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Talk starts for 2018 city bond election

Thursday, June 15, 2017 by Jo Clifton

City Council got a first look during its work session on Tuesday at an initial list of staff bond proposals that could go to voters in November of 2018. That list included a total of $640 million in bonds, with reinvestment in facilities and city assets pegged at $240 million and transportation infrastructure at $190 million.

Interim Chief Financial Officer Greg Canally and Carla Steffen, deputy director of the Austin Convention Center, made the presentation, with Canally noting that Steffen was helping with the project because of her extensive financial experience.

Steffen said staff is recommending that the city’s Parks and Recreation Department receive $120 million, or half of the amount allocated for reinvestment in city facilities. The rest of that portion will go for libraries, public health and public safety, she said.

The proposed list, which will be presented to the citizen Bond Election Advisory Task Force on Friday, also includes $85 million for affordable housing, $75 million for dealing with flood mitigation and other stormwater problems, and $50 million for parkland and open space.

Council members Greg Casar and Delia Garza both said that they would not be able to support less than $100 million for affordable housing. However, Council Member Leslie Pool reminded them that the city has had bad experiences when asking the public to approve affordable housing bonds, and Canally agreed.

Pool said Council needs to be thinking about what voters will approve, not just what the city believes it might need. Voters rejected $78 million for affordable housing in 2012, but approved a $65 million proposition in 2013.

The city has had more than $2.2 billion of approved bond appropriations from 1998 through 2016, Canally said, adding that is not unusual for a city like Austin, with a population that doubles every 20 years.

“We had over $3 billion in needs that were identified by our various departments for both taking care of our existing infrastructure and looking at some new opportunities, just to put it in context,” Canally said. However, he added, the city could not use $3 billion in five years, so the list given to Council was, “what we believe is a good bite-sized chunk to initiate a conversation that will happen in this community over the next 12 to 16 months.”

Staff is estimating that the city will have $325 million without increasing taxes above the 2.25-cent tax increase associated with last November’s $720 million transportation bond program, Canally said.

Photo by made available through a Creative Commons license.

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