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TipSheet: City Council, 6.3.21

Thursday, June 3, 2021 by Elizabeth Pagano

Though life appears to be getting back to normal in a post-pandemic Austin, City Council will continue to meet virtually for the time being (more on that soon). As usual, the meeting can be seen on ATXN or heard on 88.7 KAZI, and the entire agenda is online for your perusal. Today’s meeting promises to be fairly short as far as these things go. As usual, we’re just rounding up the items that caught our eye on this here TipSheet.

As we reported Wednesday, probably the most noteworthy items on the agenda have to do with property tax. The first, Item 6, sets the stage for a budget that could include the full 8 percent tax rate, though discussion at the work session Tuesday made it abundantly clear that this calculation does not set the rate at 8 percent, it simply allows Council to go above the 3.5 percent increase that is now allowed under state law. Of course, for the second year in a row, that lowered ceiling has been suspended under the disaster order enacted due to the pandemic. (Which means that the lower ceiling has not, practically speaking, ever been in place, though one assumes it eventually will be.) At any rate, on Tuesday it seemed like the will of Council was not to raise property taxes to the hilt. 

That’s certainly reflected in items 71 and 72, which expand homestead and senior exemptions for property taxes, saving the average homeowner just over $141 annually and homeowners who are seniors or disabled just over $150 each year. Given that more than half of Council has signed on as co-sponsors for this Adler-sponsored item, we’re guessing these will both pass (even though the abundance of co-sponsoring takes the fun out of guessing).

Speaking of guessing, we’ve translated items 4 (and 5) for you. Essentially, Council is considering a loan to the Airport Hilton, which has experienced a sharp drop-off in reservations due to the obvious. 

In fun news, the slow-moving rehab of the Seaholm Intake Facility appears to be happening with Item 7. And Item 12 has a similar vibe – it was originally adopted as a pandemic pilot to use outside space like parking lots for businesses that couldn’t or wouldn’t have customers inside. Now, it’s being extended to help businesses recover from the economic effects of the pandemic (plus, like to-go alcohol, it’s fun).

One of the bigger, more complicated items on today’s agenda is Item 40, which deals with something known as eTODs.  Essentially, the mayor pro tem-led item is designed to encourage equitable and dense housing near Project Connect. It’s been delayed a bit, as hammering out the details has taken a bit of work. However, judging from the message board, things look like they are moving forward and that MPT Natasha Harper-Madison is standing firm by her original intent … which means this is likely to provoke a bit of discussion today.

Item 14, which garnered a lot of talk and questions at the work session Tuesday, would add 41 new employees to the city’s Development Services Department. Some Council members seemed irked that this comes on the heels of a similar request in 2018 and that the new need seems to have popped up suddenly. Apparently, however, the new need really did pop up suddenly, thanks to Austin’s housing boom, which has left the department drowning in permit applications.

In terms of zoning cases, things also look slow today. We’re keeping our eye on an East Austin Vertical Mixed Use proposal and the Springdale Green PUD, but that’s about it. Probably.

Finally, the mayor has also proposed a change to the city’s federal legislative agenda to “indicate support for a guaranteed income” after seeing how many people are living paycheck to paycheck during the past year of myriad disasters. You can read more about the concept, and how it differs from universal basic income, here

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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 2015, 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 as of 2015, 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

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