- Taylor Goldenstein American-Statesman Staff
Better jobs, better roads and transit options, more health care and a “vibrant food hub” are overdue — but on their way — to eastern Travis County, County Judge Sarah Eckhardt declared Thursday evening.
“Families in Northeast and Southeast Travis County deserve to share in the prosperity that they helped build,” Eckhardt said in her State of the County address. “In 2018, I will put a laser focus on communities and projects with the highest probability of putting prosperity in reach of those families.”
Those projects ranged from conceptual ideas to plans already in motion. Eckhardt pointed to last year’s $185 million roads, parks and drainage bond package, which contained projects primarily in eastern parts of the county. It passed with more than 70 percent of the vote.
Eckhardt pledged that all bond projects would be “underway if not completed” by 2023. The county has tried to expedite that process by hiring a private consultant-led project management team, Eckhardt said.
She also cited the Master Community Workforce Plan, a joint project with the city of Austin and nonprofit Workforce Solutions Capital Area, that sets a goal of training and placing 10,000 low-income Travis County residents in middle-skill jobs by 2021.
“Taken as a whole, Travis County households enjoy higher income, higher education and the benefits that have established Austin and Central Texas as among the top places to live in the U.S.,” Eckhardt said. “Yet too few of the hard-working families in eastern Travis County have access to a good education and a job with decent wages and benefits.”
Eckhardt said the county will work with the city, Capital Metro and the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority to improve transportation and expand transit in east Travis County.
The county, she said, has also done work to reduce another key disparity: health care access. To that end, she said, the county allowed Central Health, the county’s health care district, to create a Del Valle clinic by lending out the Travis County Employee Healthcare Clinic site on FM 973 for two days a week.
In collaboration with Austin City Council Member Delia Garza, Eckhardt said she also hoped to create a “vibrant regional food hub” in southeastern Travis County by working with local farms and small businesses.
Eckhardt also announced that Integral Care, the county’s mental health authority, received a $2.5 million grant from the state for a pilot jail diversion program that provides support services for defendants dealing with mental illness.
Eckhardt also used the address to review the peaks and valleys of 2017. She applauded the volunteer first responders and private citizens who helped their neighbors during Hurricane Harvey. In the last year, Eckhardt said Travis County has updated its emergency plans.
Some of the accomplishments of 2017 that Eckhardt cited included the opening of the new medical examiner’s facility off of Springdale Road and the Bee Creek Sports Complex in Southwest Travis County that will open in 2020 after being approved as a 2017 bond project.
Eckhardt also criticized federal and state measures that led to “dysfunctional tax policies” and “crippling of local control,” alluding to the state’s school finance formula that has led to the school portion of many residents’ tax bills soaring as well as talk among state lawmakers about reining in property taxes by limiting cities and counties from raising more revenue.
“Sharing power, sharing responsibility, sharing prosperity is the genius of a democratic nation,” Eckhardt said. “We have the courage to share in Travis County. Let’s show the region, the state and the nation how it’s done, y’all.”