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County commissioners begin 2013 budget discussions

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TWC News: County commissioners begin 2013 budget discussions
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Travis County Commissioners began a series of budget hearings Wednesday.

The tax assessor says property values across the county have increased about $3.5 billion since last year. Now county leaders need to decide where to allocate that extra property tax revenue those increases will provide.

On Wednesday, four representatives of the Texas Department of Public Safety brought their budget needs before commissioners, and not without some criticism.

"I'm just not sure why our local property taxes are picking up the state's Department of Public Safety," Sarah Eckhardt, Travis County Commissioner Precinct 2, said.

The DPS representatives told Commissioner Eckhardt that the majority of their time is spent responding to deadly crashes on Travis County highways.

DPS is one of several agencies to make a case before the court this week as commissioners consider next year’s budget.

County Information Technology Services is asking for $2.3 million dollars to increase its virtual tape library. County rules require that every document related to county business be archived forever—even something that has been sent to 100 people—so another $500,000 will go toward archiving emails.

Ten years ago the IT department only needed to worry about keeping desktop computers connected to the network. Now devices like smartphones, tablets and laptops all connect to the same server.

Judge Karen Sage with the 299th State District Court told the commissioners a story about a defendant who was battling an addiction to heroin.

"I had to leave that court that night, telling that young man that I didn't know when and where he would get treatment," Judge Sage said.

She said it would be wise to use $175,000 dollars to hire three additional providers for the county's drug diversion program.

"The commissioners get it. They understand,” Judge Sage said. “They understand that treatment is better than jail and prison and all the other alternatives."

Commissioners will continue hearing from county department heads Thursday and Friday.

They're scheduled to adopt the final budget Sept. 25.

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