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Troxclair keeps focus on District 8 through year one

Monday, January 4, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

In 2015, City Council Member Ellen Troxclair’s most gratifying moment came when one of her District 8 constituents told her that the things she had talked about during her campaign were consistent with the change she has since worked to effect at City Hall.

“They said that I made them proud,” said Troxclair. “I get great feedback all the time, but hearing that kind of feedback … is really motivating to me.”

Troxclair said that it has been fun for her to witness the transformation from the at-large City Council system to the 10-1 Council as well as how the members’ different perspectives “have come together, for better or worse, depending on the issue and what your stance is on it.”

“It has brought about a deeper understanding of the issues that different communities are dealing with and given more representation for different parts of the city,” said Troxclair. “One of the things that I was most excited about before I even started to run for a Council seat was having a diversity of ideologies and a diversity of opinions represented on Council. I think that happened.”

Of course, given Troxclair’s fiscal conservatism, she has been in the minority on a number of issues. She points out that part of the diversity revealed on the new Council has been “what affordability means to everybody.”

“Affordability, to me, means reducing the overall cost of government for every Austinite through a lower tax rate and lower fees and bills,” said Troxclair. “Even though it’s a word we all used on the campaign trail, it means something completely different (to others).”

She told the Austin Monitor that she ran for office to try to address the cost of living in the city and is happy to have done so in her first year. “I have been successful in representing that voice on Council. I think, overall, the average Austinite will pay less in property taxes, utility bills and their overall tax burden to the city because I was here.”

However, Troxclair remains disappointed that Council didn’t do more during last year’s budget process. In particular, she was disappointed that when extra revenue came in following the certification of the tax rolls, the city “spent almost all of it” instead of sticking to the original, more conservative budget that didn’t anticipate that money.

“I think we had an unprecedented opportunity this year to address cost of living,” she said. “Even though we made some really great improvements and the average person is going to pay less in property taxes next year, their utility bills are going up, the overall size of government increased and our spending increased.”

“Our spending increased greater than population and inflation, so that means that growth isn’t paying for itself,” said Troxclair. “With the unprecedented level of revenue coming into the city, it was a really great opportunity for us to give that back to the taxpayers. … I wish we could have done more.”

Troxclair says that she has loved spending time in District 8 this past year – not only in neighborhood meetings and events, but when talking to people in the grocery store and hearing feedback from people who are paying attention even if they’re not necessarily regulars at City Hall.

“One thing that is important to me is to represent the average person in my district who may not have the time or ability to be an activist at City Hall, and to remember their thoughts, opinions and concerns are equally as important as those who are able to be here,” said Troxclair.

She pointed out, by way of example, that during the budget hearings there were two days of public hearings before the budget was adopted. During those two days, she noted, there were “only a handful of people” who showed up to say they were struggling with the cost of living, which she hardly thinks is a representative number. “I don’t think that 1 percent of Austinites feel the way that those constituents feel. … Sometimes what we hear when we’re here is not necessarily representative,” she said.

In the next year, Troxclair hopes to have a Council discussion about utility transfers to the General Fund. Specifically, she hopes to talk about whether those transfers are at an appropriate level “or appropriate at all” and, if so, whether there is a way to conduct them in a more transparent way.

“That’s just something I’ve been thinking about – the $105 million from Austin Energy and the $45 million from Austin Water,” said Troxclair, who hoped to curtail other, direct transfers to city departments during the budget process. “The conversation during the budget was, ‘This is a bigger conversation we need to have.’ … So, I want to make sure that we have that conversation before we go into the next budget.”

Troxclair also hopes to check back in on what progress has been made on the Zucker Report recommendations, noting that it is a chance to “reform the system and make things more efficient.”

“I think our current process has a huge impact on the cost of development and, therefore, the cost of living in Austin. I think it’s a really important opportunity,” said Troxclair.

In terms of what most surprised her, Troxclair laughed about the fact that an earlier City Council had banned the use of plastic water bottles at City Hall, allowing only reusable bottles. “I drink a lot of water,” said Troxclair. “It’s just funny.”

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