TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Travis County commissioners have another stacked agenda Tuesday as they prepare for the budget process and work to address affordability. Here’s what we’re watching Tuesday:
Legal help for evictions: Approved
Commissioners approved funding for a program that is intended to help keep people in their homes. The Eviction Prevention Legal Aid Program will be operated under the umbrella of Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid and will help with representation of people who are facing eviction.
“There has been a steady increase [in evictions] since the moratorium expired,” county staff explained.
Staff reported eviction filings through the Justice of the Peace were up more than 70% in March and 40% in April, respectively, compared to the average for those months in the five years leading up to the pandemic.
The one-year award of $500,000 from the Local Fiscal Recovery Fund budget will go toward hiring three full-time attorneys, a couple paralegals, a volunteer coordinator and an outreach specialist, county staff said.
“Keeping folks in their houses is the best way to prevent homelessness,” Travis County Judge Andy Brown said of the program. It passed unanimously.
Minimum wage discussions
As the City of Austin eyes an eventual move to a $22 minimum wage, Travis County commissioners all expressed the desire to also raise its minimum wage in this year’s budget.
Right now, Travis County’s minimum wage is $15. Staff talked about bumping that to $18 this budget cycle.
To move all of the people making less than $18 an hour to that minimum, it would cost the county more than $1.2 million, staff said Tuesday. That doesn’t include the money necessary for “compression,” the raise people in non-entry-level positions would get to keep them at a higher tier of pay.
“That’s nothing,” Commissioner Margaret Gómez said of the more than $1.2 million price tag. “I think that we need to really do something for our employees.”
“We’ve never tried to push the floor up by 20% before,” county staff said, noting it cost closer to $5 million-$10 million to move to $18 with compression factored in.
Commissioners asked staff to come back with some options next week. Travis County could also raise salaries for its peace officers and elected officials. The budget process will play out over the next few months.
Audit of Central Health
After Travis County commissioners voted to order an independent performance audit of Central Health, Gómez brought back a proposal Tuesday that laid out more specifics. Those were discussed in executive session Tuesday.
Commissioners voted to direct county staff to further work on the language, “because we want to make sure that we’re being very precise in the language that will form the scope of the independent performance audit,” Gómez said.
Last week, a spokesperson for Central Health said it is already independently audited annually and does an independent, third-party performance review every five years, the next being scheduled for 2023. Still, commissioners voted to order this audit now.
“While we have not heard directly, or officially, from Commissioners Court about this resolution, we support appropriate efforts that continue to improve transparency to the community – a bedrock of Central Health – but on a timeline that won’t come at the expense of serving our patient population,” said Mike Geeslin, President & CEO of Central Health last week. “We’re always eager to work with the community, especially the people that we serve, to make Central Health better – as long as we are dealing with facts versus theories, assumptions and false allegations.”
COVID-19 vaccine efforts
The county’s mobile vaccine team gave out 230 COVID-19 vaccinations last week, Constable George Morales said. That brings the county’s team to more than 15,500.
The county has a Sept. 30 deadline to decided whether they’ll continue vaccine efforts as it does now — that’s when the county’s two service contracts end. They will come back before commissioners prior to that date to decide how they county will provide services, or if they’ll discontinue or alter them.
Commissioners also briefly discussed having vaccines out at the Pride this year.
There are several locations to get a COVID-19 shot this week. You can find those locations here.