Travis Co. Commissioners could slash jobs, raise fees in wake of new property tax law

Travis County

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Travis County Commissioners hope to find additional funding sources before the state’s new property tax law takes effect next year.

County officials met Tuesday to discuss the next steps since state lawmakers voted to put a 3.5% cap on property tax revenue, down from the current 8%.

Soon, it may cost you more money to go to your county park as permit fees could increase.

The county also may start charging more within its inter-local agreements, like when it provides school resource officers to neighboring districts.

Specifically, county staff will look for ways to recover indirect funds associated with that work, such as fleet management and maintenance.

“We’re not trying to be punitive to anyone, we’re just trying to be fair to Travis County,” said Commissioner Gerald Daugherty. “We’re going to lean on all of our people, just like we’re leaning on everyone else.”

Another example is the county’s interlocal agreement with Briarcliff. Currently, the county provides Sheriff’s Deputies for the area and the contract fees include operating costs. Through the Cost Allocation Plan, the county could recover several indirect costs including fleet management, IT and radio system support, financial and legal support, human resource management and facility maintenance.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is briarcliff-law-enforcement.jpg

Services like offering rental and utility assistance and food banks provided by the county and are also under review.

Internally, county officials said they’re considering eliminating positions in departments that have been open and unfilled for more than a year.

“We do agree that because of (Senate Bill 2) it’s going to force some serious cuts into our budget and what those cuts are the county is looking at as we speak,” said Hector Nieto, the Travis County’s public information officer.

History & Future of Travis County’s Budget

Source: Travis County

“Only twice we were at or above an 8.5% and that was due to an economic recession,” Nieto said. “In good economic outlooks, you would see where our tax rate would actually go lower and the Court would vote multiple times to lower the tax rate because the county was doing fine.”

Court documents show PBO has estimated the county will face “funding challenges in future fiscal years” since the majority of revenue comes from property taxes.

They estimate there will be around $30 million less in annual revenue and “budget flexibility” at the 3.5% cap.

Source: Travis County

“We now have to take into consideration our steady growth rate has been at about 4%,” Nieto added.

If at some point, governmental entities like Travis County would like to increase its property tax revenue by more than 3.5%, the legislation requires voter approval.

The 3.5% cap on property tax revenue will go into effect in the fall of 2020.

County’s Public Defender’s Office Future

The cap on property tax revenue commissioners are concerned about could also play a role on whether the county can move forward with setting up its first public defenders office.

Tuesday, commissioners received a status check on its grant application to the Travis Indigent Defense Commission.

MORE: Advocates lay out plan for Travis County public defender office

The total cost for salaries, benefits, and other expenses for the office would run about $9 million a year.

The first four years, grant money from the Texas Indigent Defense Commission would offset about half the total cost.

Because of the looming property tax caps, commissioners on Tuesday asked staff to determine what the needs vs. wants were for the project, with the hope of lowering the cost.

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