Judge Sarah Eckhardt provides updates on bond projects, economic development and health care in State of the County

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County Judge Sarah Eckhardt addressed county residents, employees and regional leaders Thursday evening declaring her goals and desires for 2018 as part of the State of the County.
County bond projects, improvements to eastern Travis County and health care were among the many topics she touched on.

Bond projects
• In November 2017, voters approved a $185 million transportation and parks bond with more than 70 percent of the vote and the county has begun investing an additional $95 million in crucial safety projects on roadways and in neighborhoods devastated by floods.
“I pledge to you that every one of those projects will be well under way if not completed by 2023,” Eckhardt said. “We will be doubling our in-house project management capacity by adding a private consultant-led project management team. As these two teams work collaboratively, we will also tap the talents of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority to expedite our crucial safety projects in underserved Southeast Travis County.”

Health Care
• The county collaborated with Central Health, Community Care, Integral Care, St. David’s Foundation, Seton and the University of Texas Medical School to address the healthcare needs of the community.
“At the end of 2017 Travis County, Community Care and Integral Care answered a need long expressed by Commissioner [Margaret] Gomez and the residents of Del Valle for clinic services,” Eckhardt said. “Co-located with the Travis County Employee Wellness Clinic, Community Care and Integral Care now also provide health care services and behavioral health to the community at large.”
• A new medical examiners facility and established forensic pathology fellowship program will also added to county’s accomplishments in 2018.

Workforce
• In an effort to make sure low-income county residents have a share in the region’s prosperity, the city and county kicked off the Master Community Workforce Plan in collaboration with Workforce Solutions of the Capital Area with the goal of training and placing 10,000 low income Travis County residents in middle skill jobs with promising careers by 2021.

Developing the East side
• Eckhardt said in 2018 she and Commissioner [Jeff] Travillion will work with the city of Austin, Capital Metro, and the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority to expedite construction of transportation corridors and to expand transit beyond the current Cap Metro service area in an effort to improve accessibility and quality of life in north and southeast Travis County.
• She added that she and Councilmember Delia Garza are committed to creating a regional food hub with local farms, small businesses, satisfying jobs, access to healthy food and significant economic stimulus.
“Families in northeast and southeast Travis County deserve to share in the prosperity that they helped build,” Eckhardt said.
• In addition to building the local food economy, Eckhardt said over the next year the county will explore the location, job types and entrepreneurial opportunities of an expanding festival economy at the Exposition Center, in public parks and on private lands along the banks of Eastern Travis County.

Criminal Justice
• Travis County in collaboration with District Attorney Margaret Moore, County Attorney David Escamilla, Sheriff Sally Hernandez, and many others are working together to take nonthreatening criminals out of the county jails and are looking for innovative ways to deal with low-level felony drug possession cases.
• In 2018 the public servants who have been meeting weekly for two years have been joined by community representatives and an outside expert to begin looking forward to a new DNA analysis system that will prevent any errors and contamination of samples in the future, she said.
“I have confidence in the process in place to review the cases and provide justice to those who have been harmed,” Eckhardt said.

Parks and Recreation
• The county is In the final stages of completing the constellation of four regional metro parks and 30 miles of Eastern Travis County trails unique among urban counties in Texas, Eckhardt said.
• By 2020 the county is expected to cut the ribbon on the Bee Creek Sports Complex in Southwest Travis County, the last of our four regional metro parks.
• As part of the county bond projects, the county will significantly expand the trail systems in Eastern Travis County. Before 2021, the county will cut the ribbon on the Onion Creek Greenway project, developed in partnership with the City of Austin to include playgrounds, picnic areas, fishing ponds and more than 11 miles of multi-use trails from US 183 to where Onion Creek meets the Colorado River.
• To the north, Eckhardt said the county purchased more than 1200 acres on Gilleland Creek for the next greenway that will run from Pflugerville, through Manor, to the Colorado River near Webberville. Land acquisition and design for this 19-mile trail is underway now.
“Our wild places are disappearing rapidly,” Eckhardt said. “We must speed up our pace of preserving the waterfront beauty of these eastern creeks, along with the wildlife habitat and flood management benefits they provide. Future generations will thank us and we encourage all Travis County residents to visit our wonderful county parks.”

Local Control
• Governor Greg Abbott has instructed the next legislature to further limit local control by capping local tax revenues. A cap means an even greater percentage of local revenues will go to unfunded state or federal mandates leaving even less to address local goals in justice, economic development and environmental stewardship, Eckhardt said.
“We are speaking out and reaching out, finding all kinds of opportunities to share costs, leverage successes and increase our reach,” Eckhardt said. “We will keep the door open and the lights on for our partners in state and federal government. There are many committed public servants in both parties and in all levels of government willing to share responsibility for shared prosperity. I look forward to expanding existing partnerships and welcoming new and perhaps unanticipated allies in our work.”

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