Every Tuesday the Travis County Commissioners Court meets to publicly discuss and vote on county business. Because Brigid isn't just interested in being elected but also being an effective leader, we will be publishing a blog each Tuesday on that weeks highlights from the Commissioners Court to keep you up to date on what's going on in Travis County government.
This is a report on some of the items the court takes up each Tuesday and not representative of Brigid's take on the matter.
Do Trees Trump Roads?
The highlight of Tuesday’s Travis County Commissioners Court voting session begged the question, What’s more important--preserving trees or building roads?
At the heart of Item #5 on today’s agenda--a healthy, 100-year-old, 30-inch heritage live oak tree on Frate Barker Road in Southern Travis County. Unfortunately, that tree sits smack dab in the middle of a road expansion project site.
Travis County and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) are developing a plan to widen Frate Barker. (The federal government will foot $9.2 million of the $11.5 million project leaving Travis County to pay for the rest.) As part of the road work, the county is considering either chopping the tree down and transplanting it, or replacing it with smaller oak trees.
Neighbors, including four children, addressed the court with an emotional plea to save the tree they’ve named “Cami” in honor of two girls who died of cancer. A community group has even gathered nearly 500 signatures on a petition to support saving the tree. Cost could very well end up being the deciding factor; it would cost Travis County a projected $245,000 to transplant the tree and only $20,000 to replace it with smaller trees. It’s possible the county could get an 80% discount on both options knocking those costs down to about $49,000 and $4,000, respectively. At this point, the county’s staff recommends going with the cheaper option.
No judgments were made this week; the item will be back on the agenda next week after the county researches if there are cheaper ways to relocate the live oak. Perhaps the court will be swayed by the adorableness of the children who virtually begged it not to chop down their neighborhood tree. But, Pct. 3 Commissioner Gerald Daugherty--who implied he’d be supportive of relocating tree at a reasonable cost--ended the hour-long discussion with a word of warning.
“This is very dangerous, in my opinion, for there to be a tree versus a road,” he said. “This does distress me a little bit to think a road might be held hostage because of a tree. I know of no one who wants to cut a tree down, but the problem we have in this community with regard to mobility and transportation is severe.”
Come back to voteforbrigid.com next Tuesday, Nov. 5th, to see how this pans out.
New Civil and Family Courthouse Contract Delay
The general assumption was that the court was finally ready to sign a $3 million contract today with URS Corporation to oversee the management of the controversial new $300-plus million civil and family courthouse the county wants to build in downtown Austin. But, Pct. 4 Commissioner Margaret Gómez halted the vote with a list of questions about language in the written agreement. Gómez’s question sparked comment from Pct. 1 Commissioner Ron Davis who had concerns of his own, all of which obviously frustrated the county’s purchasing agent, Cyd Grimes, who told the court, “These are the kinds of delays that cost us money.” After a bit of heated back-and-forth between Grimes and court members, Judge Sam Biscoe made a motion to postpone signing the contract for another week while county staff and the court consider new concerns and any impact Gómez’s recommendations might have.
“This is democracy at work,” Biscoe said, offering apologies to URS Corp. “And more specifically, this is county democracy and it seems our democracy takes a little bit more time.”
According to a recent Statesman report, the courthouse would be paid for with bonds--if voters approve them--costing each taxpayer about $61 to $69 a year.