Updated Aug. 15 at 12:05 p.m. to reflect Travis County Commissioners Court's vote on bond date, procedure
With Precinct 3 Commissioner Gerald Daugherty off the dais this morning, Travis County Commissioners today unanimously approved calling its $185 million bond referendum for the Nov. 7 election.
The county's bond council will proof the proposed ballots, or ensure the ballots are accurate, on Sept. 12. Early voting runs from Oct. 23-Nov. 3.
An outreach program to educate voters on the referendum, coupled with a map of bond project locations, amounts and tax impacts will be conducted Sept. 20-Nov. 6, Judge Sarah Eckhardt said.
"Travis County has not gone out for a parks and road bond since 2011," Precinct 2 Commissioner Brigid Shea said. "It was 2006 before that."
Precinct 1 Commissioner Jeff Travillion said the bond aims to fund "safe roads to school, evacuation roads, low water crossings—places where people have been killed."
"This is a health and safety bond," he said.
Most of the projects will "happen east of I-35," Eckhardt said, adding that she hopes to duplicate the process used to arrive at the approved 2017 bond package again in four years.
Travis County tries to bring bonds on a regular basis, as opposed to large bonds spaced out timewise, to smooth out the tax burden for the taxpayer, she said.
"The Commissioner is out this week in Ruidoso and was unable to Skype in to participate in today’s Court meeting," Daugherty's Executive Assistant Martin Zamzow said in an email to Community Impact Newspaper. "He’ll be back next week."
Published Aug. 15 at 9:30 a.m.
Following several iterations of a list of projects to be included in a Travis County bond, Travis County Commissioners Court finalized the proposal and approved a $185 million bond package Aug. 8, with the date of the referendum—either November or May 2018—to be determined at a special voting session Aug. 15.
The bond will be in addition to other improvements totaling $94,955,309 that the court approved at the Aug. 8 meeting but do not require voter approval.
The total tax impact of these measures tallies $36.34 annually for the average Travis County homestead valued at $305,173 for fiscal year 2018.
The bond will be funded over five years and taxpayers should see the bond reflected in their bill beginning fiscal year 2019.
Nuts and bolts
The Travis County Citizens Bond Advisory Committee, tasked with determining potential projects for the bond, addressed the safety needs of Travis County’s unincorporated areas that are not within any municipal city limits, whittling a project list originally estimated at $1.1 billion down to $144 million, advisory committee chairman Ron Wattinger said. The committee acknowledged Precinct 4, in the southeastern portion of the county, has been historically underserved with respect to infrastructure investment and gave it the lion’s share of the proposed bond funding, he said.
“There is a large investment on the eastern side of the county with respect to transportation projects,” Vice Chairman John Langmore said. “I think [the funding allocation to Precinct 4] was based on what people of eastern Travis County had to say. We also toured eastern Travis County extensively and saw great needs that exist out there and felt that it was time to make some changes that maybe should have been made a while back.”
Two key projects in the Lake Travis-Westlake region received funding in Travis County’s final bond proposal and annual appropriations.
The Bee Creek Sports Complex, on Bee Creek Road near West Hwy. 71, was awarded $21.2 million in the proposal.
However, Precinct 3 Commissioner Gerald Daugherty questioned Travis County staff on not funding the project until 2021. He was the only commissioner to vote against the proposed list of bond projects. He said the $7.5 million project to improve Northeast Metropolitan Park that was added to the bond package in the prior weeks is proposed to be funded in 2018, a schedule he deems “unacceptable.”
“I cannot go out and defend a $7.5 million [park] project that has come on in the last two weeks, when we have for five or six months, talked about the number one issue in western Travis County, the Bee Creek Sports Complex,” Daugherty said. “When people in western Travis County find out that this is a 2021 [project], which means it is probably done in 2022, that is not going to sit well with people in western Travis County.”
Funding for Hamilton Pool Road improvements is included in the project list, but its allocation was reduced to $4.6 million—or less than half of what was originally requested. The project will include the addition of left-turn lanes along the roadway.
“With respect to Hamilton Pool Road, we tried to strike a balance on doing some improvements on the safety of the roadway because there, in fact, have been some deaths there,” Langmore said. “But at the same time [we were] trying to respect the will of those people [who] said that section of Hamilton Pool Road is beautiful in some part because of the current condition of the roadway itself. ”
Reimers-Peacock Road Controversy
Although not contained in the final bond proposal, Daugherty challenged the committee on its exclusion of a project that would construct Reimers-Peacock Road and connect West Hwy. 71 to Hamilton Pool Road. Reimers-Peacock has the potential to relieve traffic from Hamilton Pool Road, a two-lane, shoulderless road without turn lanes, he said.
This road was originally included in the advisory committee project list before members pared it down to recommend 50 projects. A Lake Travis ISD middle school is also targeted for the area.
“In the foreseeable future, I don’t see a lack of growth [within the LTISD boundaries],” Daugherty said. “How do you not jump out in front of this stuff?”
Langmore said he thought the Reimers-Peacock area would be developed at a later date.
“There are parts of eastern Travis County that are straining under existing growth where it is right now—and they don’t have the access they need,” he said. “In my mind, you would be planning for some future period that hasn’t yet happened if you invested in Reimers-Peacock versus bringing eastern Travis County up to where it needs to be.”
At the July 25 Commissioners Court meeting, more than 20 residents from the Hamilton Pool Road area—as well as the Save Barton Creek Association and Save Our Springs Alliance—spoke in support of maintaining the proposal without a Reimers-Peacock project, and 14 residents addressed the issue Aug. 8.
“Including Reimers-Peacock is giving taxpayer money to build a road that a few wealthy landowners want so they can develop their property,” said Nell Penridge, a Hamilton Pool Road resident and former Emergency Services District No. 6 fire commissioner.
“If the property owners want to do develop it, fine,” she said. “But let it be a process whereby the market will bear development and infrastructure costs, not Travis County taxpayers.”
Although ESD 6 and the Pedernales Fire Department have stated support for the project, Penridge said the greatest fire safety concern—not having fire stations on the western end of Hamilton Pool Road and Hwy. 71—has dissipated since property has been purchased in the corridor for a new station.
Having also served on the bond advisory committee in 2005 and 2011, Penridge said a project to construct Reimers-Peacock was brought up and dismissed in each of those bond proposal discussions.
Daugherty requested the flexibility to explore funding a Vail Divide Road extension—a road not in the bond committee’s approved list of projects—as an alternate connection from West Hwy. 71 to Hamilton Pool Road.
“We haven’t studied [a Vail Divide extension project] from an operational perspective,” Eckhardt said. “It’s certainly worthy of exploring. I do worry, however, that we would put a project that is in the recipe phase in the same bucket with things that are in the oven.”
The Commissioners Court will adopt an order Aug. 15 specifying a bond election date. Commissioners considered if the election was held in May, taxpayers would be required to vote not only on the Travis County bond but on possible school district bond proposals that may increase the tax burden of some Precinct 3 residents, including an Austin ISD $1.05 billion bond. An LTISD proposal is not slated to add a tax increase.
Luz Moreno-Lozano contributed to this article.