A Travis County citizens bond advisory committee on Tuesday recommended a $144 million bond package for the November ballot and $90 million in projects to be funded by bonds that don’t require voter approval.
Out of a county-provided list of possible projects totaling $1.1 billion, the committee selected more than 50 transportation- and parks-related projects outlined in two bond propositions, to be completed over four years.
The transportation proposition totals about $58 million, and the parks proposition totals about $73 million. The rest of the money could cover project management costs.
The Travis County Commissioners Court will hold a public hearing on the committee’s recommended package on July 25 and vote on the final package Aug. 8.
If commissioners place the roads and parks package on the ballot as expected, it would come on top of the $1.05 billion Austin schools bond package that many Travis County voters will also see at the polls in November. Funds from the school bond package would rebuild several campuses, construct new schools and target overcrowding in pockets of the 83,000-student district.
For both the school and county bonds, officials have said the additional borrowing could be paid off without raising tax rates, though as properties increase in value, the same tax rate leads to a higher bill.
In the proposed Travis County bonds that would go before voters, a quarter of the funding would go to projects in Precinct 1, which covers a large part of East Austin and eastern Travis County, while 39 percent would go to Precinct 3, which covers the western part of the county.
The committee proposed spending about 17 percent of the bond money in southeastern Travis County’s Precinct 4, which has experienced immense growth in recent years, “while infrastructure investments in that precinct have historically been inadequate,” members wrote in a memo.
“The (committee) viewed this bond package as primarily addressing the needs of Travis County in the extra-territorial jurisdiction, not within the various municipal city limits,” committee members wrote in the memo.
Committee chair and Del Valle resident Ron Wattinger said the committee felt it was “playing catch-up” in the outlying parts of Travis County where resources are desperately needed. He added that southeastern Travis County has received less than 25 percent of total bond funding for years.
“It’s also one of the fastest growing parts of the county,” Wattinger said. “As the city of Austin is continuing to have development and pushing people to the outskirts of the city, it is a place where you have people in the most need that don’t have the infrastructure.”
County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said she was pleased that the bond committee chose projects based on need, rather than trying to allocate an equal distribution of projects in each precinct.
“That was incredibly brave to move past an artificial political spreading of the peanut butter and instead get to what our highest-priority needs were,” Eckhardt said. “So I don’t want to shy away from the obvious questions that are going to come to us with regard to the distribution.”
The only thing missing from the proposal, in her opinion, were flood mitigation issues that will be identified in a $1 million county-funded Halff Associates flood study that is due to come out in the fall. But those projects will likely be covered by certificates of obligation, which don’t require voter approval, she said.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Jeff Travillion commended the committee for its process and the way it identified its priorities, visited project sites and then chose projects based on need.
“I think the outcomes reflect what you see when you drive across this community: that there are some places that are desperate for resources,” Travillion said.
Precinct 3 Commissioner Gerald Daugherty also said he was happy with the proposed bond package and the inclusion of the Bee Creek Sports Complex, a proposed sports complex on a 70-acre tract on Bee Creek Road.
But he said he would like to see the construction of a new two-lane road with shoulders on Reimers-Peacock Road from Texas 71 to Hamilton Pool Road. The road has raised controversy in the past because of residents’ concerns that it would open the area to too much development.
Daugherty said he will review the project list to see what he can switch out of his precinct’s projects to make room for Reimers-Peacock, emphasizing he didn’t intend to take away from other precincts.
“If I’m not in office, that road may never be built, and I think that is a big, big, big mistake,” he said.
Committee Vice Chair John Langmore said the committee wasn’t worried about spurring development by including the project, but rather, members found that eastern Travis County projects were more urgent and took priority.
Wary of residents’ affordability concerns as well as recent large bond packages that have failed, Travis County commissioners had indicated a preference earlier this year to adopt a strategy of proposing smaller bonds more frequently, rather than larger bonds periodically.
The court had asked the committee to draw up three options of bond packages at small, medium and large sizes.
But in June, the committee returned to the court saying it wasn’t able to come up with a bond proposal at the small size of about $50 million for a two-year bond. The group later decided to move to a four-year bond.
Earlier this year, the court approved a new policy that set guidelines for safety-related projects that ought to be covered by certificates of obligation, or bonds that don’t require voter approval.
Correction: This article has been updated to indicate that Travis County, not another entity, paid for the $1 million flood mitigation study.