Travis County commissioners authorize November bond election

5:14 p.m Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017 Politics
American-Statesman file photo

Travis County commissioners voted Tuesday to put a $185 million bond package on the Nov. 7 ballot, despite concern that a large proposed Austin schools bond package on the same ballot could turn off voters to more spending.

The vote was unanimous, with Commissioner Gerald Daugherty absent.

Commissioners on Aug. 8 voted on the final list of parks, roads and drainage projects to be included in the bond propositions, which are mainly in the eastern and southeastern portions of the county.

Among the package’s big-ticket roads items are $10.7 million to build a two-lane road from Harold Green/Texas 130 to Austin’s Colony Boulevard; $8.6 million to build a four-lane divided road to eventually connect an extended South Pleasant Valley Road from FM 1327 to Bradshaw Road, 1,000 feet south of River Plantation Drive; and $6.1 million to widen Thaxton Road to a four-lane road from McKinney Falls Parkway to Sassman Road. All would include bike lanes and sidewalks.

The largest parks and open spaces projects include $21.2 million to build a Bee Creek Sports Complex; $10 million and $15 million respectively for parkland acquisitions and conservation easements; $9.5 million to build a trailhead park and infrastructure at the Onion Creek Greenway; and $7.5 million to convert the Northeast Metro Park soccer fields to artificial turf and add lights, fencing, bleachers and other infrastructure.

The last time the county tried to pass a bond election for a new, $287 million courthouse in 2015, voters narrowly rejected the measure. Before that, the most recent bond election was for roads and parks, which passed in 2011.

Once all the debt is issued in 2023, officials have said that the proposed package will cost the average taxable homestead about $24 a year.

At last week’s meeting, commissioners discussed the possibility of a May election, given that November’s ballot for many Travis County voters also will include a $1.05 billion Austin schools bond package.

County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said after Tuesday’s meeting that while she did consider the timing with the Austin school district bond proposition, she said she didn’t hear evidence that holding off on the bond election until May would be good for either the county or school district.

Eckhardt said she felt the process of planning by the county’s staff and the citizens bond advisory committee had to be respected, and the projects were important and urgent enough that they required action now.

“Politics certainly come into play, but politics have to take a back seat to policy,” Eckhardt said.

Kendall Pace, president of the Austin school district’s board of trustees, said Tuesday that both her board and the court have put together bond proposals that they think are “vital and pivotal.”

“I trust Travis County and AISD voters,” Pace said. “I trust them to evaluate these proposals and make the right decisions.”

Before the vote Tuesday, Ted Siff, president of the Shoal Creek Conservancy, had recommended against moving the election to May, noting, like Eckhardt, what he described as the court’s responsibility to stick with its planning process.

“Anything other than a November election would call into question the entire process that you’ve created over the last six to eight months,” Siff said.

Austin Chamber of Commerce representative Tina Cannon, who had urged commissioners to consider the timing of their election and the school district’s last week, said in an interview that she still held some concerns about the two being on the same ballot.

Cannon said the chamber board will officially vote this month on its stance on the county bond package, taking into consideration the city’s proposed tax swap with the Austin school district and other pending tax decisions.

“We just have to balance all of the other kind of complex tax impacts … and make sure this is the right thing to do,” Cannon said. “County bonds have struggled the last couple times out, and we want to make sure that they’re thinking in a way that’s strategic so they can be successful.”

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