recommended businesses are in precincts 1 and 3, and no business earns over $300,000 in net revenue, with most earning less than $150,000 net revenue. Should the commissioners approve this list, each business will need to use and request reimbursement for the funds by Dec. 10.

21. Consider and take appropriate action to approve accepting a reduced payment of $26,250 for the use of Loop 360 Park as a public access portal to the Dell Match Play Golf Tournament at the Austin Country Club on March 23-29, 2020, as a part of a license agreement with World Golf Championship/PGA. (Commissioners Travillion & Shea)

Monitor’s Take: This item appears on the agenda as yet more evidence of the toll that Covid-19 has taken on the events industry. This annual golf tournament was scheduled and ready to go in March when nearly everything was halted in its tracks. Even though the tournament was canceled, the golf associations that host it did get far enough to begin preparations in the county park. As a result, the county and the event organizers are compromising on a 50 percent payment for use of county land which will be used for county park maintenance and operations. The golf tournament is currently rescheduled to take place in March 2021.

29. Consider and take appropriate action on the creation of a Travis County African American Cultural Heritage Commission as an advisory board to the Commissioners Court in matters concerning the identification, recognition, and preservation of African American cultural heritage in Travis County. (Commissioner Travillion)

Monitor’s Take: The Commissioners Court will vote on creating a commission with the sole intent of identifying, documenting and preserving history related to African Americans in Travis County. Instead of simply creating a body of stakeholders to ponder how this preservation effort can best be undertaken, the cultural heritage commission is designed to collaborate with the Travis County Historical Commission and the local community to delve into the history of African Americans in the county and develop a preservation plan for this dwindling community.

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Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2015, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and as of 2015, 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

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