Travis County bond: Project list is set, but election day is not

Aug 08, 2017
This aerial view shows the soccer fields at Northeast Metropolitan Park. The proposed Travis County bond package would include funding to buy land and design a trail for the Gilleland Creek Greenway, which would connect this Pflugerville park to the Colorado River.

Travis County commissioners voted Tuesday on a list of projects for a proposed $185 million roads-and-parks bond package — but postponed a final vote until next week on whether the proposition should go before voters in November or May.

Commissioners voted 4-1, with Commissioner Gerald Daugherty opposed, to move forward with the citizens bond advisory committee’s recommendations as well as the county staff’s recommendations. They plan take a final vote Aug. 15 on the date of the election.

Among the package’s biggest-ticket items are $21.2 million to build a Bee Creek Sports Complex; $25 million for parkland acquisitions and conservation easements; $10.7 million to build a two-lane road with bike lanes and sidewalks from Texas 130 to Austin’s Colony Boulevard; and $9.5 million to build a trailhead park and infrastructure at the Onion Creek Greenway.

Once all the debt is issued in 2023, Travis Gatlin, the county budget director, said the proposed bond package will cost the average taxable homestead about $24 a year.

WHAT’S ON THE LIST: Parks, roads, drainage package finalized

If commissioners choose to put the package on the ballot in November, it would come on top of the $1.05 billion Austin schools bond package that many Travis County voters will see at the polls. Funds from the school bond package would rebuild several campuses, construct new schools and target overcrowding in pockets of the 83,000-student district.

During public comment Tuesday, Austin Chamber of Commerce representative Tina Cannon told commissioners that she supported the county bond package but worried about its timing, noting the Austin schools bond as well any city property tax bumps.

“We want to be cognizant of what you’re trying to do, what you’re trying to accomplish and support you in your success in that,” Cannon said. “(We) just want you to take a strong consideration of how timing may play a major factor in the success or failure of this particular bond issuance.”

Daugherty had expressed interest in adding a controversial project: the construction of a new two-lane road with shoulders on Reimers-Peacock Road from Texas 71 to Hamilton Pool Road, which many residents fear will pave the way for overdevelopment.

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The issue became moot, however, when Daugherty failed Tuesday to garner the necessary support from his fellow commissioners. Daugherty suggested an alternative: extend Vail Divide in Western Travis County to connect Texas 71 and Hamilton Pool Road.

Daugherty made a motion to give the commissioners flexibility to make adjustments to the project list in their precinct.

But County Judge Sarah Eckhardt and Commissioner Brigid Shea said the Vail Divide project, which hasn’t yet been studied by the county staff, comes with too many unknowns.

They also cautioned that adding such general language to a bond proposition could have unintended consequences, such as barring the court from accomplishing transportation projects in future bonds, should the measure fail.

“I had to make a statement about how disgusted I am about feeling like I have almost no say in projects in Precinct 3,” Daugherty said after Tuesday’s vote. “I don’t know how else to do that.”

Eckhardt and Shea said after the meeting that they disagreed with that assessment. Shea noted that the Bee Creek Sports Complex, one of the most expensive projects on the list, is in Daugherty’s precinct.

Even though Shea’s precinct received the least amount of funds, which she said she understood given that most of it is urban and supported by the city of Austin, the commissioner said she was pleased with the final package.

“I feel like we didn’t quite get to equity … but I’m relatively happy,” Shea said. “I feel like we balanced a lot of competing interests, and we found a way to add in projects to deal with the most dangerous flooding areas, which are the low water crossings, and not substantially increase the cost to the taxpayers.”

Eckhardt also said she approved of the list that commissioners moved forward Tuesday.

“I’m very, very proud of the final project list,” Eckhardt said. “I think it was extremely well thought-through, having gone through the filter of staff and then the filter of a quality process with the citizens bond advisory committee.”