News

Now we have a criminal complaint.

132Save Our Springs Alliance filed this criminal complaint this morning concerning Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty’s alleged violations (based on Daugherty’s own sworn testimony) of the Texas Public Information and Local Government Records Act. It appears that Gerald has been withholding and destroying records, holding committee meetings without notice to the public and not even taking minutes of these meetings, related to the SH-45 project.
Also today, Statesman transportation writer Ben Wear had this piece in paper. This confirms we’re looking at a 2-3 minute relief in drive time for Hays County commuters and piddling relief to Brodie. That’s what your $100M investment in SH-45 (the so-called toll road over the aquifer) gets ya!
This is the lunacy and legacy of traffic “relief” brought to you by your local and state officials, who are in our humble opinion, rolling over for Hays County land speculators and developers.

 

If you want to do something, you can send an email/letter from this site to Keep MoPAC local, but mark our words, your best bet is to start getting ready to clean house next November in the City Council races.

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Stop MoPAC’s Murder

In a rush deal — tomorrow — you could witness the Travis County Commissioners Court commit the MURDER of MoPac. Here’s the anatomy:

  •     Connect the south end of Mopac to Interstate 35 – the “not-secret” final plan.
  •     Divert Interstate 35 traffic to Mopac – an additional 30,000 thousand vehicles.
  •     Bring MoPac to a dead stop all day long — it’s already maxed during peak hours. 
  •     Provide land speculators in northern Hays County with a bonanza.
  •     Pave over a portion of the state’s most vulnerable drinking water aquifer!
  •     Do it in the name of relieving traffic from northern Hays County by 2-3 minutes. 

 

Road warrior SW Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daughetry is fast tracking MoPac’s Murder by moving for $15 million tomorrow to cement the project before Sarah Eckhardt and Brigid Shea get a chance to vote.

The money isn’t due for almost 2 years! Come find out which budget items will be shorted by $15M?!?!

Stop Daugherty from tomorrow’s big “screw you MoPac commuters” overreach.

Show up at 1:30 tomorrow at the Travis County Commissioners Court, at 700 Lavaca. There’s parking garage and street parking.

Please keep getting others to sign in to our network (at our website) or on our Facebook page right here

Thank y’all — hold on to your hats, it’s going to get even more wild taking back our city and our region!

PS There’s lots of great information at this website about this topic — thank you Keep MoPac Local for all the hard work: http://www.keepmopaclocal.org

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Sheriffs gone wild! Early voting ends this Friday!

Get this! The Travis County Sheriffs Law Enforcement Association is attacking Sarah
Eckhardt with a $10K donation from Gary Farmer! Why? Because Sarah Eckhardt tried
to rein them in from a whopping 11% pay increase -- when they're the highest paid
force in the state!

Farmer is a Republican "heavy hitter" who gave Greg Abbott $50K, Andy Brown $2500,
and is a Formula 1 Booster, and a big cheese at the Chamber of Commerce and Real
Estate Council.
We butted heads with Farmer in 2008 when he played a pivotal role in ensuring the
Domain luxury mall continued to receive lavish taxpayer subsidies. (Farmer also 
personally testified against prevailing wages as a requirement for another city 
subsidy, the Marriott Hotel).

Now get this! The ungrateful Sheriffs are putting out false claims that Sarah Eckhardt
should be rejected because she "voted for her own pay raise." This is...pardon the
phrase...a bunch of hogwash!

The truth is:

Eckhardt not only tried to ratchet back the Sheriff's demands for 11%, but she also
refused to take her own pay increases repeatedly, and even when the County made 
an accounting error sending her too much, she sent it back!
Get your friends out, folks. In a small turnout election...it counts a whole helluva
lot!

Early voting ends this Friday. Here's where you can go to vote. 
Thanks to many of you who gave to Sarah, she's running this ad now on TV. Watch 
& share!

Sarah Eckhardt Campaign Commercial, Vote for Sarah in the Democratic Primary for
 Travis County Judge! 
Come on now Austin, we've done a lot of the work for YOU.
Use our YOU DECIDE page here.
page to get the job done!

* Help voters check their voter information.
* Send out our videos and ask 10 friends to vote for Sarah and Brigid Shea.
* Print out our "Wonder Woman" flier for Sarah.
* Volunteer! 

Let's trim a little fat off the hogs y'all, including the highest paid
Sheriffs in the state!
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Endorsing Sarah and a little truth telling on Andy Brown

We’re going to step on a few toes. We’re endorsing Sarah Eckhardt for Travis County Judge and we’re going to do a little truth telling on her opponent Andy Brown, a story which we’ve been sitting on since 2008.

This is the hottest race in Travis County and everyone knows this critical position will be decided in the Democratic primary. Moreover, we think Brown will bow to the same powerful interests donating to his campaign that seek tax subsidies, tax breaks, and special favors.Let us explain and please pardon the length of this message.

Sarah Eckhardt served 6 years on the Commissioner’s court with integrity, honesty and in the spirit of cross-partisanship. We may not agree with every vote Sarah’s ever taken – but she is not bought and paid for and she has stood firm while the rest wilted.

Watch the debate between Sarah and Andy. It’s very clear that Brown is not up to the job. He has no experience, unless you think that being a chair of a political party counts as the “experience” needed to be the chief executive of a county with an annual budget of $850 million. No matter how many times Brown says, “I’ve had 20 years experience bringing people together for progressive causes to get things done,” we remain unconvinced. (Again, watch the video on our home page, you’ll see for yourself.)

Here’s what we haven’t talked publicly about:

Brown played a particular role in defeating Proposition 2 in 2008, the effort to stop the Domain shopping mall subsidies supported by 26,000 signatures and 500 local businesses and all 4 political parties. Despite the overwhelming endorsement of the Travis County Democratic Party Executive Committee (by a 58 to 7 vote of the precinct chairs), Brown found various ways to sabotage the endorsement and prevent it from reaching the party’s enormous list of supporters. The precinct chairs had specifically asked Brown for an immediate press release of the endorsement, which he assured them would happen.

 

Instead, Brown stonewalled the promised press release for a month until early voting was almost over. He refused to allow Prop 2 literature at events and wouldn’t even allow a sign up with all the other endorsements at the headquarters building. Brown either participated in, or stood by and watched others create such confusion about the party’s endorsement, that many of the hundreds of volunteers that year who hit the streets and doors for Obama thought the party’s position was to defeat it. Many of these good people were at the early polls asking people to vote against Prop 2. It was defeated by just 2%.

Friends, we hope you will agree that Travis County Judge is not an entry-level position or suitable for political operatives. Next email we’re going to tell you more about where Andy’s money is coming from, so hold on to your hats.

ChangeAustin.org has our own campaign we’re running for Sarah. We’re going to run some inexpensive ads on the internet and, if we raise enough money, some sassy radio ads. If you can give, please do so!

We also encourage you volunteer directly with Sarah’s campaign — contact Sarah here. They need your help distributing literature and making phone calls — as usual!

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Welcome to Austin But Pay Your Own Way by Brian Rodgers

The following opinion editorial was published in the Austin American-Statesman on Wednesday, October 16, 2013.

At the behest of previous City Councils, the Austin Water Utility has sold its water and wastewater taps to developers at huge losses for the past 15 years — selling far below cost and at a fraction of that charged by surrounding communities. Who picked up those losses? You, the ratepayer.
Another 175,000 people will move into the utility service area over the next 10 years. Are you willing to subsidize them, too?

On Thursday, the Austin City Council will vote on whether to keep selling taps at a loss or to finally begin recouping the full cost as allowed by state law. There are two main options on the table. Option 4i, favored by the Real Estate Council of Austin and the Downtown Austin Alliance, requires ratepayers to subsidize $165 million of future capacity costs. Option 5, recommended by the Water and Wastewater Commission, provides no subsidy; future capacity is paid by future development. Please tell the City Council that you prefer Option 5.

Texas is business-friendly, but even the state recognizes that ratepayers aren’t a bottomless piggy bank to pay for infrastructure required to serve new private development. Hence, in 1987 the Legislature allowed municipalities to recoup the cost of new infrastructure “necessitated by and attributable to new growth” by charging impact fees to future development. Thus growth pays for itself when growth-related capacity in water and sewer plants, major lines and other facilities is paid for by new development.

However, Austin has never charged what the state allows. How bad is it? We currently lose an average of $3,230 for every water/wastewater service unit we sell. (A service unit is the equivalent use of a 5/8-inch meter, or a typical household. Larger meters are charged proportionately more.)

Option 4i will lose $1,140 for every service unit sold in the environmentally sensitive Drinking Water Protection Zone to the west, $3,800 for every service unit sold downtown, and $3,000 in the rest of the city. Overall, losses will total $165 million, which will be added to your water/sewer bill. Under Option 5, we will lose nothing.

Supporters of Option 4i say we need continued subsidies from ratepayers to meet the goals of Imagine Austin for a compact city. They want a 50 percent subsidy for their developments downtown, at the Domain, Mueller and the Riverside corridor. But these areas are on fire right now; developers are tripping over each other trying to build in these areas and don’t need our help. Yes, the impact fees will go up dramatically downtown, where developers previously enjoyed huge ratepayer subsidies. A million-dollar condo at the Austonian paid only $70 for its water tap under the old schedule. A condo at the 360 Condominiums paid only $58. That’s less than the price of a faucet in the guest bathroom. Under the ratepayer-preferred Option 5, the developer would pay $760 and $630 respectively – still a bargain.

Will Option 5 hurt affordable housing? No. Affordable housing is exempt from impact fees. Will Option 5 drive developers into outlying cities? No. The three fastest growing cities in the U.S. — San Marcos, Georgetown and Cedar Park — have been charging two to three times more than Austin with no effect on growth. Will Option 5 bump up homes prices? No. Prices are driven by supply and demand in the current hot market; the 42 percent increase in lot prices over the past three years is far more responsible for soaring home prices than a utility recoupment.

Please tell the council to vote for Option 5. Welcome to Austin, but pay your own way.

Brian Rodgers, an Austin real estate developer, serves on the Impact Fee Advisory Committee and served on the Joint Committee on Austin Water Utility’s Financial Plan.

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Travis County May Stick Taxpayers With F1 Road Costs, Bill Oakey

This Tuesday, the Travis County Commissioners will vote on a major set of road expansion projects near the F1 racetrack.  This is Item #32 on the agenda, scheduled for 1:30.  This item would have the taxpayers pay 100% of the cost for the roads using certificates of obligation,without voter approval!  Below the agenda items, you will see a direct quote from the Circuit of the Americas from last year, offering to share the cost of the roads with Travis County.

You can review the agenda and the backup materials here: http://www.co.travis.tx.us/commissioners_court/agendas/voting_session_agenda.asp

Here is a breakdown of the F1 road projects, from Item 32:

CONSTRUCTION OF A FIVE (5) LANE ROAD FROM PEARCE TO STATE HIGHWAY 71 EFFECTIVELY EXTENDING KELLAM TO STATE HIGHWAY 71;
EXPANSION OF ELROY ROAD TO A FOUR (4) LANE ROAD FROM MCANGUS TO KELLAM;
A RESOLUTION FOR AN INTERLOCAL AGREEMENT WITH CENTRAL TEXAS REGIONAL MOBILITY AUTHORITY FOR PLANNING, DESIGN, ENGINEERING AND CONSTRUCTION OF THE ROAD PLAN;
THE COUNTY’S INTENT TO ISSUE CERTIFICATES OF OBLIGATION TO FUND THE PLANNING, RIGHT-OF-WAY ACQUISITION, ENGINEERING AND CONSTRUCTION OF THE ROADS; AND
DIRECTION TO THE COUNTY EXECUTIVE FOR TRANSPORTATION AND NATURAL RESOURCES TO WORK WITH THE CITY OF AUSTIN AND OTHER NECESSARY ENTITIES TO EXPAND KELLAM BY ADDING TWO ADDITIONAL LANES AND DISCUSS IMPROVEMENTS TO AND EXPANSION OF PEARCE LANE. (COMMISSIONER GÓMEZ)  (End)
Please email, Facebook, and Tweet this info to everyone on your list and ask them to do the same.  Ask them to come to:

Travis County Commissioners Court, 700 Lavaca Street, downtown

This Tuesday, at 1:30 PM

Last Year the COTA Entered Into Negotiations With Travis County to Share F1 Road Costs

In April of last year, the Circuit of the Americas offered to pay for the road improvements, and to seek a negotiated amount for reimbursement from Travis County.

Here is a direct quote from the COTA, from the Austin American-Statesman, dated April 5, 2012:

“We are proposing to start work on the road improvements now, with (Circuit of the Americas) paying the upfront expense. We are also proposing that Travis County would then provide COTA with a performance-based reimbursement for the county road improvements once they were complete. The percentage of reimbursement would be determined with county officials,” said Julie Loignon, a spokeswoman for the circuit.

From another Statesman article, dated Jan. 12, 2012:

“Both sides expect to work out a cost-sharing deal before long, but they say the project won’t be complete before the first race takes place Nov. 18.”  And from the same article,  ”Race organizers agree — begrudgingly, according to (F1 Attorney, Richard) Suttle — that the cost of the repair and widening of Elroy between McAngus and the track entrance should be split. The two sides diverge, however, on how much each side should pay.”

Memories have faded, the negotiations have been forgotten, the taxpayers get stuck!

Since last year those talks have been conveniently forgotten, and you and I, the taxpayers, may be stuck with the entire cost.  Judge Sam Biscoe opposes the item, and Commissioner Bruce Todd proposes a Stakeholder Committee to review cost options.  I could support Commissioner Todd’s very reasonable plan if there were no non-voter-apporved funding, and if he would simply add the cost-sharing negotiations with COTA.

Here is Commissioner Todd’s proposal:  (See more details in the agenda backup).

I propose that the specific objectives of the working group should be to create a comprehensive roadway implementation plan to achieve the following:

A recommendation to the Commissioners Court 6 weeks from the inception of the group to include, but not be limited to:

1. Best alignments for long-term regional and local benefits

2. Potential phasing to provide immediate and long-term congestion relief for area residents

3. Funding sources including the evaluation of motel-hotel taxes

4. Funding and funding partners evaluated on the basis of direct economic benefit based on participation on roadway improvements

5. Partner participation including City of Austin (End)

You can call or email the other three County Commissioners using the links below:

Commissioner Margaret Gomez: (512) 854-9444, margaret.gomez@co.travis.tx.us

Commissioner Ron Davis: (512) 854-9111, ron.davis@co.travis.tx.us

Commissioner Gerald Daugherty: (512) 854-9333, gerald.daugherty@co.travis.tx.us

2012 Austin American-Statesman Articles, Showing COTA’s Willingness to Share F1 Road Costs:

Updated: 11:37 p.m. Wednesday, May 16, 2012 | Posted: 10:37 p.m. Thursday, April 5, 2012

Circuit of the Americas seeks assistance from Travis County for roadwork

By John Maher AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF

Circuit of the Americas officials are asking Travis County to pay for at least some new road construction in the vicinity of their $300 million racetrack and entertainment complex southeast of Austin.

The work would include widening Elroy Road to four lanes and the extension of little-used Kellam Road to Pearce Lane to create a new way to get to the track property.

“We are proposing to start work on the road improvements now, with (Circuit of the Americas) paying the upfront expense. We are also proposing that Travis County would then provide COTA with a performance-based reimbursement for the county road improvements once they were complete. The percentage of reimbursement would be determined with county officials,” said Julie Loignon, a spokeswoman for the circuit.

Travis County Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt said it isn’t clear exactly what the circuit is seeking and added, “This looks like a very ambitious business proposal that is having trouble meeting its financial obligation. And so they are looking to the county to subsidize a portion of their startup costs.”

The 3.4-mile circuit is scheduled to host its first Formula One Grand Prix on Nov. 18. That would be the first F1 race in the United States in five years, and it’s been estimated that as many as 120,000 fans could attend.

Travis County officials have previously expressed concern about transportation to and from the isolated site, saying traffic delays for that Sunday race could be as long as 12 hours. Circuit officials have not dismissed the potential problems but have estimated delays closer to three hours.

For months, the county and the circuit officials have debated who should pay — and how much they should pay — for an estimated $8 million in road improvements for the area.

The county has said that it would pay for resurfacing McAngus and Elroy roads. The work on McAngus has already begun. There is construction going on at Elroy Road, but according to Bill Farr at Cash Construction, that is for a 30-inch water line parallel to Elroy Road.

Farr said, however, that it might be possible for the work being done on the water line to be used as a base for widening Elroy Road.

Circuit officials would like more than a mile of Elroy to be widened, from McAngus Road to the track’s northern entrance. The circuit would also like to see the county pay for some of that widening, citing the potential economic benefit to the area.

The county has said it will pay to repave Kellam Road, if the circuit then extends that road to Pearce Lane, which connects with Texas 130. Kellam is currently a road to nowhere, passing by a few houses and farmhouses before coming to an end.

Currently, two tracts of land stand between Kellam and Pearce. Weldon Copeland of Rainbow Properties said someone with the circuit has an option to buy an 82-acre plot at Kellam’s end.

There’s also a more than 600-acre tract owned by the state’s General Land Office.

Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson has been one of the most vocal critics of the state’s pledged financial support for the race. However, on Tuesday the office’s School Land Board unanimously approved the sale of more than 6 acres of that tract — presumably enough for a road to be built if the financing can be agreed upon.

In his application for the development incentive, circuit President Steve Sexton wrote, “While we are asking for road incentives, you may still decide that the value of our proposal to county citizens is worthy of an abatement or rebate also.”

——————————————————————————-

Updated: 11:45 p.m. Wednesday, May 16, 2012 | Posted: 7:53 p.m. Monday, Jan. 9, 2012

Elroy Road to be widened, but not before first F1 race

By Ben Wear AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF

With Austin’s inaugural Formula One race back on the schedule for this fall, Travis County and Circuit of the Americas have resumed negotiations over how to split the $5 million to $6 million cost of repairing and expanding about a mile of Elroy Road, a bumpy two- lane county road that leads to one of the track site’s two entrances.

Both sides expect to work out a cost-sharing deal before long, but they say the project won’t be complete before the first race takes place Nov. 18.

With that and other traffic challenges in mind, F1 attorney Richard Suttle said race officials have two consultants working on a “highly choreographed” plan to efficiently move the 120,000 people expected to attend the race southeast of Austin.

“I don’t think it’s possible for them and us to get everything worked out and get the (road improvements) designed, permitted and built by the time they have their first race,” said Steve Manilla , Travis County’s transportation and natural resources director.

Perhaps, Manilla said, the F1 group “could come in here with guns blazing to pay a premium price to get it done quicker, but I don’t see that happening.”

Travis County, even before the possibility of F1 racing in Central Texas emerged two years ago, had intended to spend about $5.5 million rehabilitating more than three miles of Elroy Road east of Texas 130. But the prospect of heavy traffic on the road — the track’s north entrance will be about a mile east of where Elroy crosses McAngus Road — changed that plan.

The track’s other entrance will be on FM 812 to the south — both FM 812 and Elroy have direct access to the nearby Texas 130 tollway — and that two-lane highway will be expanded to four lanes by re-striping the existing 44 feet of road, transforming its broad shoulders into traffic lanes.

Both sides now agree that Elroy Road should be expanded to four lanes in the milelong stretch between McAngus and the track entrance — Elroy is already four lanes west of McAngus to Texas 130 — and that a low, two-lane bridge over Dry Creek needs to be replaced with a higher, four-lane bridge.

The two lanes of Elroy, which are rippled because of the unstable clay soils underneath the road, also would be rebuilt and resurfaced.

The county will move forward with the pavement repair on the rest of Elroy Road east and south of the track’s north entrance, Manilla said, a project likely to commence later this year. And he said the county likewise will rebuild the two lanes of McAngus between Texas 130 and Elroy.

Race organizers agree — begrudgingly, according to Suttle — that the cost of the repair and widening of Elroy between McAngus and the track entrance should be split. The two sides diverge, however, on how much each side should pay.

The county, arguing that repairing two lanes is inherently less expensive than building two more lanes from scratch and that the new lanes will be on right of way purchased by the county decades ago, wants Circuit of the Americas to pay more than half.

“They’ve told us, no more site permits until we come to shore on this deal,” Suttle said. “I think we’re going to get there.”

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Why Lack of Affordability Is Killing Austin

We first met our friend, Bill Oakey, back in 2009 when he just showed up to join us in testifying  before the Travis County Commissioners Court about the unfair burden of property taxes on Austin residents.  A version of this paper was recently printed in the Austin American-Statesman.  Many thanks Bill, for all you do for Austin!  Linda and Brian, ChangeAustin.org (ps LIKE and SHARE this y’all!)

By Bill Oakey, Austin, Texas
August 16, 2013

Austin is no longer a stepchild to Dallas or Houston.  And its closer neighbor, San Antonio, barely registers on the national radar scene compared to Austin.  The capital City now boasts F1, the X Games, South By Southwest, and a booming economy that appears unstoppable.  But wait, can any City experience too much of a good thing?  Could Austin somehow become a victim of its own success?  Not only is such a scenario possible, but many observers find it to be frighteningly probable.  By reviewing numerous published articles, editorials and data, both local and national, one can find compelling evidence that Austin is becoming so unaffordable so rapidly that we may be headed for another boom and bust cycle.

While that may sound like a strong statement to make, consider this.  Austin has risen from the nation’s 17th largest city in 2000, to 11th this year, according to U.S. Census figures.  The explosive growth has brought crushing demands on infrastructure and public services, along with a seller’s market for housing.  Property taxes have risen 38% since 2003.  Rents have risen 49%.  The median sales price for a home has increased from $159,000 to $225,000 in the same period.  These figures do not take into account that many Central Austin neighborhoods have seen home prices well above $300,000 or higher since the late 90’s.  And yet, median income in Austin, adjusted for inflation, has stayed virtually flat since 2000. (Austin American-Statesman, August 10, 2013).

Both Forbes and Bloomberg have named Austin America’s current top boomtown.  But boom and bust cycles are all too familiar to anyone who lived in Austin during the 1980’s savings and loan collapse and subsequent real estate crash.  Residents who moved into suburban municipal utility districts, or MUD’s as they were called, found themselves in a financial quagmire.  These MUD’s were legally chartered taxing entities.  During the 1980’s heyday of speculative land-flipping, some lots were bought and sold more than once in the same day.

The savings and loans would lend to almost anybody who came through the door.  So, new subdivisions sprang up around Austin like mushrooms after a spring rain.  The assumption for the homebuyers was that a large number of newcomers would populate the subdivision, making the individual tax burden sustainable.  But once the market crash occurred, it was no longer the land that got flipped.  The homebuyers found themselves upside down on their mortgages, meaning their homes were worth much less than their outstanding loans.  The solution for multitudes of new residents was to simply march into the loan office and lay their house keys on the table.  Then they just walked away.  It took until the mid 90’s for Austin to recover.

Fast forward to the Great Recession of 2008.  We all know what happened, and we all know that he bankers and brokers learned nothing form the crash of the 1980’s.  Today you can go online and do a search for “bogus assignee.”  Actual mortgage papers were filed with county clerk’s offices, with forged signatures.  In some cases the words “Bogus Assignee” even appear on the documents.  The CBS program “60 Minutes” aired a segment where a fictitious person named “Linda Green” signed thousands of mortgage documents in a warehouse.  The young students who forged her name were paid by the hour, most likely with incentive quotas.

But all of that is behind us now, right?  The economic recovery is well underway.  Home values are on the rise for the first time in several years.  And no place on earth is riding the real estate boom faster than Austin, Texas.  Estimates of the number of new people moving here every single day vary.  But the figure of 100 per day marks the low end of the estimation scale, with 158 per day at the high end.

So, what’s not to like about being the fastest growing city in the USA?   Wouldn’t any city salivate at the chance to own that crown?   Well, yes, it is safe to say that business is booming in Austin.  If one phrase could be used to describe the new urbanites in Austin, it would be “young and hip.”  While not all of the young professionals work in the high tech industry, they are indeed tech savvy.  Austin venture capital firms have spawned the growth of innovative startup companies in a broad range of fields.  Generous tax incentives to Apple, Samsung, and even a high-end outdoor shopping complex, The Domain, have lured a steady stream of businesses to town.  The shopping center incentives drew loud protests and an unsuccessful ballot initiative to have them repealed.  The City then followed up with a healthy round of fee waivers for a downtown convention center hotel.  Again, the protestors clamored for an explanation as to why a hotel chain would need an incentive to build in the hottest city in the country.  At the same time the Texas Legislature delivered severe cuts to local school districts, then added to the districts’ pain by awarding a basket of school tax exemptions to incoming businesses.  Some admire the incentives; others call it “corporate welfare.”

What about the large segments of the population who were here before the big boom happened?  In the shadows of the newfound glitz and glamour that has charmed the downtown corridors of Austin are the leftover “regular people.”  Retired school teachers and state retirees have not received a cost of living pay increase since 2001.  Those people, along with tens of thousands of other low to moderate-income residents face skyrocketing property taxes, escalating tax assessments on their modest homes, and rapidly rising utility bills.  Of course, the story of local displacement in a growing, prosperous city is nothing new.  Gentrification has happened in San Francisco, Portland and lots of other places.  And yet there is something stunning about the rapid pace at which the Austin transition is occurring.  The Great Recession may have slowed things down slightly in Austin, but only very slightly.  The effort to pay for the growth has pushed both City of Austin and Travis County property tax rates up a full 25% between 2008 and 2012.

The voters of Austin, historically proud of their clean and attractive city’s stellar reputation, have willingly ponied up to support bond propositions for the schools, as well as bonds to pay for City and County capital projects.  But a couple of years ago, a new watchword found its way into the local political lexicon.  Affordability.  A person cannot attend a civic function or a political campaign forum without hearing “affordability” mentioned countless times.  The annual budget hearings for the City and County, which once drew large interest groups asking for more money for this and that pet project have all but disappeared.  The lineup of speakers these days delivers the same message in multiple-part harmony.  “Don’t raise our taxes any higher.  We just can’t afford it!”

And so what many predicted would happen fairly soon did happen in the spring of 2013, when two out of four bond propositions for the Austin Independent School District failed at the ballot box.  It was the first time that had happened since 1989.  Between now and November of 2014, local voters will be asked to approve half a billion dollars for Austin Community College building expansion and renovation, upwards of $343 million for a downtown skyscraper to house Travis County’s civil and family courts, and another $275 million for the first phase of Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell’s proposed urban rail project.

Here’s the bottom line.  The Travis County Budget increased a whopping 93.6% in the 10 years from 2003 to 2013, going from $303.8 million to $588.1 million.  The Austin City Budget has skyrocketed 73.7% from 2004 to the proposed 2014 budget, going from $1.9 billion to $3.3 billion.  How many friends do you have whose paychecks have gone up by those percentages?

The Austin City Council routinely sets their annual budget target using the maximum property tax increase allowed by law.  Then they publicize an additional “budget shortfall” amount to the media.  Everyone clamors for them to whittle down the shortfall.  But when they do, they have only reduced it back down to where they started – which generates the highest property tax increase they can get.  Just close your eyes and try to imagine if our community could sustain another 10 years of budget increases of the same magnitude.  Could you sustain it with your paycheck?  Or would you just be looking at Austin in your rear view mirror?

Here is an outline of topics and relevant data from newspaper articles and radio and TV websites.

1.“Policy Group Finds Austin Most Expensive City in Texas.”  Austin Business Journal, July 10, 2013

2.“Austin Named Most Expensive City for Families.”  KVUE-TV News, July 1, 2013

3.“Through the Roof – Cost of Living in Austin Is ‘Out of Reach’ for Most Renters.”  Austin Chronicle, March 23, 2012.  This article includes an interesting discussion of the displacement of low-income families from a historically affordable neighborhood along East Riverside Drive.  A single City zoning change led to a snowball effect that changed the lives of a large number of residents.  A valuable segment of Austin’s dwindling supply of affordable housing was wiped out.  One can only hope that voters will approve a badly needed program for affordable housing in the fall.

4.“Where Have Austin’s Urban Children Gone?” Austin American-Statesman, April 24, 2011
The “Big Picture” of Austin’s growth reveals a disturbing pattern of outward migration by families with children.  Many young families who transfer here to start a new job try to find a home in a Central City neighborhood.  But those who locate to a close-in neighborhood find that the convenience of avoiding a long commute comes with a hefty price tag.  So much so, that it doesn’t take long for them to join the rapidly increasing migration to the outer reaches of the City or County.  This phenomenon depresses the population of children in the inner city schools.  The next refrain in that particular song is announced school closings, followed by hollering neighborhood protests.

5.“Austin: Second Fasting Growing City for Suburban Poverty (In the Nation),” KUT News, May 20, 2013.  “Poverty Takes Root in Austin’s Suburbs,” Austin American-Statesman, May 19, 2013. “More Than One in Five Austinites Live in Poverty,” Austin American-Statesman, Sept. 22, 2011.  “Crime and Homeless Drop in Austin, but Poverty Is on the Rise,” Austin American-Statesman, May 23, 2013

6.“FY 2013-2014 City of Austin Community Needs Assessment,” A comprehensive demographic study of population trends including ethnic breakdowns, age breakdowns, unemployment data, income levels, etc.

7.“Pre-Seniors Are Booming and Austin Leads the Pack,” Austin Business Journal, July 31, 2013.  Discussion of a Brookings Institution Report that states Austin has the fastest growing percentage of people ages 55 to 64 in the United States.  “Growing Senior Population May Bring Problems to Austin Area,” Community Impact Newspaper, October 25, 2012. These reports led to Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell’s Task Force on Aging.

8.“5 Must-Do’s As Age Wave Bears Down on USA.” USA Today & The National Council on Aging, August 2, 2013.

9.“Austin Housing Prices A Concern for Employers,” Austin American-Statesman, August 1, 2013.

10.“Austin Property Taxes Jump 38% Over Past Decade,” Editorial Board, Austin American-Statesman, June 23, 2012

11.“Central Texans Deserve Truth About Their Taxes,” Editorial Board, Austin American-Statesman, August 25, 2012

12.“Austin City Council’s Budget Does Not Address Affordability,” Editorial Board, Austin American-Statesman, September 15, 2012

13.“Pull Back Now on Rapid Tax Increases,” Editorial Board, Austin American-Statesman, July 7, 2012

14.“Texas Business Incentives Highest in Nation,” New York Times, December 2, 2012.  Discussion of tradeoffs between “business Incentives” vs. “corporate welfare.”

15.“Austin Could Seek $275 Million In Bonds for Initial Urban Rail Line,” Austin American-Statesman, May 22, 2012

16.“Start Now to Make Austin Affordable Again,” Brigid Shea, Austin American-Statesman, October 24, 2012.

17.“Taxpayers May Be Asked to Share $250 Million Cost of Replacing Austin’s Public Hospital,” Austin American-Statesman, Jan. 27, 2012.

18.“Local Entities Join Forces to Sync Myriad Bond, Tax Proposals – Average Homeowner Would See $1,000 Increase In Taxes in Next 5 Years Under Some Scenarios,” Austin American-Statesman, July 11, 2012.

19.“Austin City Council Approves Brand New Vision for Downtown ($350 Million), Austin American-Statesman, Dec. 8, 2011

20.“Travis County’s Downtown Plan Calls for More Than $1 Billion In Spending,” Austin American-Statesman, December 23, 2012

21.“U.T. Gets New Medical School Thanks to Tax Increase,” Houston Chronicle, Nov. 7, 2012. “Central Health Defends Tax Hike of 5 Cents, Or 63%,” Austin American-Statesman, August 18, 2012

22.”As Debt Rises, Travis County Considers New Downtown Office Building,” Austin American-Statesman, April 29, 2013.  The County’s non-voter-approved bond debt has tripled since 2005, from $68.8 million to $226 million.

22.“Will New Travis County Civil Courthouse Rise 66 Stories?” Austin American-Statesman, October 11, 2011. “Travis County Commissioners Approve Building Method for New Courthouse ($312 Million),” July 23, 2013

23.”Austin Community College Weighs $499 Million Bond Proposition,” Community Impact Newspaper, July 25, 2013

24.”Big Increase In Next Year’s Proposed (City) Budget,” MyFox Austin, August 1, 2013.  New taxes and fees totaling $14.39 per month for the average Austin family.  This does not include Travis County, Central Health, ACC, or the school district.

25.”Austin To Tackle Affordability Question in Building Rules,” Austin American-Statesman, August 10, 2013.

26.”How to Keep Up With 158 People Moving to Austin Per Day,” Realty Austin, May 17, 2013

27. “Austin Ranked Best for Everything and Everyone,” Austin Business Journal, June 20, 2012

28.”America’s Fastest Growing Cities,” (Austin is #1, for Third Year In a Row), Forbes Magazine, Jan. 23, 2013.

29.“How Austin Energy’s Rate Increase Will Affect You,“ Austin American-Statesman,” June 16, 2012.  “State Report: Austin Energy Rate Increase Too High,” Austin American-Statesman, February 14, 2013.  “Austin Energy Wins Round One,” Austin Chronicle, March 8, 2013.

30. “Critics Tie Proposed Plant to Rise In Austin Water Rates,” Austin American-Statesman, August 26, 2010.  Rates to rise 35% by 2015.  “Higher Water Fees Coming for Austin Customers,” Austin American-Statesman, July 15, 2012.  Water conservation leads to lower revenues, so rates must go up.

31.”Cost of Infrastructure to Serve New Residential Development,” Fodor & Associates, Jan. 2011.  Austin only collects two of the four types of impact fees allowed under Texas law.  Their water and wastewater impact fees only recover 38% of the full cost.  The rest is paid by all City ratepayers.  Austin’s growth is not paying for itself.

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Energy Rate Hike Hearing Thurs. – y’all come!

This just in from our Austin Energy Ratepayer Watchdog, Bill Oakey who is urging you to come to the public hearing this Thursday at City Hall at 6 pm: (you might call or email Council too, see below)

“Austin Energy’s latest “revised” proposal does nothing to reduce the utility’s spending, reduce fixed charges for residential customers, stop the shifting of costs from industrial to residential customers, and keep a rate design that rewards energy conservation and low usage.  The $22 in fixed customer charges is still in place for this year.  The 200 kWh of electricity that is included does next to nothing to soften the impact of the high charges.

And in a new and shocking twist, the new plan includes the ‘Leffingwell Subsidy,’ which provides a 6.1% discount for out-of-city ratepayers.   This would exacerbate the existing problem of Austin citizens paying for growth, instead of growth paying for itself.  And on top of that, Austin Energy just last year signed a 10 year agreement to pay a 3% franchise fee to several suburban communities served by the utility.   No other municipal utility in Texas offers an out-of-city ratepayer subsidy.  The Austin Energy service area is twice the geographic size of Austin.  Providing an electric rate discount would stifle future annexation strategies and set up a war with developers over inside versus outside Austin building plans.  It would lead to a serious erosion of our tax base.  One more nail in the coffin of unaffordability for Austinites!

Come out to the public hearing and tell Mayor Leffingwell that we reject his plan, and ask the rest of the City Council to turn it down flat.  There is some support on the City Council for a delay in the rate case to allow for better analysis of the facts and time to prepare a fair and equitable plan.  That’s what Austin Energy customers deserve.”

Here’s how you can contact the Council:

Mayor Lee Leffingwell (512) 974-2250, Lee.Leffingwell@ci.austin.tx.us

Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole (512) 974-2266, Sheryl.Cole@ci.austin.tx.us

Council Member Mike Martinez (512) 974-2264, Mike.Martinez@ci.austin.tx.us

Council Member Laura Morrison (512) 974-2258, Laura.Morrison@ci.austin.tx.us

Council Member Kathie Tovo (512) 974-2255, Kathie.Tovo@ci.austin.tx.us

Council Member Bill Spelman (512) 974-2256, Bill.Spelman@ci.austin.tx.us

Council Member Chris Riley (512) 974-2260, Chris.Riley@ci.austin.tx.us

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Stop the Rate Hikes!

Are you ready to pay $25 per month to Austin Energy, before you even flip on a light switch?  Had enough!?

Show up at City Hall at 6 pm tomorrow, Thursday, January 12th and sign up against this and speak out! OR, email or, better yet, call the City Council and tell them to stop these unfair increases.  (See email and phones of Council at the bottom of this email.)

Read Bill Oakey’s article here that explains these outrageous increases.

ANNOUNCEMENTS & IMPORTANT DATES!

Join us at the Martin Luther King Day Celebration 

Next Monday, Jan. 16th, anytime 10 to 4 pm.  We’ll be gathering petition signatures at the Austinites for Geographic Representation booth at Huston-Tillotson University and at the march, which begins at UT at 9 a.m. and then goes to the state Capitol.  Send us a note if you can help anytime that day.

Thursday, Jan. 19th, Charter Revision Committee meeting in north Austin at 6:30 pm at Lord’s Church of Austin, 301 W. Anderson Lane.  The focus will be on an independent redistricting commission to draw the lines for geographic districts!

SAVE THIS DATE!

Austinites for Geographic Representation meets on Saturday, January 28th, 3:30 to 5:30 pm.  Interested in attending, reply to this message or call Linda.

Thank you Austin — get up, stand up!

PO Box 42053, Austin, TX 78704* 512-535-0989, 657-2089

Mayor Lee Leffingwell (512) 974-2250, 

Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole (512) 974-2266, 

Council Member Mike Martinez (512) 974-2264,

Council Member Laura Morrison (512) 974-2258,

Council Member Kathie Tovo (512) 974-2255, 

Council Member Bill Spelman (512) 974-2256,

Council Member Chris Riley (512) 974-2260, 

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Holidays are the time to keep giving to Austin (and partying!)

 

City Charter Revision Committee Meeting: Thurs. (tomorrow), Dec. 1, 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm, Carver Library, 1161 Angelina.
Party #1: Tomorrow! Thurs., Dec. 1, 6-9 pm, Victory Grill. Stop by after the meeting at the Carver.  This is a funraiser for our friend, Richard Franklin, in his bid for Travis County Commission, Precinct 1.  Though we have not yet endorsed in this race, we love competitive elections and the incumbent voted for the Domain subsidies and the extending FM 812 to accommodate Formula 1.  Details here, includes link to send $.
Party #2:
TheAustinBullDog.org
:  
This Sat., Dec. 3, 5-9 pm, the hungry, feisty online publication by ace investigative reporter, Ken Martin, needs cash to stuff its stocking.  The best part (besides the Cajun cuisine to be served) is that your contribution is doubled!  Details here.
Reception:
League of Women Voters-Austin area,
invites you to a reception with area officials on Wed., Dec. 7, 5:30-7:30 pm, City Hall Atrium, 301 West Second Street, Free Parking in the City Hall Garage.  Refreshments are provided.

 

Party #3:  Mark Your Calendars!
Austinites for Geographic Representation  
Christmas Change Party! (bring petitions and/or your shopping change!)
Saturday, December 17th, 2:30 – 4:30 (date changed!)
Scholz Garten, 1607 San Jacinto

 

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