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Troxclair looks forward to new adventures

Wednesday, January 2, 2019 by Jo Clifton

After four years in office as the first Council member from Southwest Austin’s District 8, Ellen Troxclair is stepping down. But her departure from Council doesn’t mean we won’t see her at City Hall, she told the Austin Monitor during a recent interview.

Troxclair, who was the last conservative on Council, said, “I ran to be a voice of affordability and reason, and I feel like I’ve been consistent in that message. That’s what my constituents know me for and I’m glad to be here at the end of my four years. Looking back on it, I feel like I’ve been consistent with the reasons I ran – that I helped people be able to afford to live in Austin. And that’s all I can hope.”

Troxclair said she feels good about hiring City Manager Spencer Cronk, noting that he has tried to be responsive to each Council member, that he listens and works to understand issues as they arise and he has a long-term view.

As for Troxclair, she plans to step into the role of small-business owner for the first time, at Troxclair Residential Real Estate. She also expects to return to City Hall on occasion as part of a grassroots organization she is working on, to be called the Alliance for Affordable Cities. At the moment, Troxclair and unnamed allies are working on a website for the organization and she said she has spoken with people in other cities such as San Diego and Salt Lake City.

When Troxclair ran for office in 2014, the city had no residential homestead exemption. She and Mayor Steve Adler campaigned that year on passage of a homestead exemption with the goal of reaching 20 percent. It has not been easy.

In 2015, Council enacted the city’s first homestead exemption at 6 percent. They raised it to 8 percent in 2016, but didn’t increase it in 2017. In June 2018, however, Council voted 7-4 to raise that exemption to 10 percent, with Troxclair coming back from maternity leave to lend her support.

“I’m very proud of that accomplishment and I hope the city will continue marching toward that 20 percent goal,” she said. She acknowledged that reaching that goal would be less likely without a strong commitment from someone on Council. “To the extent that I was the driving force up until now, I hope somebody else will fill that role.”

When asked to name the biggest problem facing the city, she said, “Just being responsible with money is a challenge for every level of government.”

“And I hope that the city will continue to have the prosperous economic growth that you’ve seen that has allowed us to keep increasing the budget. But I’ve been consistently worried people are getting taxed out of their homes, and really, the people who make the city unique and vibrant are the ones that are getting hit the hardest with the continual tax increases. And additionally the city as a whole could have been doing a better job of increasing our reserves, preparing for a potential economic downturn,” she said.

Troxclair acknowledged that school district taxes take a bigger chunk of people’s incomes than city taxes, a problem for the Legislature. “But we can do our part,” she said.

In addition to her work on the homestead exemption, Troxclair worked on bringing more funds from the Hotel Occupancy Tax into programs that directly benefit citizens. She worked with Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo and Council members Leslie Pool, Ann Kitchen and Alison Alter to redirect money to Austin parks and historic sites that was going to the Austin Convention Center. There was considerable support for letting Austinites enjoy some of the benefits of tourism, and Troxclair said it was “one example of issues that were not partisan.”

Each year Troxclair has been in office, she has turned money from her office account over to the Parks and Recreation Department to improve parks in District 8. Last year she was able to give the department $100,000 to help make Americans with Disabilities Act improvements at Dick Nichols Park and install a shade structure over the playscape in the Latta Tyhurst Neighborhood Park in the Villages at Western Oaks. This year, she has given money to upgrade the trailhead at the Hill of Life off Loop 360, and last year, her office made a similar donation for a trailhead at Spyglass on the Barton Creek Greenbelt.

But one of Troxclair’s proudest accomplishments is a pilot program she helped initiate in which the city and a nonprofit organization teamed up to hire homeless people to do cleanup work in city parks. She said she felt proud to have been part of the program and to hear firsthand accounts of the ways it was helping people. She noted that one of the homeless workers told her it was the first thing the city had ever done for him as a homeless individual.

Photo courtesy of the city of Austin.

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