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Council: Welcome Back – to Budget Season

Council's vacation ends

By Michael King, Fri., Aug. 1, 2014

City Council gets back to public business this week and next, in temporary venues: Today's budget work session (July 31, 9:30am) is at Town Lake Center Assembly Room, 721 Barton Springs Rd., and regular meetings resume next week, Thursday, Aug. 7, at the Travis County Commissioners Court, 700 Lavaca. The road show is a consequence of renovations to City Hall and the Council meeting room, in preparation for next year's 11-member Council.

To this point, most of the budget discussions have been preliminary, based on preliminary (spring) numbers. Council will hear updated projections from the budget officers, and start to get into the details on actual spending, and at least a preliminary property tax rate (not set until September, after public hearings). And there will likely be discussions of big-ticket items like Onion Creek floodplain buyouts, and the possibility and cost of a property tax homestead exemption (Item 3 on the work session agenda). The latter is already being tossed around on the 10-1 campaign trail as though it's just a matter of political will (sidelong lobbying from County Commissioners has taken a similar tack). One hears that it would annually cost "only" $36 million or so – in other words, more than the entire Library operating budget ($32 million), or over twice Municipal Courts ($15 million), or 60% of Parks ($60 million).

Arithmetic is hard.

Council will have plenty more to do next week, when some of the hot-button items already posted include:

Moving $30 million from Austin Energy's operating funds to its reserve funds, which have been shrinking of late.

Funding the proposed Resource Recovery Department's plan for a recycling/remanufacturing business hub near ABIA ($1 million to match $1 million from the feds).

Considering possible amendments to the boards and commissions structure, partly for efficiency and partly in anticipation of the 10-1 Council (there's an evening public hearing; the decision is likely to take more than one meeting); see "Boards & Commissions Mix-and-Match," p.17).

And in that context, formal authorization of the Nov. 4 municipal election for Council, and – in theory at least – of the transportation bond ballot language (also with potential for more than one meeting; see more above).

There are also several water/conservation-related proposals sponsored independently by Council Members Kathie Tovo and Chris Riley (with District 9 campaign season underway, their names don't often show up jointly). And Tovo has a proposal apparently aimed at the burgeoning neighborhood disputes over annoying workout noise coming from outside nearby gyms. Yo, hotshots, stifle it!

On a more emergency note, CM Laura Morrison wants staff to consider ways the city might support current efforts to help "unaccompanied minor refugees from Central America." (That's buzzing at Commissioners Court as well.)

The Road to 10-1: 100's a Crowd

A couple of weeks ago ("The Road to 10-1: Now We Begin," July 18), we slightly exaggerated the numbers of wannabe Councilpersons at "six dozen" – on Wednesday, the total count hit 71, including seven mayoral candidates.

As of Wednesday afternoon, only 16 had filed formal ballot applications, but that will likely become a flood by the Aug. 18 deadline. The lesson? Don’t bet the under.

And follow the coverage at austinchronicle.com/elections.

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