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Council: Dog Day Afternoons

After months of punting, council members dive in to city controversies

By Michael King, Fri., Aug. 16, 2013

City Council's next regular meeting isn't until Thursday, Aug. 22, but as the Chronicle went to press Wednesday, members were knee-deep in an all-day budget work session. The agenda included a review of the individual departmental budget proposals (available for your video entertainment on the city's website under financial services; see "Budget Development") – and a pro forma determination of the maximum potential property tax rate, likely to be set at 51.32 cents per $100 assessed value. That's just below the rollback rate (51.34) and above the 51.14 rate proposed in the budget presented by City Manager Marc Ott last week – whether Council itself will stick with that rate remains to be seen. (Much of this ritualized rollout is mandated by state law; tax rate public hearings coincide with Council meetings scheduled for Aug. 22 and 29, and formal adoption is scheduled for Sept. 9.)

While budget tweaking is front and center this month, other city business proceeds unabated. Last week's headline matters included the climax of the White Lodging prevailing wage dispute (see p.14) and, preceding that midnight donnybrook, an initial but still-temporary endorsement of the "Taco PUD" at Riverside and Lamar (above). There was other business that may have drifted under the radar: The long-anticipated new ABIA terminal (aka "East Terminal Infill Project") was approved, to the tune of $62 million (following a colloquy initiated by CM Bill Spelman that calculated the cost at roughly 50 cents "per enplaned passenger" while cutting security wait times in half). And a nearly identical amount ($65 million) was approved, 7-0, for a November affordable housing bond ballot, after a Spelman motion to reduce it to $55 million failed, 4-3 – now all they have to do is persuade the voters.

Meanwhile, the anti-fluoride brigade has revealed a sinister new nemesis: Austin Ener­gy's "smart meters" (akin to smartphones), which can be monitored from a central facility (rather than manually read), along with other functions, and which fringe-group opponents accuse of everything from generic electrical interference to New World Order death plots. After a full hour of that sort of thing, to no apparent rational purpose, Council voted to approve AE's 10-year, rollover $60 million contract to install and monitor the things.

Budget matters will likely dominate City Hall discussion for the next couple of weeks, but the draft agenda for Aug. 22 promises a couple of other potential brouhahas. The often flammable short-term rental ordinance returns for another go-round, as does the question of affordable housing regulations in the University Neighborhood Over­lay. And, of course, there's the first public hearing on the to-be-proposed property tax rate. Count your blessings – and your pennies.

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