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Funding gaps and future needs eyed in analysis of bond spending

Monday, January 29, 2024 by Chad Swiatecki

Members of City Council have started to show some of their priorities for the city’s next bond package that would address needs for parkland and cultural centers, among other city departmental resources. Another concern expressed at last week’s Audit and Finance Committee meeting was the likelihood that the city will need to assess where it has fallen short of its scope on some past bond projects, potentially needing more funding to fill those gaps.

Council Member Ryan Alter said he hopes the assembly process for the next bond proposal, likely to go before voters in 2026, will involve analysis of where the city has missed the goals of proposed projects because of rising costs or other factors.

“You have the plan and then you have what actually is delivered and there are oftentimes gaps, whether it’s because costs have increased or one maybe took longer,” he said, suggesting the city look at including gap financing to complete or enhance projects that came up short of their proposed scope.

“It’s really a crucial time for us to think about: Are we funding this properly? Do we need potentially a different type of steady revenue to allow for our parks to really be what everybody hopes and wants for our park system throughout the city, not just in certain parts?”

Last week’s Audit and Finance Committee meeting included a presentation about spending on parkland acquisition and cultural center improvements funded from bond packages approved by voters in 2006, 2012 and 2018. The data showed that all $84.7 million from the 2006 package has been spent, while $3.2 million of the $77.7 million approved in 2012 remains unspent. From the 2018 package, $103.9 million of the $215.5 million remains unspent, with major expenses such as improvements to three arts and cultural centers still in the planning or revision phases.

During the presentation, Parks and Recreation Department director Kim McNeeley said some facilities such as the Asian American Resource Center are going through a revision process because the designs for expansions initially proposed by the city are no longer financially feasible.

“There is an entire design for a second phase and … we had been taking a look at that money with the community as to saying that the thing that we designed will not be able to provide to you for the theater that you want,” she said. “We can do some other projects and now we’re ready for a future funding source, be that a grant, be that matching funds, be that a partnership or be that a future bond.”

McNeeley said another facility facing a revision due to rising costs is the Dougherty Arts Center, which she expects the city will deliver an update on this spring.

Council Member Vanessa Fuentes said she wants to begin planning for the construction of a new library in Southeast Austin and would like the city to create a new YMCA facility in her district similar to the one created in North Austin on Rundberg Lane near Lamar Boulevard.

“We’d love to get more information on the background of that project. For example, did the city go in with the intention of buying that land for this creation? Or did we already have this preexisting parcel for a number of years?” she said.

“My intention, colleagues, would be to pursue a similar proposal so that we are able to provide this service for Southeast Austinites.”

James Snow, director of Capital Delivery Services, said his department is working with libraries and other city departments to assess recently adopted vision plans that will be compiled into a matrix that city leaders can use to begin assembling the project list for the next bond package. He said that the new process his team is using likely will have an initial list of projects this summer, but finalizing the bond package might take 18 months.

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