I wanted to update you on what has been going on at City Hall this past month. Here are a few items that might impact you and your pocket book.
Austin City Budget
Budget adoption is underway, for the next three days the Mayor and Council will vote to adopt fiscal year 2016/2017 budget. The City Manager recently presented his proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2016/2017 to Council. This preliminary budget includes an additional $56M more in General Fund spending, 435 (!) new city employee positions, and is expected to cost the "average" homeowner an additional $150 more in taxes, bills and fees next year. Despite a clear mandate to address affordability in Austin, this Council is nearing adoption of a budget that raises taxes, utility rates, and fees for every Austinite, despite record revenues from growth.
This increase would have been even more if it wasn't for the additional increase in the homestead exemption I was able to pass. The proposed Budget adopts the rollback tax rate, which is the highest rate the City can adopt under state law without triggering an election. It also includes increases to utility bills and fees.
As you know, addressing affordability by keeping spending under control was the main reason I ran for City Council, and remains my priority. I have presented my Council Colleagues with a budget plan that would reduce your tax bill. I am not giving up on the desperate necessity for Council to focus on affordability in Austin.
CapMetro route changes coming to SW Austin
CapMetro has proposed a dramatic change to the mobility choices in our district. Bus route #333 from Brodie Lane to the “Y” at Oak Hill, near the ACC Pinnacle campus, is proposed to be removed. This route provides a critical connection between Southwest Austin and Downtown, and is relied upon by our neighbors, ACC students, and many of those seeking alternate mobility options.
The news of the route change news comes from CapMetro’s draft plan of Connections 2025, which aims to increase route frequency and ridership. I understand the closure of this portion of route 333 will directly impact many in Southwest Austin. CapMetro is hosting several public meetings over the next few weeks, to gauge public opinion. Take a look at the draft plan here and see what you think.
My office attended last week’s meetings along with several of your neighbors to address our concerns. I have also requested a follow up meeting with CapMetro to discuss the 333 route closure as well as possible fare increases. CapMetro’s draft plan of Connections 2025 is still in the public input stage, it will then go before the CapMetro board for approval.
Upcoming public meetings can be found here. Whether or not you can make it to a public meeting, please take the survey here and add your comments about particular changes to boxes #4 or #5.
The Zucker report noted that Austin’s building permitting process was one of the worst in the nation. Included in the list of recommendations in the report was one to create an expedited permitting process. This would be an elective program for commercial permits, which would allow applicants to pay an additional fee to use the expedited line. By creating this new line for permitting (which would pay for itself), the process is sped up for those in the regular line as well as those in the expedited line.
However, at last week’s meeting, the majority of the Council elected to add multiple additional requirements to this new expedited permitting process, which include third-party on-site monitoring of construction sites, local hiring requirements, wage requirements, among other requirements. Those additional requirements would be paid for, with yet another fee, by the applicant who seeks a permit. It was passed despite deep concerns raised by a broad range of stakeholder groups that included builders, the real estate community, small and local business associations, and Goodwill, who alone lost $600,000 in revenue due to delays caused by the permitting process.
The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce noted in frustration, “it’s like the Council sees a traffic jam, adds a toll lane and then restricts it to a 5 mph speed limit, yet expects folks to use it.”
Turn lane added to Old Bee Caves Road
Good news: there is now a right turn lane from Old Bee Caves Road onto Highway 290/71. Over a year ago, several District 8 residents asked my office to inquire about adding a turn lane due to ongoing safety concerns and traffic congestion. Since then, I have been working closely with the Transportation Department, Public Works and Austin Water to complete this project. I am grateful to our neighbors who saw the need and approached our office. This is a great example of how your civic involvement can lead to improving Austin for yourself and your neighbors.
Meet Interim City Manager: Elaine Hart
City Council has selected Elaine Hart, the city's current Chief Financial Officer, as interim city manager.
Hart has had a more-than-20-year career with the city, including as the Assistant Finance Director, the City Controller, a Deputy City Auditor, and in management at Austin Energy.
Hart will serve as interim city manager when current City Manager, Marc Ott, leaves Austin to head to Washington DC. Ott has accepted a new position as executive director for ICMA, the International City/County Management Association.
Austin Honors 9/11 Anniversary
To mark the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, our office attended, with some 200 businesses, community members, government officials and law enforcement leaders, the Greater Austin Crime Commission’s memorial event in Austin. Honoring those lost that day, the occasion featured writer and musician Lawrence Wright, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11.
Free Movie at Dick Nichols Park!
Grab a few chairs and a blanket and enjoy a free movie at Dick Nichols Park.
When: September 15th at 8pm-10:15pm
Where: Dick Nichols Park
Movies in the Park is a series of free films brought to you by Austin Parks Foundation in partnership with Alamo Drafthouse and presented by Carvana. Each year, APF and the Drafthouse bring you free movies in parks all over Austin. Residents and visitors bring their blanket or lawn chairs (and often a picnic dinner!) for a fun and relaxing evening under the beautiful Austin night sky. Click here to see the full schedule.
District Office Hours
Want to meet about a topic that's important to you? My staff is available to meet in the District with you. Contact my office to schedule a time to talk during "District Office Hours." They will meet on a Friday afternoon at a local coffee shop or business. Of course, if that doesn't work for you, my staff is available any time to address your concerns. Call 512-978-2108 or email Alice.Claiborne@austintexas.gov to set up an appointment.