Update published Jan. 15 at 2:37 p.m.
In a 4-0 vote on Jan. 15, Travis County Commissioners unanimously approved $328.5 million in certificates of obligation to pay for a new courts facility. Commissioner Brigid Shea was absent.
“We are not going forward against the vote of the people,” Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said.
Her comment references a failed 2015 bond to fund a civil and family courts facility. At that time, Travis County voters weighed in on a different method of financing and a different proposal for the overall project, she said.
Original story published Dec. 11 at 10:49 a.m.
Travis County will spend an estimated $344 million on its future civil and family courts facility, based on a Dec. 11 report by Travis County budget staff.
County Judge Sarah Eckhardt described the courts facility as “a deep public need that has been long overdue,” during the presentation.
Despite county voters rejecting a bond to build a similar courts facility estimated at $313 million in 2015, commissioners in July signed an exclusive negotiation agreement with Travis County Courthouse Development Partners LLC, which will provide the land in downtown Austin and will build the 430,000-square-foot square-foot facility.
The county will foot the bill with $16.1 million from county funds and will seek no more than $328.5 million in certificates of obligation—debt that does not require voter approval. The actual amount of debt could be less, depending on final negotiations, according to Travis County Budget Director Travis Gatlin.
The certificates of obligation will be paid back over a 20-year period, Gatlin said. During that time, the average property owner can expect to pay an additional $35.11 per year in property taxes, although the FY 2020 amount will be closer to $38.46 for the average property owner.
Future revenue that will be applied toward to the debt service includes $52.2 million over the next 20 years from the lease of a county building located at 308 Guadalupe Street, Gatlin said.
“The court intends to be efficient with the certificates of obligation to keep the cost as low as possible,” Hector Nieto, county spokesperson, told Community Impact Newspaper.
The project is a years-long effort triggered by a 2009 county assessment, which found Travis County lacked adequate facilities for existing and future needs of the civil and family justice system. The Heman Marion Sweatt Courthouse—which has been in use since 1931—is too small and cramped for the rapidly-expanding county.