Travis County explores options for providing civil, family courts capacity after voters deny bond proposal

Travis County voters to weigh new civil, family courts bond The proposed $287.3 million Travis County Civil and Family Courts Complex would have been located immediately south of Republic Square Park, down the street from the existing courthouse building.[/caption]

At its Nov. 10 meeting, the Travis County Commissioners Court is slated to receive a briefing from the county attorney on options for the county’s civil and family courts complex project during executive session.

On Nov. 3, Travis County voters rejected a bond proposal to fund a new civil and family courts complex by 1,064 votes. After the election, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said the commissioners court will have some deep conversations this next month to figure out next steps toward providing additional capacity for those areas of law.

During the Nov. 10 citizens communication process, West Austin resident Bill Oakey said he has been researching the courthouse for the past two years and wants to be involved in coming up with a solution.

“As always, my concern has been the cost issue,” said Oakey, who writes the blog Austin Affordability.

Oakey said voters sent a signal that the proposed bond's amount of $287.3 million is too much money to spend on one building.

“It’s not that the taxpayers don’t care about a courthouse; it’s just that they have concerns of their own,” he said.

A large part of expense in the proposed design, Oakey said, was the cost of thick glass to make the building secure and suggested dividing courts between high- and low-risk courts. Hallways in the proposals were too wide and could be more narrow to save space, he said.

“We really have to think very very creatively to find a solution to this problem, or we’re never going to get it solved,” Oakey said.

A few groups, including the Travis County Taxpayers Union, voiced their opposition to the bond proposal in the weeks leading up to the election, citing reasons such as the cost burden on taxpayers and the potential downtown Austin location for the courts complex.

In a Nov. 4 news release, the county stated that the current Heman Marion Sweatt Travis County Courthouse does not meet needs, and Travis County would start working immediately to “explore all options available to us to provide, as soon as possible, safe, suitable, and sufficient space for the efficient operation of our civil justice system.”