For whom is Austin a great ‘bang for your buck’?
Friday, July 21, 2017 by Jack Craver
Austin and its city government are not perfect, but they both deserve some respect.
That seems to be the gist of the 2016 Year in Review recently released by the city manager.
“I often feel like the unforgiving pace of ‘what’s next’ blurs our view of the vast list of achievements and progress we’ve made,” wrote Interim City Manager Elaine Hart in the introduction to the report. “That’s why this report is so important. It gives us a moment to pause and celebrate the work of our employees.”
The 36-page report kicks off with selected results of the 2016 Community Survey of Austin residents. The poll, which was conducted by ETC Institute, a Kansas-based firm that provides consulting services to local governments, showed that Austinites gave their city and their city services good marks in a number of areas, such as police, fire, parks, libraries and safety.
Notably, Austinites are far more likely to give their services high marks than residents of other cities surveyed by ETC. The report makes a point of this, comparing Austin’s ratings to those of 30 other cities with populations of at least 250,000.
However, the report only included issues that Austin performs well on – or at least better on than other large cities.
Conspicuously absent was any mention of the city’s infamous traffic problems, even though the survey, which was released in February, showed that Austinites considered traffic management to be by far the most important priority for local government.
Following the survey results is a lengthy list of accolades that have been conferred on the city by various national publications.
While Gov. Greg Abbott describes Austin as a socialist republic where not even the whiff of freedom persists, a number of outlets gave Texas’ capital city rave reviews for its business climate. CNBC called it the best place to start a business, while American City Business Journals named it the number one city for small businesses, the Kauffman Index called it the best city for startups and NerdWallet declared it the best place for “young entrepreneurs.”
In a statement to the Austin Monitor, the Austin Chamber of Commerce described the area as “one of the best regions for entrepreneurs to create jobs, find talent, investors and mentors for small, high-growth businesses” but cautioned that city government faces a challenge to “keep Austin affordable” by keeping down taxes and the cost of housing.
Austin was also rated second on U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Places to Live” and was included on CareerCast.com’s list of cities that provide the “Best Bang for Your Buck.”
While the city’s rapidly growing population suggests that plenty of people concur with those rosy assessments, it is not hard to find others who have concluded otherwise.
“The people who clean our houses, serve our coffee, take care of our kids, clean our laundry, we’re pushing them outside of the city,” said Ruby Roa, a longtime advocate for low-income Austinites. “Not even (all) city employees are making $22 an hour and that’s what it takes to live in Austin.”
Another longtime activist, former Texas Monthly publisher Mike Levy, described the report as “puffery” and “spin.” He suggested a number of questions the city could ask residents that would elicit far less flattering responses, particularly regarding cost of living.
City Council Member Delia Garza said she had mixed feelings about the report. While it is important to celebrate Austin’s successes as well as the hard work of city employees, she said, many of her constituents in Southeast Austin don’t share the optimistic outlook of the city conveyed by the report.
“Many born-and-raised Austinites,” she said, “feel that their children will not be able to call Austin home.”
Photo by Stuart Seeger made available through a Creative Commons license.
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