Travis County Civil & Family Courts Complex raises affordability questions

In November, Travis County voters will decide whether to pay for a new civil and family courthouse in downtown Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — In just a few months, voters in Travis County will decide whether to support efforts to build a new Civil and Family Court Complex in Downtown Austin. Officials on Tuesday are planning how to get neighbors the proper information about the project before it’s time to cast their ballot.

Rendering of new Travis County Civil and Family Courthouse
Rendering of new Travis County Civil and Family Courthouse

The new courthouse would be built on county-owned property at the corner of Fourth and Guadalupe streets in Downtown Austin, across the street from Republic Square Park and the Federal Courthouse. The new proposed complex will be a 14-story building, 520,000 square feet and will hold 28 courtrooms — with space to expand to 33 by 2035. It will also have dedicated children’s and victim’s waiting areas, whereas the current building does not.

The current Travis County Courthouse at 10th and Guadalupe streets was built back in 1931, when the county’s population was less than 78,000 people. It now has 19 courtrooms. Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt says the “building is old, too small for our current needs and in serious disrepair.”

Also, she says it’s unsafe. “Often the biggest risk, to security in a court system is not your felony docket. The biggest risk to security is your family docket when people are arguing over their children,” said Eckhardt.

Some neighbors agree it’s time for a new building, but they question the cost. This is a nearly $300 million bond project; for a home valued at $325,000, taxpayers will be shelling out $42 a year.

“Every time we’re told there’s a new tax increase, it’s always one taco a month, or one hamburger a month or something like that,” said Bill Oakey, with AustinAffordability.com. “Well, when you add those up, you’ve got a whole grocery cart full of expenses from every taxing entity in Central Texas. So if we don’t take affordability seriously, more of our good long-term people are going to be priced out of their homes.”

Oakey says he’s been talking with the county commissioners and that they are taking cost-effective planning into consideration.

“For one thing, the ballot language has not been set yet, so now is the time for everyone to really put their nose to the grindstone and find out how affordable they can make this project and how many affordability goals they can set for the entire county government,” Oakey said.

Project officials have already had 37 public education meetings with various organizations in the Austin area. There’s more than 75 other meetings they hope to have over the next few months. Officials will go over open house meetings the public can attend Tuesday as well.

 

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