Commentary: Why I support Travis County’s investment in parks

Recently, the Statesman’s editorial board encouraged voters to support Travis County Proposition A — bonds dedicated to transportation and flood mitigation projects in eastern Travis County. I agree wholeheartedly with that opinion. At the same time, they concluded the parks and open-space projects in Proposition B could wait until some point in the future. On this point, I respectfully but strongly disagree.

I was vice-chair of the 14-member Citizens Bond Advisory Committee created to recommend projects for this election. We spent six months analyzing the needs of Travis County residents and projects specifically designed to address those needs. We started with $1.1 billion of projects and whittled those down by 74 percent to $280 million of projects — the $184.9 million in Props A and B, and the $95 million of certificates of obligation.

EDITORIAL BOARD: Road, drainage fixes needed — but parks can wait.

The issues these projects address include residents’ safety during times of flooding and congestion; pedestrian and cyclist safety; sports parks badly in need of maintenance and upgrades; loss of open space to development; and well-considered plans for future parks needed to serve a growing population.

In arriving at this conservative set of projects for such a fast-growing county, we were driven largely by a consensus to mitigate the tax burden to citizens. Important in that respect was the fact that Travis County has largely held the per capita tax burden constant for years and is projected to do so well into the future. To be clear, the rising taxes the editorial board cited are not a consequence of the Travis County portion of your tax bill; Travis County taxes have fluctuated in a narrow band between $574 and $612 per person, per year, since 2013. In fact, 2017 produced the lowest tax bill in that period.

Importantly, our recommendations were also guided by residents’ input received at each of our weekly meetings, as well as six well-attended public forums held across the county.

I also chaired our Parks and Open Space Subcommittee, so me and the committee members dug deeply into the proposed parks and benefits they offer Travis County residents. Based on our own experiences and testimony from experts and residents, what we learned is that our parks are beloved and heavily used. Sports fields are needed where none exist — and those that do exist need of improvements from years of consistent use. Potential parkland along key waterways is under threat from development. Waiting to acquire that parkland will only render it prohibitively expensive in the future — or worse yet, lost forever to development.

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At one public meeting, we listened to dozens of young children plead with us to recommend funding for a new sports complex. I was personally moved not only by the passion of this future generation of Travis County voters but also by their strong commitment to the democratic process.

While listening to them speak, I reflected on my forebears’ decisions to set aside parkland and my own pending decisions as a committee member and voter. With respect to the decisions of those that preceded me, I realized how grateful I am they invested in parks like Reimers Ranch, Hippie Hollow, Hamilton Pool, Richard Moya Park and all the other places that account for so many of the reasons I love living here.

With respect to our own decisions, I’m certain the generation that follows us will be equally grateful if we choose to grant them the same great places to grow up. To do so, we need only set aside on average $24 per year and vote “yes” for Proposition B.

Langmore is a former transportation consultant in Austin.

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