Travis County releases preliminary $1.2 billion budget for FY 2019-20

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Travis County staff presented a preliminary $1.2 billion budget for fiscal year 2019-20 at a July 30 meeting of the Commissioners Court.

As proposed, the preliminary budget represents a nearly 10% increase from last year’s adopted budget, including a general fund of $858.85 million.

The proposed tax rate to balance the preliminary budget is $0.367 per $100 of taxable value. This rate represents a 6% increase over the effective maintenance and operations tax rate.

Over the past five years, the county has raised its effective maintenance and operations tax rate by an average of 2.7%.

This year’s budget process has been impacted by the recently passed property tax revenue cap, which will take effect in October 2020 and reduce the rollback rate from 8% to 3.5%.

“This year has challenged us to think more strategically as we face greater pressures from State government and local demands for increased services,” County Executive Jessica Rio and Budget Director Travis Gatlin wrote in a July 22 letter to commissioners. “All funding decisions in the FY 2020 Preliminary Budget have been mindful of the implementation of the new cap for the FY 2021 budget process.”

Additionally, the county is pursuing the creation of a general public defender’s office. Earlier this year, it submitted a grant proposal to the Texas Indigent Defense Commission, a state agency that provides financial and technical support to counties to develop their indigent defense systems.

If awarded, the county will receive around half of the start-up costs associated with the new office over five years. Once the grant runs out, however, the county will be responsible for funding the office in full.

Budget staff estimate the office, as proposed, will cost the county $14.8 million annually once the grant term expires in FY 2024-25.

“Both of these issues have pushed the Planning and Budget Office to place a great emphasis on core mandated services, non-property tax revenue and data driven decisions to continue to improve the [efficiency]and effectiveness of County programs to meet the goals of the County,” Rio and Gatlin wrote.

Under the proposed rate, the owner of an average-value home will see an annual increase of around $121 in her property tax bill to the county.

County staff estimate the average-value home in Travis County to be $348,887 this year, an increase of nearly 7% from $326,894.

The Commissioners Court will hold public hearings on the proposed tax rate on Sept. 17 and 20 and on its proposed budget on Sept. 24. Commissioners are scheduled to adopt the budget and tax rate Sept. 24.

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Emma Freer
Emma Freer began covering Central Austin for Community Impact Newspaper in 2017. Her beat includes the Travis County Commissioners Court and local business news. She graduated from Columbia Journalism School in 2017.
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