Give Your Input On Austin Bonds – The Latest

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Please note – a version of this story originally ran in November. In has since been updated to reflect the most recent information available.

What would you like to see the City of Austin spend money on? More parks? Better transportation infrastructure? Affordable housing?

This is the question the Bond Election Advisory Task Force is asking… and they want to know what you think. The task force is a volunteer citizen group chosen by City Council, the mayor, and a few other local boards and commissions. They’ve been tasked with making a recommendation to City Council on the details of a new bond package that would go to us (the voters) in November 2018.

In particular, the task force is looking at funding efforts to address flooding, affordable housing, mobility, high-capacity transit, parks, libraries, and improving existing infrastructure. Along those lines, city staff have identified $3 billion in needs over the next five years. From that list, staff created a $640 million bond package as a starting point for the task force to look at.

Here’s how they broke up the spending:

The task force is getting close to making its official recommendations to City Council, but first, they want to hear from you. After conducting several public input meetings at the end of 2017, they’ve added a few more in January.

These include:

  • Wednesday, January 17th at 6:30pm at the Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex
  • Thursday, January 18th at 6:30pm at the Austin Community College South Campus

All you have to do to participate is attend a meeting and then sign up to speak. Everyone will be given 3 minutes to address the task force members directly.

What are people saying? (A January 2018 update)
In order to divide up the vast challenge in front of them, the Bond Election Advisory Task Force organized itself into five working groups, each representing one of the investment areas suggested by staff. They then put forth their own preliminary ideas about how much money should be directed toward each category. Of these five categories, a particularly large amount of debate and discussion has focused on parkland and affordable housing.

The Parkland and Open Space Working Group recommended spending $35 million more than staff recommended, with $50 million going toward land to protect the Edwards Aquifer and $35 million toward acquiring new parkland. (If you’re interested, you can also look through the recommendations from the Affordable Housing Working Group, Reinvestment In Facilities and Assets Working Group, Stormwater Working Group,  and the Transportation Infrastructure Working Group). 

In an email sent out earlier this week, the Save Our Springs Alliance (a local environmental nonprofit dedicated to protecting Barton Springs) said that these current recommendations don’t go far enough.

“Please join us in asking that Austin voters be given the opportunity to vote for $100 million in watershed protection and flood prevention lands and $100 million for park land acquisition,” wrote the Save Our Springs Alliance. “If we don’t act now, our green Austin will be paved and polluted.  It’s far cheaper to save Barton Springs and Onion Creek than it is to pave it.  And we need to expand our park system to keep up with rapid population growth.”

Over the next few weeks, the task force members will have to examine requests like these and balance them against the price tag that they’ll cost voters. Many in the community have also been calling for increased funding for affordable housing (above staff’s original recommendations).

According to estimates from the city, a $325 million bond package wouldn’t come with any tax increase for Austinites. Meanwhile, a bond worth $575 million would mean about a $30 yearly tax increase (for the average homeowner) and an $850 million package would mean a $61 yearly l tax increase.

Why a bond?
A general obligation bond (as it is formally known) is essentially just a loan taken out by a municipal government. In taking out the bond, the city has to promise to pay back the money to the lenders, often by taxing its own citizens.

The City of Austin holds bond elections regularly in order to fund everything from the construction of new buildings (like the new Central Library), to parkland acquisition, to affordable housing. These kind of projects are not often funded through the city’s regular annual budget, which mostly just focuses on maintaining existing city services. New programs, initiatives, and even large maintenance/improvements projects often have to be funded through a bond.

However, with affordability an increasingly important issue for Austinites, new bond proposals are often controversial (because they’re generally tied to tax increases). When it comes election time, it will be up to you (the voter) to decide whether or not the bond projects are worth the investment. That’s why it’s important to get involved now – so can help shape what those projects will look like.

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