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No ballot question on Onion Creek buyout

Monday, August 18, 2014 by Gene Davis




The question of whether Austin should buy out 240 at-risk homes in the Onion Creek floodplain will not go before voters in November.

During a special called meeting Friday, Austin City Council voted 5-1 against putting the buyout proposal on the November ballot via public improvement bonds. Council Member Chris Riley said the homes within the 100-year floodplain are in real danger, and the city could not risk voters rejecting the buyouts.

Instead, Council will look at other possible ways to fund the buyouts, which have an estimated $78 million price tag. The buyouts could come through debt service, which would not kick in until 2015 and would take 20 years to pay off.

“We will find ways to make this happen, and I think that’s the appropriate thing to do,” Council Member Laura Morrison said.

Council discussed the option of raising property taxes by 0.006 cents per $100 in assessed value to fund the buyouts. The increase would translate to an additional $11.79 per year for the average homeowner.

Although a judge ruled in July that Austin Water’s drainage fee is applied unfairly, Council members also mentioned that increasing the monthly fee by 75 cents is still a possibility. The drainage fee increase would translate to an additional $9 per year for the average homeowner.

Council members also debated the possibility of cutting the budget elsewhere to free up the needed funds. Morrison suggested the city could raise the thermostat by several degrees in city buildings.

“If that’s what it takes to be able to do this, and I can stop wearing this sweater — for crying out loud — in August,” she said.

Before voting against bringing the buyout proposal before voters, Council members heard passionate stories from Onion Creek residents about their experiences since the Halloween Day flood. Many expressed anger about the city’s response and their uncertainty with whether the city would approve the buyouts.

“The flood was a frightening event, but the largest trauma has been dealing with the city since then,” said Onion Creek resident Yvette Griego.

“These are people. We are humans and we need better from you all,” added Onion Creek resident Anna Perez.

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