By Mary Scott Nabers, CEO of Strategic Partnerships Inc.
The new federal budget – the one proposed for 2024 – requests $74 billion to upgrade government technology. This reflects a 13% increase over the amount of federal money allocated for technology in 2023. The allocation is long overdue. In fact, it is almost impossible for public entities to manage mandates with the outdated technology they all have.
If passed, the new federal spending plan will send more than $10 billion through the Department of Health and Human Services; $9 billion through the Department of Homeland Security; $7 billion through the Department of the Treasury; and $4.8 billion through the Department of Justice—all of which is geared for technology. Many of the technology resulting upgrades will allow government leaders to detect, respond to, and recover from emergency events, cyber breaches and related threats to critical infrastructure.
Even as the 2024 budget awaits approval from Congress, federal agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will be disbursing funds regularly to help public agencies and institutions upgrade their emergency management resources. In April, the DHS’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) began reviewing applications for $89 million in 2023 funding that will soon be disbursed through its Emergency Operations Center Grant Program.
FEMA is also accepting applications for shares of $355 million in funding from its Emergency Management Performance Grant Program. And by September 30, 2023, the agency plans to award a combined $233 million to congressionally directed projects—many of which revolve around planned technology acquisitions—through its Pre-Disaster Mitigation program.
Congress is also encouraging greater investment in these technologies. In late March 2023, lawmakers introduced the Next Generation 9-1-1 Act which authorizes $15 billion in federal funding for a new grant program to support wider deployment of upgraded, digital-first 911 systems. If the legislation is approved, funding will be allocated through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to state governments. The prospective influx of federal money for technology upgrades will benefit all citizens who depend on government for public safety, citizen services and more. State and local officials are prioritizing their technology investments now.
When a tornado tore through Andover, Kan., last year, it put the city’s 911 system out of service and left first responders scrambling to adapt. On the one-year anniversary of the disaster, the city announced that funding is available now to mitigate the risk of a similar occurrence and a modernized 911 system with modern technology features will be purchased. Local officials will begin the procurement process soon to have a new system set up and running by the end of 2024.
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The Ector County Independent School District (ECISD) Bond Committee has decided on ten bond projects, which they will recommend to the ECISD Board of Trustees on June 20. ECISD leaders project that the district could take on a bond package of around $396 million without increasing the tax rate. This number could increase by the time of the bond election.
The committee agreed on a recommendation that includes a Career and Technical Education (CTE) center, Priority 1 and 2 maintenance and repairs, technology improvements, a middle school, and meeting the needs of fine arts, the Transportation Department, Ag Farm, the Transition Learning Center and athletics.
The committee also reviewed the last successful school district election, the Tax Ratification Election (TRE) in 2018, and the “Promises Made, Promises Kept” list of completed projects. The TRE Oversight Committee, made up of community members, met regularly with school district officials after the election, ensuring that the four outlined goals of the TRE were followed.
These goals included raises for all employees, bus replacements, controlled access entry doors and security fencing where needed and roof replacements at 27 facilities damaged by hail. The first three items have been completed, and the final three packages of roof replacements are being solicited for bids.
Williamson County residents could soon decide whether a host of transportation projects receive funding later this year. The Williamson County Citizens Bond Committee will present recommended projects by June 27.
Several cities have received approval from their respective city councils to submit projects to the county’s bond committee. Georgetown is proposing work on widening SE Inner Loop (FM 1460 to Hwy. 29), FM 971 (Gann Street to SH 130) and Shell Road (Sycamore Street to SH 195). Pflugerville has plans to improve the intersections of Gattis School Road and CR 138, and the city of Florence needs a West Main Street bridge replacement from Hwy. 195 to CR 226.
The city of Hutto wants to expand CR 137 from Brushy Creek to FM 1660 S, realign CR 132 to FM 3349 and work on the overpass on CR 132 over Hwy. 79 (Limmer Loop to CR 199).
Other cities that contributed road projects to the bond committee:
- Hwy. 29 bypass completion (east and west of Liberty Hill).
- Long Run Road extension (Stonewall Parkway to U.S. 183).
- Downtown shared-use path extension (Loop 332 to River Ranch County Park).
- Crystal Falls Parkway extension (Ronald Reagan Boulevard to CR 175).
- Baghdad Road improvements (San Gabriel Parkway to CR 281).
- Stormwater Master Plan development.
- San Gabriel River Trail extension (U.S. 183 to Bar W Ranch).
- CR 307 rehab and widening (CR 305 to West Avenue A).
- CR 305 two-lane construction (Interstate 35 to first 90-degree turn).
- Bud Stock Stockton Loop (FM 487 to I-35).
- Engineering report for Red Line Trail (Brushy Creek Trail to south side of SH 45).
- McNeil Road improvements (San Felipe Boulevard to Corpus Christi Drive).
- Safe Routes to Schools improvements for Elsa England Elementary School and Pearson Ranch Middle School.
The committee will continue meeting from May 17 through June 21 to allow time for public comments on the projects.
Design work has started on the new Georgetown City Center and fire station as part of the city’s 5-year Capital Improvement Plan. Construction of Phase 1, between the Georgetown Public Library and the Light and Water Works Building, is expected to begin this fall and be completed by the spring of 2024.
Meanwhile, the design process for renovations to Georgetown Fire Station No. 1 is underway. Proposed updates to the station include new exit pathways and an additional apparatus bay. The city hopes to solicit renovation work in early 2024.
Other work includes a facilities study to determine the best uses for Georgetown City Hall, the West Side Service Center and the Georgetown Light and Water Works Building.
The city of Georgetown has outlined several projects for the 5-year Capital Improvement Plan that could be funded through the city’s current tax rate. The city has identified costs for the following:
- Georgetown Municipal Complex II construction: $50 million.
- Georgetown Municipal Complex II design: $4 million.
- Fire Station No. 1 renovation: $6.6 million.
- Downtown City Center design and construction: $1.6 million.
- Fire Station No. 3 renovation design: $472,000.
(Photo: Courtesy of the city of Georgetown.)
Chief Health Care Officer
Teacher Retirement System
Public career highlights and education: I have been fortunate to….for nearly 35 years, I’ve worked to provide access to high-quality and affordable health care for Texans who don’t always readily have access. Most recently at TRS, as Chief Health Care Officer, I’ve enjoyed building a top-notch team who delivers high-value health benefits to public educators, retirees, and their families.
What I like best about my public service is: Nothing could provide greater satisfaction than a career helping others. Starting out as a nurse, I’m sometimes asked why I left. I respond that I’m still a nurse, I just take care of more people at once, whether at work, or volunteering, like when I chaired the Central Health Board of Managers.
The best advice I’ve received: During rough times, I think of the often-referenced Theodore Roosevelt quote: It’s not the critic who counts…the credit belongs to the [wo]man in the arena…who knows great enthusiasms and devotions, the triumph of high achievement…and if (s)he fails, fails while daring greatly.
People might be interested to know that: During the pandemic, I had the opportunity to be a part of the UT Austin inaugural MS in Health Care Transformation class. It was a terrific experience thinking of health care through an innovative lens. I’ve also been rescuing Old English Mastiffs for 20 years. Right now I have Bruno.
One thing I wished more people knew about the Teacher Retirement System is: One in 43 Texans participate in a TRS health plan and we use our size to drive value for the members. We have built a best-in-class team that understands the health industry and deploys that knowledge to write contracts that provide robust benefits at the best price for public educators.
On May 6, Pearland voters approved a bond package worth $181.4 million, which will fund various projects in the city, including drainage, street and sidewalk improvements, expanding parks, and building a new fire station.
The bond package was divided into four propositions. Proposition A will provide $105.5 million in drainage bonds for designated projects east of Cullen. These are older areas that have experienced repeated flooding.
Proposition B provides $26.1 million for street, bridge and sidewalk improvements. One project under this proposition aims to widen the road from two lanes to four and relieve traffic congestion in the area. The proposition also includes $15.4 million to replace sidewalks and fill gaps throughout the city.
Proposition C received 51% approval from voters and will provide $33.7 million for park projects. This proposition includes $17.3 million to expand the Hickory Slough Sports Complex and $16.3 million for Independence Park. The Independence Park project will include new landscaping, parking, restrooms, internal trails and sidewalk connections, a pavilion that could be used as an ice rink, a water spray park, and expanded playground space.
Proposition D was approved for $15.9 million to build a new fire station. The 14,300-square-foot facility will be built north of Bailey Road and includes accommodations for a four-person engine crew, a two-man ambulance crew and two trainees.
(Photo: Courtesy of the city of Pearland.)
The Brazos County Commissioners Court approved obligation bonds for portions of the $100 million transportation bond approved by voters in November. Commissioners approved $9.3 million for facility upgrades and $27.9 million for county roads and Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) roads.
The $9.3 million worth of bonds will be used for the county courthouse and parking lot renovations for the public defender’s office and other administrative services. Funding will also support upgrades to the Dispatch and Emergency Operations Center and payment of contractual obligations for professional services in connection with the projects.
The $27.9 million will provide funds for permanent public improvements, including designing, acquiring, constructing, improving and maintaining roads, bridges and highways, including the acquisition of land and rights-of-way and the payment of contractual obligations for professional services.
Transportation projects include:
- Widening of William D. Fitch from Arrington Road to Texas 6.
- Interchange improvements on Texas 21 at Texas 47.
- Widening FM 1688 to five lanes from FM 2818 to Texas 47.
- Make FM 2818 a super street from FM 60 to Texas 6 North.
- Improvements to the intersection of George Bush Drive and Wellborn Road.
- Widening Texas 30 to five lanes from Associates Avenue to FM 158.
- Other county road reconstruction and improvements.
According to officials, they worked with TxDOT to look at projects that could be accomplished in the next two years. Once those projects are nearing completion, officials will look at the next round of options for funding from what’s remaining of the approved $100 million.
The design phase of RM 2243—or Hero Way in Leander—is nearing completion this spring and Williamson County and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) are preparing for construction to start in early 2024. Funding for the first phase of the project is available through the county’s 2019 voter-approved road bond.
Spanning from 183A Toll to Southwest Bypass, the RM 2243 project includes the widening and reconstruction of the road to address safety, mobility and connectivity for drivers.
The project will be done in three phases:
- Phase 1 – 183A Toll to Garey Park: Construction of a single frontage road, which will serve two-way traffic until the other frontage road is built in a future phase.
- Phase 2 – 183A Toll to Southwest Bypass: Construction of the other frontage road, leaving a median in the middle.
- Phase 3 – The final phase will include the construction of the main lanes in the median space.
As the county and TxDOT monitor growth in the area, future phases will be constructed as needed. Funding sources have not yet been identified for future phases, but possible sources include county, state or federal dollars.
The public feedback and comment period on the project improvements ended May 10 as part of TxDOT’s draft environmental assessment to evaluate right of way, community impact and engineering and construction feasibility.
|Round Rock has approved the largest bond package in its history, which includes $230 million for parks and recreation projects and $44 million for public safety projects. The $274 million bond package was divided into two propositions, and both were approved by voters.
Proposition A will pay for new projects, including a new recreation center, the relocation of the tennis complex, a remodeling of the Clay Madsen Recreation Center, and an expansion of the Rock’ N River Water Park.
Proposition B is focused on public safety projects, including the construction of two new fire stations on the north side of Round Rock, improving the city’s Public Safety Training Center, and the relocation of the Central Fire Station.
Officials say Round Rock must be prepared to provide public safety, water, roads and infrastructure by prioritizing development of water, wastewater, utilities and roads.
(Photo: Courtesy of the city of Round Rock.)
Brian A. Bailey of Austin has been appointed as chair of the Texas Facilities Commission (TFC). Bailey has served on the TFC since May 2019. He is a member of the Greater Austin Crime Commission and The University of Texas Chancellor’s Council Executive Committee.
The TFC builds, maintains and supports state buildings and property across Texas. In addition, the agency is responsible for the construction of Texas’ border wall along the southern border.
On May 8, Pearland City Council announced interim City Manager Trent Epperson as the new city manager. Epperson had served as interim city manager since November, when the previous city manager, Clay Pearson, stepped down.
Prior to serving as interim city manager, Epperson had served as deputy city manager since October 2020. Before that, he held other city roles, including director of engineering and capital projects and director of project management, for a combined 17 years of employment with the Pearland.
The city of San Marcos has selected Christian Smith to serve as the manager of Economic and Business Development. His appointment will become effective May 15, 2023.
Most recently, Smith served as the economic development analyst for the Allen Economic Development Corporation where he focused on business recruitment, development and retention to support quality business and industry growth. He has also worked for the cities of Carrollton and Garland.
The Arlington ISD board of trustees named Michelle Cavazos the lone finalist for superintendent of the district on May 4. Under state law, she cannot be officially hired until after a 21-day waiting period.
Cavazos has led Gregory-Portland ISD as superintendent since summer 2020. Cavazos is slated to replace retiring Superintendent Dr. Marcelo Cavazos.
On May 8, the Alice ISD Board of Trustees voted Anysia R. Treviño as the lone finalist for superintendent of the district. Alice ISD’s Superintendent Carl Scarbrough announced his retirement in February.
Treviño has currently been serving as the deputy superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction at the Brownsville ISD for the last four years. Before then, she was assistant superintendent for Human Resources at the La Joya ISD for more than 20 years.
|The University Park City Council recently approved a $39,500 contract with an architectural firm to conduct a feasibility study for the second phase of the Holmes Aquatic Center.
The aquatic center on Lovers Lane within Curtis Park was upgraded in 2018 with improvements to the concessions area, restrooms, ticket office, small pool pump room and existing meeting rooms.
Plans for the second phase include building and structure improvements to the west-end pool building, restrooms and staff area, as well as a new community center for year-round programming and meeting space.
The six week study will assess the current building, determine a projected cost for the proposed work at the center, develop an updated concept plan and options for project scheduling and delivery methods.
|The Texas governor has signed a bill that places Stephen F. Austin (SFA) State University under the authority of the UT System Board of Regents. Senate Bill technically “abolishes” SFA and establishes it as a new university under the University of Texas System.
SFA, which enrolled 11,300 students last fall, was previously independently operated and controlled by its board. Four of Texas’ major university systems sought to acquire the east Texas school. SFA regents indicated that the deciding factor, to go with UT, was access to the Permanent University Fund (PUF). The PUF is a state-owned investment fund that collects royalties from oil and gas leases and benefits The UT and Texas A&M University systems.
A financial analysis shows that joining the UT system will provide $124 million in additional value to SFA. UT System officials will provide an additional $1 million for annual scholarships and $5.5 million for faculty salaries. Tenured faculty will retain tenure, and tenure-track faculty will remain on the tenure track. Students who are currently admitted to SFA will also maintain enrollment. The UT System will now be home to nine academic and five health institutions.
(Photo: Courtesy of Stephen F. Austin University.)
|The New Braunfels ISD board of trustees received a design presentation for Carl Schurz Elementary School on May 8. Projects are being funded by a 2018 bond.
According to the presentation, the design will bring the school up to Texas Association of School Board standards, improve safety and security, provide equity and accommodate future campus needs.
The proposed site plan includes construction of a new building, along with a new fire line from Coll Street, a parking lot and fire access drive, visitor parking, a modified play area and fields and three temporary portable locations.
After the construction documents are finalized there will be a bidding and procurement process. Work is expected to begin toward the end of 2023, continuing through 2025.
(Photo: Carl Schurz Elementary. Courtesy of New Braunfels ISD.)
|Gov. Greg Abbott announced these appointments and reappointments from May 5 to May 11:
Red River Authority Of Texas Board Of Directors
Jerry Bob Daniel – Truscott (president)
Lower Colorado River Authority Board Of Directors
Hatch C. Smith, Jr. – Boerne
David Willmann – Llano
(all three reappointed)
Stephen F. Cooper – El Campo
Tom Kelley – Eagle Lake
Nancy Yeary – Lampasas
Trinity River Authority Board Of Directors
Greg Wassberg – Grapeland
(all four reappointed)
John Jenkins – Hankamer
Robert McFarlane, M.D. – Palestine
Will Rodgers – Fort Worth
Frank Steed, Jr. – Kerens
|Texas Government Insider is a free weekly newsletter detailing important happenings throughout the state and summarizing current political issues relevant to individuals interested in government.
Publisher: Mary Scott Nabers
Editor: Kristin Gordon
TGI is published by Strategic Partnerships, Inc. (SPI), a research and consulting firm. Founded in Texas in 1995 by former government executives and public sector experts, the SPI Team has developed a national reputation for partnering public and private sector entities.