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Monday, January 2, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano
Troxclair has opinions
This year, District 8 City Council Member Ellen Troxclair welcomed her first child. She also saw her fair share of accomplishments (and frustrations) within City Hall in 2016.
Troxclair counted “making some progress on the Homestead Exemption” among her accomplishments for the year, though she pointed out that the exemption still isn’t quite up to the level she would like. She reminded the Austin Monitor that many Council members currently in office campaigned on the promise of a 20 percent homestead exemption, with a plan to phase it in over several years. That was the plan the first year, when Council passed the 6 percent exemption. This past budget season, Troxclair noted, it was a lot harder – “like pulling teeth,” she said – and Council ultimately increased the exemption to only 8 percent.
“I have to say, I don’t think it would have been included at all if it wasn’t for me bringing it up this time,” she said. “Now we have some ground to make up. Hopefully, we can get to 20 percent over the next few years.”
Troxclair also has concerns about the budget overall, in terms of how much money the city is saving and spending.
“We adopted the maximum tax rate,” she said. “In this time of record revenues and record growth, it is pretty shocking for me to see the maximum tax rate. If you can’t give people a tax break when you are having record revenue, then when can you?
“When we are in Austin, Texas, which is one of the fastest-growing cities, and we are having booming development and all of this stuff, we should be having an easier time,” she said. “Hopefully the change in the city manager will give us a fresh start and the opportunity to make some changes.”
In other disappointments, Troxclair highlighted the new short-term rental ordinance and the departure of Uber and Lyft, saying, “I think we did some serious damage to the city as well as the city’s image. … I’m not sure that the city of Austin is quite as innovative and forward-thinking as our reputation would lead one to believe.”
That said, Troxclair predicts that both issues will probably be revisited this year “via the Texas Legislature.” She told the Monitor that she hoped that, moving forward, Council would be able to make more “data-based decisions” that focus on what the real issues and solutions are, with information to back that up.
In that same vein, Troxclair is hoping that 2017 will mark a shift in thinking for Council, whose focus is “more on outcomes, not inputs.” She told the Monitor that she would like to see a change from thinking about how much money is put into things such as social service programs or affordable housing to focusing on data that shows how many people are impacted by those services.
Looking forward in general, Troxclair is planning to keep an eye on the transportation bond money and how it is spent, to make sure it is leveraged effectively and that “South Austin ultimately isn’t excluded from those funds.”
Troxclair is also hoping to spend some time looking at how the city deals with hotel occupancy taxes. She told the Monitor that it was time to make some progress on changing how those funds are spent.
“It’s just a huge, huge, huge fund, and it’s getting so much bigger,” she said. “The things that we are currently using the money for are all great, but I think it’s growing at enough pace that we can probably get a better return on investment and lower the burden on taxpayers while still keeping South by Southwest here (for example).”
Troxclair is also proud of the work she has accomplished in her district. She told the Monitor that she used the $30,000 savings from her office budget in 2015 to replace all of the fitness equipment at Dick Nichols Park. In 2016, Troxclair was able to save $50,000, and she used that for five different projects in the community, including building a shade structure and adding water fountains and new trailheads in the Greenbelt.
She also is pleased with her work establishing a “High Water Bill Protection Ordinance,” which gives water utility customers recourse if they have an unusual spike in their water bills.
As of this month, Troxclair will be the only remaining conservative on the dais. She told the Monitor that it didn’t scare her.
“I don’t think that there’s that much difference being in the tiny minority and being the only person in the minority,” she said. “I’m no stranger to being the only ‘no’ vote.”
This year, Troxclair is also in the unique position of being a member of Council who has more than the usual number of allies in the Texas Legislature.
“We had a lot of conversations last session about how Austin has to have a united front,” she said. “But I didn’t give up my right as a citizen to speak out on whatever I want to. And I have opinions.”
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
District 8: District 8 contains three distinct neighborhoods, Oak Hill, Circle C and Travis Country. The district is bounded on the east by Brodie Lane, on the south by the Travis-Hays county line, on the north by Bee Cave road and on the west by the winding Austin city limits line. It also has the city’s biggest and most infamous traffic bottleneck – the Oak Hill Y, the convergence of US 290 and SH 71, squeezing traffic heading to and from South MoPac Boulevard and out into the Hill Country.
Ellen Troxclair: Austin City Council member for District 8