The average Travis County homeowner will pay about $32 more in county taxes than last year.
Travis County commissioners on Tuesday approved a $1.04 billion budget and a tax rate of 36.90 cents per $100 of taxable value.
While that’s lower than last year’s rate of 38.38 cents, it’s higher than the 35.68-cent tax rate that the county would need to charge to raise the same amount of money as this past year, once rising property values are factored in.
For the owner of the average $305,173 home, the rate approved Tuesday will translate to a tax bill of about $1,126.09, up from last year’s bill of $1,094.41.
County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said Tuesday that she was “very pleased” with the approved budget and tax rate, which the Commissioners Court approved unanimously.
“Since 2014, the real tax burden on the average taxpayer has only risen by less than 3 percent,” Eckhardt said. “(The budget) has grown appropriately with our population growth, and we are being prudent with the resources.”
The county budget includes a general fund of $749 million, up 6.8 percent from last year’s $701 million. The budget also includes $93 million in debt service for debt that’s already been issued.
The spending plan includes about $2.2 million for the county clerk for upcoming elections, about $1.8 million for jail inmate services, including supplies and staff, and about $1 million for Balcones Canyonland preservation, plus capital improvement projects.
Capital improvement projects include $3.6 million to add a second story to the Travis County Tax Office building at 5501 Airport Blvd. and expand the office, $2.2 million for annual road maintenance and construction, $1.7 million for correctional building maintenance at Del Valle, and $1 million to replace radios in the county’s emergency services department.
About $56.7 million is set to be issued with certificates of obligation, or bonds that don’t require voter approval.
The county could be borrowing more in the near future if voters in November approve a $185 million bond package for parks, roads and drainage projects. If the bond package passes, officials have said it will cost the average taxable homestead about $24 a year once all the debt is issued in 2023.
One project to be funded by $18.8 million in certificates of obligation in this year’s budget is the initial construction phase of the former federal courthouse, which the county acquired from the federal government in December to use for a probate court expansion.
Another project, $6.6 million for the design and construction preparation for a new facility for women at the Travis County Correctional Complex, drew concerns from several criminal justice system reform advocates.
County officials said the current facility lacks space and cannot meet the growing numbers of female inmates, including those needing extra security and those with medical and mental health needs.
Advocates on Tuesday argued that funding for better pretrial and preventative programs and services that could decrease the inmate population should take priority over simply increasing jail capacity.
“Even with the greatest of resources, jail sets people back,” said Ranjana Natarajan, director of the Civil Rights Clinic at the University of Texas’ School of Law. “Let’s not build more and more jail beds — (because) we will fill them.”
Eckhardt stressed that overall jail capacity would not increase under the proposed project. Rather, more of the current capacity would be allocated to women.
She said that she planned to set up a meeting with the advocates’ groups and county officials to discuss the issue. The project is still in preliminary planning stages, she said, and there is still time to make adjustments according to their feedback.
Commissioner Gerald Daugherty suggested ongoing feedback meetings led by the county’s Justice Planning Department could improve communication.