Bonds, Bees, And Soccer: What City Council Is Up To

Austin City Hall

It’s almost July and that means two things for Austin’s City Council – they’re about to go on their annual summer break and they’ve got a lot of work to finish up before then.

So what does this mean for you? The Thursday, June 28th City Council meeting is going to be a big one. Here are a few key issues that will be on the agenda:

  • Affordable Housing/Parks Bond Election – Item #27 on the City Council agenda. You can learn more about the bond election (and how you can participate) below.
  • Bees/ Pesticides – Council is considering a resolution to ban the use of certain pesticides/insecticides on city-owned land in order to protect human health, bees, and other insect pollinators. The item is #71 on Council’s agenda. You can look through the entire resolution here.
  • Soccer/ McKalla Place- Two agenda items (#60 and #64) have been put on Thursday’s City Council agenda to determine the future of professional soccer in Austin. You can learn more below.

Professional Soccer

As we reported last week, the debate over a stadium location for a professional soccer team in Austin has really heated up. At Thursday’s City Council meeting, there will be two items on the agenda addressing the issue. Item #60 calls on the City Manager to initiate an open bidding process on McKalla Place (which has been identified as a prime location for a future soccer stadium). If this resolution is passed, it will allow City Council to consider a variety of proposals for McKalla Place, including mixed-used developments (with housing and retail space), affordable housing, or a soccer stadium. The can learn more about the decision by Council members Leslie Pool, Ellen Troxclair, Alison Alter, and Ora Houston to support this resolution here.

Also on the agenda for Thursday is Item #64, which calls on the City Manager to begin negotiating with the owners of the Columbus Crew soccer stadium over their proposal to build a stadium at McKalla Place.

Added into the mix is the fact that the owners of Columbus Crew have set a deadline for the end of June to begin official negotiations with the city over a stadium location.

More about the affordable housing/parks bond election

Austin City Council is considering putting a bond on the November ballot to ask for the public’s help in funding our city’s parks, affordable housing, transportation, libraries, and stormwater infrastructure.

Wait I forgot…What’s a bond again?
A bond is essentially just a loan taken out by a local government agency. In taking out the bond, the city has to promise to pay back the money to the lenders, often by taxing its own citizens. That’s why it gets put on the ballot. Come November, it will be up to you to decide if this list of proposed projects is worth the increase in your property tax bill.

So what’s being proposed for the 2018 bond?

A Bond Election Advisory Task Force (made up of Austin residents appointed by City Council members) has come up with a list of recommendations for what they’d like to see the bond money spent on.

Here’s what’s in their recommendations:
Bond Election Recommendations

Wondering what’s the difference between the two columns? The BEATF Recommendations are the final recommendations made by the task force. However, after their official recommendations came out, city staff found alternative funding sources for some of the items that the task force hoped to fund (for example, new fire stations under the public safety category). The Staff Update column reflects those changes. It is also the column that will serve as the starting point for debate over whether or note a bond should be passed (and whether or not any money should be shifted around between the categories).

So what would that cost me?

The whole concept behind a bond is that the city is able to borrow extra money to fund new city services/build parks, roads, etc… but it comes with a cost.

City staff have put together an analysis of different total bond amounts and what the corresponding property tax increase would be for each.

They are:

  • $375 million bond – no increased tax rate
  • $625 million bond – 1 cent tax rate increase
  • $875 million bond – 2 cent tax rate increase

Wait. How could a bond not increase the property tax rate?

It might seem confusing, but here’s the gist. The city is technically able to take out up to $375 million in additional bond capacity without actually increasing our property tax rate at all. That’s because they still have the ability to take out money from previous bond allowances because they were able to pay them down faster than expected (because Austin land values have been rising so quickly).

What does a 1 or 2 cent property tax rate increase mean?

Property tax rates are set at a certain number of cents per $100 of the taxable value of your land. If the rate were to be increased by 1 cent, it would cost the average homeowner (with a $300,000) about $30 a year. If it were increased by 2 cents, it would cost about $60 a year.

Okay. I get the basics. So what is the debate about?

1. The rising cost of Austin’s property tax bill.

As the city’s property tax bills continue to rise year over year, many Austinites are weary of any self-inflicted increases to it. Although there is a lot of debate over the reason for our rising tax bills (higher property values, state recapture programs to fund public education, city spending, etc), the bottom line is that Austinites are paying more and more in taxes each year, to the dismay of many.

Council Member Ellen Troxclair has been especially vocal about trying to hold the line on any additional increases, arguing that a key way to make Austin more affordable is to lower the property tax burden for everyone. Meanwhile, other Council members have said that spending is necessary to support the city’s most vulnerable residents and to keep our infrastructure in good shape in light of rapid growth. And that leads us to #2…

2. The push for more affordable housing money.

At a rally for affordable housing held last week, Council Member Greg Casar laid out the issue from his perspective clearly. “I know that if we don’t step up and do something bold, that we will not continue to have working class people be able to live in this city,” Casar said.

Along with other community activists, Casar is advocating not just for a bond, but one that includes $250 to $300 million for affordable housing. (That’s $100 million more than the task force recommendation).

So where would that money come from? That will be a topic for debate on Thursday’s City Council meeting. You can sign up to speak on the issue at any of the electronic kiosks located on the first floor of City Hall. (Sign-ups open up on Monday.) Just select agenda item #27.

 

 

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