Travis County commissioners stress budget constraints in response to funding requests

Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore presents at a Commissioners Court budget hearing Aug. 22.

Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore presents at a Commissioners Court budget hearing Aug. 22.

During discussions about the upcoming fiscal year’s budget, Travis County commissioners stressed that additional funding requests from one department will require docking funds from another.

“It’s not going to possible this year really to just raise the tax rate,” County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said at an Aug. 20 meeting. “Because we will go to the max. And then the next year, there’s actually going to be less [money] because our rollback [rate] this year is 8[%]. Next year it will be 3.5[%].”

The preliminary $1.2 billion FY 2019-20 budget was presented July 30 and represents a 10% increase from last year’s adopted budget.

The proposed tax rate to balance this preliminary budget is $0.3658 per $100 of taxable value. This represents a 6% increase over the effective maintenance and operations rate and approaches the rollback rate of 8%.

Commissioners have repeatedly discussed the need to increase property tax revenue this year to create a cushion before the 3.5% rollback rate takes effect next year.

“We’re trying to look out to 2025 because we have to weather any economic event that comes at us with less ability to weather the storm given the artificial cap on revenue,” said Jessica Rio, county executive for the planning and budget office.

Representatives from One Voice Central Texas—a coalition of local nonprofit health and human services organization—urged commissioners at an Aug. 20 meeting to increase funding for the health and human services department.

“What we are seeing in all of our member agencies is an increase in the acuity of the people we are serving. People are hurting more and more, and it harder and harder to connect them with all the tools they need to build wellbeing in this community,” said Jo Kathryn Quinn, CEO of the homelessness services nonprofit Caritas of Austin, which is a member of One Voice Central Texas.

Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, who represents Precinct 3, asked Quinn from which other departments the court should pull funding to meet her request.

At an Aug. 22 budget hearing, four county departments made requests for additional funding not included in the preliminary budget

Precinct 3 constables asked for a traffic safety unit.

District Attorney Margaret Moore asked for new full-time salaries for the county’s adult sexual assault unit.

The health and human services department asked for funding to continue family resource centers; located at area schools, the centers serve vulnerable populations, providing physical and mental health resources, adult education programs, case management and help with utility bills.

And the transportation and natural resources department asked for funding for traffic impact analysis, parkland management and other programs.

While commissioners were supportive of the programs at hand, they repeatedly brought up concerns about expanding the budget in light of the coming revenue cap.

“This seems to me like kind of a Cadillac program,” Commissioner Brigid Shea, who represents Precinct 2, said of Moore’s request for a more robust specialized unit.

About the resource centers, Eckhardt said, “There is no doubt that this a wonderful program… I don’t want you all to take away from whatever budget decision that we make here [that it] is in any way a judgment on the program.”