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Council: Summer Doldrums, Autumn Buzz

City Council has entered its annual summer hiatus, but the election money race has begun

By Michael King, Fri., July 11, 2014

Council: Summer Doldrums, Autumn Buzz
Photo by John Anderson

City Council has entered its annual summer hiatus, when City Hall denizens tend to take their vacations, at least some Council members leave town for a couple of off-the-grid weeks, and no formal Council meetings are held. The next is August 7, though they'll actually be back at the grind before then, with a budget work session scheduled for July 31. In light of the last couple of marathon meetings, there have been a few suggestions that the summer break is a vestige of an earlier, sleepier city and Council, especially since the County Attorney's strict interpretation of open meetings law has made it even more difficult to get things done off the dais, not to mention contributing to on-dais tension.

No doubt the transparency nirvana promised by next year's 10-1 Council will end all desires for a vacation.

In the meantime, when the members officially return in August, they'll have plenty to do. The largest annual question is always the budget, and in an election year they'll be straining to fund city services without raising the property tax rate – cushioned somewhat by Austin's rising property values. The basic preparations – i.e., departmental presentations – have been completed (though they might get a bit of late-summer update), and now Council will be trying to determine if Peter (public safety) still needs more money than Paul (everything else). One other question that has recently changed terms is CM Mike Martinez's proposal to bump the Austin Water "drainage fee" to fund a broader buyout of Onion Creek floodplain homes; there's since been a court ruling that the city's drainage fee structure is invalid. That's likely to remain in litigation for a while, and while the city insists currently planned buyouts are not in question, it's not yet clear what that will mean for future buyouts (or flood response, for that matter).

The other looming matter for August is the decision on a November bond proposal – now expected to include both rail and roads (the "Strategic Mobility Plan," and dependent on federal participation), and to compete with a sizable bond package for Austin Community College. Also on the November ballot will be a statewide road package authorized by the Legislature (we did water projects last year). Expect all these factors to bear on the Council discussion.

For several weeks, the discussion itself will be relocated and slightly more cramped. This week reconstruction of the Council chamber began, in anticipation of the new, larger Council – so August and September meetings will be shifted to Travis County Com­missioners Court (700 Lavaca). The hope is to be back at City Hall by early October, but construction might take a few more weeks.

In the meantime, expect to be hearing from several dozen mayoral and Council candidates vying to fill up that new dais. The money race has begun, formal filing kicks off July 21, and while you might not be thinking about elections until Labor Day – block-walking and door-knocking has begun in earnest. For your up-to-date candidate program, visit the Chronicle's election page: austinchronicle.com/elections.

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