Thursday, August 3, 2017 by Audrey McGlinchy

Budget proposal would raise Austin property taxes, increase permitting capacity

Austin homeowners could see higher property tax bills next year.

Under the city’s proposed $3.9 billion budget, most residents with a median-value home ($305,510) would pay an additional $118 in property taxes compared to last year. Utility fees would rise, too – with median-value homeowners seeing an additional $60 annually in fees.

The proposed budget also aims to increase the city’s permitting capacity, while maintaining current service levels across the board.

“This budget attempts to strike a fair balance between those in the community who express a need for additional city services and those who are expressing a concern about the rising cost of government,” Interim City Manager Elaine Hart told City Council members Wednesday.

Council members have until Oct. 1 to vote on the budget, which includes $5 million in spending for Council priorities – including mobility, health and affordability. Members still await the city’s negotiations for fire, police and EMS contracts. Those contracts will account for a big chunk of public safety expenditures over the next couple of years.

The city’s decision to collect the maximum amount of property taxes this year is spurred in part by the Texas Legislature, which will likely pass a bill limiting how much cities can increase property tax collection year over year before an election is triggered.

Additional spending reflects the city’s attempts to speed up the permitting process and accommodate the needs of those building in the city, which has also been the target of state lawmakers. In his call for a special legislative session, Gov. Greg Abbott asked them to draft uniform statewide permitting and called out Austin’s process for “interfering with job creation.”

The city wants to hire 51 workers at the Development Services Department, which handles construction permitting. The department would also see an injection of $20 million, boosting its budget from $37.5 million to $58.4 million. The ramp-up is a continued response to a 2015 report that, among other grievances, cited hefty wait times for permit approval. But Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo said it may be time to reconsider development spending.

“We have used that report to justify lots of increased investment in our development services area,” Tovo said Wednesday. “And not to say that’s not an important area of our budget, but it is getting quite an influx of resources and has probably for the last five years.”

The city’s Code Department, which has been historically constrained by limited resources, will also get a boost with 27 new positions. These new hires will help the department expand its enforcement hours to weeknights and weekends and ramp up enforcement of the city’s short-term rental program.

Council members will spend the next several weeks discussing and tweaking the proposed budget. Council Member Delia Garza gave some indication Wednesday about how she’d like to amend the budget.

“I’m very disappointed in the zero increase to public health,” she said. “Even though I appreciate that nothing’s been cut, the social service contracts are not able to help the same number of people with rising costs.”

And just a day after Council heard about the city’s failing pool system, Council Member Leslie Pool said she would look for additional money for the aquatics program.

“We can’t leave our neighborhood pools any longer without funding them at a level to keep them in good states,” she said.

You can see a full presentation on the budget proposal below.

Download (PDF, 8.14MB)

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Top photo by Gabriel Cristóver Pérez/KUT News, slide and presentation courtesy of the city of Austin.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

city budget: The city’s plan for expenditures based on income.

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