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Tovo puts affordability issues at top of her 2013 list of successes

Tuesday, January 7, 2014 by Jo Clifton

For Council Member Kathie Tovo, a lot of the successes in the past year have to do with affordability.


“I think we are hearing from the community that they are very overwhelmed by taxes and by other increases, and that we need to hold the line on property tax increases,” said Tovo. “I think every week we at the Council hear from people who write and say, ‘This is a struggle for me to remain in Austin. We love Austin, but it’s a struggle to remain.’”


“I think looking ahead, and what our city will look like if we can’t address that issue is a concern. We will not be the diverse, vibrant city we have been if we can’t have that kind of mixed-income community,” said Tovo.


It’s a position that you might hear more about in the coming year. As one of two Council members not prohibited from running for Council by term limits, Tovo is “seriously considering running for a district seat,” and expected to make a decision soon.


“I think it will be an interesting and exciting time for the city, as we see who steps forward to run for those seats, and we see what kind of experience and expertise they bring with them,” said Tovo.


With an eye towards the immediate future, Tovo says that she anticipates looking at the new special events ordinance. She says there is lots of discussion left to be had. Some of those discussions await the results of Tovo’s request to look at the financials of Austin’s events, and whether they are bringing money to the city or costing taxpayers in the end.


“Certainly, there have been suggestions that maybe it doesn’t balance out in the city’s favor,” said Tovo. “In my opinion, we can’t have another budget year where we have department heads coming and saying that part of their cost-drivers for the upcoming year are the increasing number of events.”


Despite that budget annoyance, Tovo counts this year’s budget process among Council’s successes.


“I think we showed that we had the ability to both fund some additional needs that had arisen… but also to make some pretty hard cuts. I mean we line-item eliminated some staff positions to make way for what I would regard as more pressing needs to keep that tax rate just slightly under last year’s rate,” said Tovo. “But that was hard.”


“It’s easy to talk in our meetings about how we don’t want to raise the tax rate. But to actually achieve that took several of us poring over the budget line by line,” said Tovo, who suggested that next year’s process start even earlier.


Austin Energy also rated with Tovo, who says that the changes in governance and adjustments to billing and customer assistance programs were among the most important work done by Council.


Tovo said affordable housing was an important issue over the last year. She is proud that the budget surplus was used to fill the gap created when an affordable housing bond failed last November. She also thinks that good changes were made to the downtown density bonus program, which should mean more money for affordable housing from developers.


“I would say the other issue with regard to housing that has gotten a lot of attention this last year relates to the ongoing concern with making housing safer. We’ve seen lots of resolutions come forward that come at that issue from different angles.” said Tovo.


She says she has “high hopes” for the result of an interdepartmental team that she put together to look at code compliance issues. She is also hopeful about the impact of refined rules for emergency relocation of tenants.


“I hope this will prompt an analysis of where our enforcement has been less-than-aggressive in the past, and how we can really hold landlords and property owners accountable when there are problems,” said Tovo.


Tovo praises the changes to the city’s incentives program, saying it was a really good action to take.


“I hope that will make a big difference, as we move forward in evaluating economic development proposals. Hopefully, it will continue to have an impact on encouraging other companies to look at the value of providing a living wage,” said Tovo.

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