Travis County Commissioners call for courts bond election

From left: Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt and Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea stand at the podium for a news conference Aug. 18 following a vote to call for a Nov. 3 bond election for new civil and family courts facilities.

From left: Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt and Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea stand at the podium for a news conference Aug. 18 following a vote to call for a Nov. 3 bond election for new civil and family courts facilities.

On Aug. 18, the Travis County Commissioners Court called for an order to place the $287.3 million bond election on the Nov. 3 ballot. If voters approve it, the funds will go toward a new civil and family courts complex in downtown Austin.

The court, comprising four commissioners and Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt, voted unanimously to approve the order. At a news conference, Eckhardt said the Heman Marion Sweatt Travis County Courthouse will remain the county's primary courthouse, but a new complex would provide additional space to be used for civil and family courts cases.

“We have a constitutional obligation to provide the capacity,” she said. “I believe that the proposal we are putting forward is the most effective and efficient way to provide the capacity. If we are not successful in this proposal we will have to retool and look for other ways to provide the capacity. From where I stand today, I don’t see other options that are as effective or as efficient as what we are proposing today.”

The tax impact for an average home will be around $40-$42 if it is passed, Eckhardt said, adding the court will look for cost savings and ways to generate income to reduce the burden on taxpayers.

“We’ve been talking about this issue for about eight years,” Commissioner Margaret Gómez said during the voting session. “I think it’s about time that we also include the voters in this decision-making.”

Background

The current Heman Marion Sweatt courthouse at 1000 Guadalupe St. was constructed in the 1930s, retired Judge John Dietz said during the news conference.

“We must do a better job for our citizens, for the families and for the children that use that courthouse every day,” Dietz said.

The court had been seeking ways to offset the cost of the construction of a new courthouse, including selling under-utilized county-owned property and the parking revenue from the new building. At its Aug. 11 meeting, the court voted unanimously to approve reducing the bond amount by $4.3 million to a new price tag of $287.3 million, compared with the $291.6 million budget that was set in February.

There are also plans to develop an adjacent office tower along Fourth Street between Guadalupe and Lavaca streets, and constructing that tower at the same time will also result in cost savings, Eckhardt said.

She added the downtown area has one the richest mix of transit options in any part of Travis County and will produce opportunities for income to offset overall costs.

“You couldn’t monetize parking out on I-35 and 183, for instance," Eckhardt said. "You couldn’t do it. People would not pay for the parking infrastructure after hours. They will in the central business district.”

Also at the Aug. 18 meeting, commissioners voted unanimously to approve establishing a Travis County Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone for the civil and family courts complex and Republic Square Park. Commissioners also [approved] a draft Request for Qualifications, or RFQ, that will be used to select the design-build team for the courts complex.

 


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