What does the future of CapMetro in Leander look like? Leaders discuss

Williamson County

(KXAN)

LEANDER, Texas (KXAN) — With Leander City Council expected to consider ballot language next week for a potential Capital Metro special election, both entities are working to outline next steps for CapMetro service in the community.

On Jan. 6, Leander City Council directed city staff to prepare a special election ordinance “to include a Capital Metro proposition and a conditional proposition for either Type B economic development sales tax or general revenue sales tax.” If council votes to approve a special election ordinance, that means voters could decide on the following:

  • Should Leander continue as a member of CapMetro?
  • If voters decide to discontinue membership with CapMetro, how will the 1-cent sales tax revenue — currently allocated to CapMetro — be repurposed?

Council’s Jan. 20 meeting also marks its deadline to approve inclusion of that special election ordinance on the May 7 ballot. If the city does host an election and voters opt to discontinue membership with CapMetro, the city still has a financial obligation it must pay for that withdrawal, an estimated $33 million.

The body also voted Jan. 6 in favor of a resolution to enter into an interlocal cooperation agreement with CapMetro for future transit service offerings, even if voters choose to remove themselves as an official member of the transit authority.

On Wednesday, CapMetro’s board of directors convened to discuss future service options within Leander. Sam Sargent, director of government affairs for CapMetro, said while this discussion focused specifically on Leander, it was applicable to all of CapMetro’s small city members.

Becki Ross, CapMetro board member and mayor pro tem of Leander City Council, said the essential question the transit agency needs to answer is whether it wants to be a “true regional system” or an Austin-centric one. From the city’s perspective, Ross said a cost benefit analysis needs to be conducted to determine if CapMetro is offering services that appropriately match costs the city pays for them.

“So that’s why we’re kind of at a crux of figuring out. Because that penny ends up coming to CapMetro, how does that play?” she asked. “Because it does, from a city perspective, it hamstrings the city a bit on that economic development side.”

Over the past 10 years, the city has paid approximately $60 million for CapMetro services, Ross said; over the next 10 years, that figure is expected to rise to $160 million.

Board member Eric Stratton said this is a critical time on CapMetro’s behalf to be good stewards to its small city members — promises, he said, CapMetro has not always upheld for Leander residents.

“I truly believe Leander was getting the short end of the stick in previous years,” he said.

With Leander a key component for rail services in the greater Austin region, he said it’s critical to address ill-kept promises about rail services and restructure things so that the cost for rail services — something, Stratton said, has a regional benefit — doesn’t land solely in Leander’s lap.

As part of Wednesday’s meeting, the board unanimously voted to have staff draft up pursuance interlocal agreements with small metro cities as part of its Build Central Texas program, which will assist in providing transit-related infrastructure in fiscal year 2021-22. As part of the resolution, CapMetro staff will also work toward a $10 million budget allocation for supportive infrastructure projects for small cities that are part of CapMetro’s membership.

Randy Clarke, president and CEO of CapMetro, said he believes regionality needs to continue to be a central component in conversations on service enhancements and expansions. Transit, he said, is a network system that can not only connect people but enhance economic development opportunities within the region.

Leander City Council is expected to discuss this item at its Jan. 20 meeting, while CapMetro board members said they’ll review and vote on this resolution at the agency’s Jan. 24 meeting.

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