Williamson County zeroes in on capital projects for 2019
By MIKE EDDLEMAN
When County Commissioners wrapped up the new budget in August, they set aside $12 million for capital projects.
With a number in hand, the court then set about evaluating the long list of capital needs across the county to determine which projects would fit into that $12 million budget. In December, the list was finalized and included 21 projects, ranging in estimated cost from $23,523 to $5 million and totaling $12.75 million.
“There’s always more need than funding to fulfill that need, so what we tried to do back in September and then in December, is make sure those things that really needed capital funds put to them to further what they were doing were addressed,” said Pct. 2 Commissioner Cynthia long.
The $5 million project is for flood mitigation on Smith Branch – on Georgetown’s southeast side – but the most notable project across the county will be court room changes at the Justice Center.
“We funded the build in the justice center for what is going to be another courtroom,” Long said. “That is one thing I think will allow our judges to work more efficiently and be able to have things going on in different courtrooms and bring in visiting judges.”
In total, the Justice Center will get nearly $1.3 million worth of courtroom work to expand the facilities. The benefit of this expansion is to hopefully stave off the need to go to the State for an additional judge, said Long.
“I really applaud our judges for looking for solutions that will allow us to continue to operate as we have been without just saying ‘go ask the legislature for another judge,’” she said. “You have to go through the legislative approval process to get either a county court at law judge or district judge added. When you do that you have the judge, two or three staff members, you’ve got the bailiff, you’ve got prosecutors, it is a huge expense to add another judge.”
Additionally, there is an additional $1.3 million set aside for audio/visual upgrades in District and County Courtrooms.
“We’ve had some technology deficits in the courtroom, so let’s say we are going to bring that up to speed so they can have more technology available for juries, defendants and prosecutors as well in the courtroom,” Long said.
A number of the line items approved in the capital package include what Long said were critical information technology (IT) projects and infrastructure. For Long, all of the discussions, including software and IT systems, must include a conversation about the ongoing costs that come with changes.
“What we ask of the folks that are representing what the project is about is what the full life cycle cost is, not just what’s the capital, but also the operations and maintenance cost as well,” she said. “IT is one of the best examples. If I upgrade my accounting system, there’s the capital cost of doing it, there’s the cost of staff time to implement it, but then there’s the ongoing licensing fees.”
Commissioners also approved $859,338 to be spent on development of River Ranch Park, which is ongoing just south of Liberty Hill, and $750,000 for the Emergency Services Operation Center training room remodel.
Not included in the recently approved $12 million in capital spending, but approved with the budget in August was $4.5 million for voting machines. The new machines will provide a paper trail, which is not available with he current system.
“We set that money aside in capital, but during the budget,” she said. “That will actually be huge because that’s one of the things a number of folks have been asking for is a paper trail on your vote.”
Looking to high-dollar items on the horizon for the county in terms of capital projects, Long said the juvenile center is expected to cost the county an estimated $60 million.
“One of the things that’s always on our radar, is a need that’s coming in the next few years is to have to expand and remodel our juvenile facility,” she said. “That’s a big ticket item and just since that was built the state has changed the mandate on supervision.”
Commissioners used the cash-ending fund balance of $97.3 remaining in the general fund and $21.2 million in Road and Bridge to determine what monies could be set aside for projects. The county upped its annual allotments for Long Range Transportation, which is monies used to purchase right of way, to $7 million and capital projects for the current fiscal year to $12 million.
The overall approved county budget approved in August was $364.6 million, allowing commissioners to trim the tax rate by three-quarters of a cent.