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Council hears plea to lower tax rate

Monday, August 29, 2005 by

Although members of the city employees union, American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), did most of the talking at last week’s Council hearing on the city budget and taxes, there was also a contingent of business owners who tried to convince the Council to hold the line on the city’s property tax rate. Members of the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) could be back at this week’s Council meeting to reiterate their position. Several members of the group, along with some like-minded citizens, addressed the Council last week regarding the impact of rising property valuations.

“Our appraisals have risen 30 to 40 percent in the suburban areas and almost 60 percent in downtown,” said BOMA member Carl Tepper. “Our occupancies have risen in our Class A buildings, but they have not risen substantially in our Class B buildings, where you would have the smaller independent businesses that are trying to start up.” Tepper said that higher property tax bills due to the increases in assessed value would undoubtedly be passed on to the tenants. “I implore you to keep this in mind when we are considering these new rates, because we need to protect these businesses that we hold so valuable—who do ultimately pay these bills at the end of the year, along with the owners,” he said.

The Council had previously voted to publish the nominal tax rate as the maximum that they could adopt. If the Council does choose to adopt that rate, it would bring the city slightly more revenue next year than this year. Council Member Jennifer Kim, and to a lesser extent Mayor Will Wynn, had argued in favor of posting the effective tax rate as the maximum, which would generate the same amount of revenue for the city next year as this year. Members of BOMA praised them for that move. “Thank you, Mayor Wynn. Thank you, Council Member Jennifer Kim, for trying to figure out how businesses can stay in business and still afford our basic services,” said Mary Guerrero-McDonald.“The taxes have been so difficult, and the increases that we are seeing are almost unbelievable. It makes us nervous because water and wastewater is also going to have an increase. How is that going to affect us? You all need to remember that those building owners pass that on.”

BOMA members were not the only ones asking the Council to keep the tax rate as low as possible. “My particular point of view is I think that government at all levels should be minimalist,” said Austin resident Robert Morrow. “I think that we pay too much taxes in America at the federal level, the state level, the county level, the city level, and probably my neighborhood association level.” Other residents, like Chris Baker, suggested that Austin could start a trend among local government agencies by lowering its tax rate. “I mean, if the other cities see us go lower, they will be more inspired to lower their taxes, too,” he said. “I would be all for it.” Round Rock, Georgetown, and Bastrop are all considering property tax increase for the upcoming budget year.

The maximum rate the Austin City Council could adopt for next year would be 44.30 cents per $100 of property valuation. The Council is scheduled for a third public hearing on the tax rate this Thursday before voting on the rate as part of the overall budget at its meetings Monday, September 12 through Wednesday, September 14.

WPDR, Public Works budgets call for more staff

Director Joe Pantalion of Watershed Protection and Development Review told the City Council last week he is proposing the addition of six new full-time employees in development review and three new full-time employees in watershed protection, bringing the total number of staff to 183 on a budget of $12.5 million. That will require a slight increase in revenue, with strategic “add backs” of two employees in the permit center, three building inspectors and another zoning reviewer. The department also is proposing a one-time service incentive enhancement of $163,384. However, three full-time employees would transfer out of the department,

Pantalion reported good feedback on the city’s new one-stop shop for permits, which combines the services of 13 departments. Council Member Brewster McCracken called streamlining the development review process “the Robin Hood of local government” – that big promise made during campaign season that is difficult to deliver once in office. McCracken and Council Member Betty Dunkerley both spoke of favorable phone calls about the center.

The expenditures under Watershed Protection include the One-Stop Shop ($16.7 million), brownfields ($183,911), flood hazard mitigation ($3 million), creek erosion mitigation ($534,784), infrastructure & waterway maintenance ($9.3 million), water quality protection ($6.1 million), master planning ($167,138), support services ($3.7 million), transfer to capital improvement projects ($16.5 million) and other transfers related to remediation, sustainability and debt service ($9.7 million).

Twenty new employees are proposed in the drainage area: 10 in waterway maintenance; five in flood hazard mitigation; one in creek erosion; one in water quality and three in support services. That brings the number of employees to 288. The total expenditures in the department in the coming year are proposed to be $52.2 million. It should also raise the city’s on-time inspection rate, which currently sits at 91 percent.

Sondra Creighton, director of Public Works, proposed a budget of $59 million for her department, with the bulk of it going to transportation ($30.5 million), followed by capital projects management ($17.6 million) and the child safety fund ($1.4 million). The department is proposing no rate changes in transportation user fees but a proposed increase in utility cut repair fees.

Public Works would like to add four new full-time employees, which would include two construction inspectors, an engineering technician and a contract compliance specialist. That would bring the total number of employees in the department to 537.

New capital appropriations in the department will include sidewalk improvements ($5 million), street improvements ($4.6 million), vehicles & equipment ($3.1 million), street reconstruction ($2.3 million), technology improvements ($700,000), replacing parking meters ($600,000), new money for traffic calming ($400,000) and right-of-way maintenance ($300,000).

See Friday’s edition of In Fact Daily for a report on the proposed budget for Neighborhood Planning and Zoning and Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services. ( In Fact Daily, August 26, 2005.)

©2005 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

News conference . . . Council Member Raul Alvarez and other elected officials and community leaders plan a news conference this morning to announce a new location for the 2005 Fiesta del Grito de Independencia and to unveil the artwork chosen for this year’s celebration. Alvarez will be joined by Consul General of Mexico Jorge Guajardo; former Austin Mayor Gus Garcia; local artist Rodolpho Ybarra, and the Fiesta de Independencia Committee. The event has traditionally been held at Saltillo Plaza, but attendance of more than 2000 in the past few years has made it necessary to choose a new site. The news conference is scheduled for 11am at City Hall. . . Council OKs house move . . .The City Council has granted its approval to move the Nelson and Texanna Davis House from its current location on West 12th Street over to 1817 W. 10th. The Clarksville Community Development Corporation plans to restore the home and offer it as affordable housing within the Clarksville neighborhood. Council approval was required since the Historic Landmark Commission had denied a certificate of appropriateness for the move. . . Rivera to PIO . . . Andrew Rivera, who served as executive secretary to Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman and Council Member Jennifer Kim, can now be found in the City of Austin’s Public Information Office. Grace Corpus has taken over where Rivera left off in Kim’s office. The new Council member is still seeking an additional executive assistant . . . Meetings . . . The Board of Adjustment meets at 5:30pm tonight in the City Council Chambers for a brief agenda. . . Capital Metro will host a series of public meetings this week to get community input on proposed service and schedule changes to be implemented in January 2006. Based upon the All Systems Go Plan, proposed changes include significant route and schedule restructuring to coincide with the opening of the Tech Ridge Park and Ride. Capital Metro planning staff will be available to speak directly with citizens regarding route or schedule issues. Meetings scheduled today t are from 11:30am -1pm at Capital Metro's Downtown Customer Service Center, 323 Congress Ave. Routes to be discussed: All, Dillos; 6:30-8:30pm, City of Austin – Little Walnut Creek Library Meeting Room. Routes to be discussed: 1, 242; 6:30-8:30pm, Wal-Mart at Slaughter Lane. Route to be discussed: 252. For more information, go to http://www.capmetro.com or call 474-1200. . . People up, freight down . . . Despite an overall slump in the airline industry, Austin Bergstrom International Airport continues to set records for passenger traffic. July marked the highest number of passengers traveling through ABIA—721,152—in a single month, airport officials said. Air cargo did not fare as well, dropping 11 percent in July compared to the previous year. However, international air cargo was up 5.5 percent for the same period.

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