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Council to consider backing creation of district for Onion Creek Park

Wednesday, March 27, 2013 by Michael Kanin

Austin City Council members will decide Thursday whether to back action at the Texas Legislature that would create a Municipal Management District for a section of Onion Creek. If approved, the area – prospectively called the Onion Creek Metro Park District – would provide extra tax dollars from future residents of the Goodnight Ranch development that would go toward enhanced upkeep of the park.


Austin Parks and Recreation Department Assistant Director Jesse Vargas said that the extra money could elevate Onion Creek from a type three to a type one facility. That, said Vargas, would put it on par with Zilker Park.


Momark Development LLC President Terry Mitchell, the head of the development team, is pushing for the legislation. Mitchell told Council members that the district makes sense. “I have three children,” Mitchell said. “Let’s just say your additional tax is $20 a month. If we were looking at a home to buy and my wife could see all of these park facilities, and play areas, and ball fields, and it’s $20 a month, I promise you she’d say ‘Write the check daddy, we’re going to go live there.’”


According to the Texas Local Government Code, a Municipal Management District is a special taxing district “necessary to promote, develop, encourage, and maintain employment, commerce, economic development, and the public welfare in the commercial areas of municipalities and metropolitan areas of this state.”


A board of at least five persons that can call tax elections and issue bonds governs such districts. They are appointed by the county.


The Onion Creek district could use funds derived from such elections to pay for park operations and maintenance, hire park rangers, and even secure Chapter 380 economic development agreements.


Assistant City Attorney Sharon Smith told Council members the district could be a Municipal Utility District – another special taxing entity – but that MUDs don’t “generally have the same kind of flexibility.”


Mitchell added that an economic development agreement for the Onion Creek Metro Park District has “no intention or expectation of any 380 agreements.” He added that the inclusion of the agreements came as part of standard language included in many bills.


“Part of going through the political process as I understand it – the closer you stay to standard language, the easier it is to go through the process.”


Council members were careful to be sure that major parks decisions would still reside in their hands. “What mechanism would we have in place to ensure that the City Council is involved in approving a master plan (for the park)?” asked Council Member Laura Morrison.


Vargas told Morrison, “the park very much remains in our possession and our control.” He added that Council members would appoint the board that governs the park.


Council support of the creation of the district is set for a Thursday vote. If the district were created, a consent agreement between it and the city would also have to be approved. Council members, staff, and the district would have until September 2014 to take that action.

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