Bondage and Discipline: City $$$

Time for taxpayers to take their spanking

With the discussion all but closed on the city's 2006-07 general fund budget (pending the resolution of that little matter of the firefighters' contract) the city now looks toward its longer-term fiscal kitty, pondering if the Austin taxpayers can afford those cute little handcuff-and-leather ensembles – and sewers and highways and parks, etc., etc. – we've been thinking about. It's bondage time!

A bond election is in the works for next spring, and the city has assembled a citizens Bond Election Advisory Committee to ascertain Austin's construction and improvement priorities and to vet its wants and needs. To that end, the BEAC has created four subcommittees to examine bond possibilities in depth:

• transportation and drainage;

• facilities (including a new central library);

• open space;

• affordable housing.

Preparing for the bond discussion, city staff performed a needs assessment, matched roughly to the various bond subcommittees. The very grand total of wishes came in at over $769 million – not all affordable at a stroke, so it is from that master list that the committee will be whittling its priorities, with the help of broader public input.

Most likely to capture the public imagination is the proposal for a new central library. The City Council is considering a proposal to move the Green Water Treatment Plant from its lakefront location, opening the prime tract of land for development. Mayor Wynn has suggested building a new central library on part of the space, and if the voters approve, it should be a major public project and potentially a signature Austin building: 200,000 square feet, with 100K more square feet of additional space, 96,000 new volumes, copious parking and seating, 80 public computers, a separate Wired for Youth and Children's area, along with 22 meeting and study rooms, and a 110-seat auditorium.

Also likely to attract attention is a proposal for acquisition of new public lands – with a similar effort initiated by the county, the hope is that area governments can extend a policy of protecting the Edwards Aquifer by acquiring open space (and potential park land) that would forestall over-intensive development.

The broad public discussion, delayed a bit by the Hurricane Katrina emergency, commences tonight, Thursday, Sept. 22, 7-9pm at St. James Episcopal Church, 3701 E. MLK. It's time to contribute your two cents – before you're asked to contribute so much more. Two additional hearings are currently scheduled: Sat., Oct. 1, 10am-noon at the Asian American Cultural Center, 11713 Jollyville Rd.; and Thursday, Oct. 13, 7-9pm at Dove Springs Recreation Center, 5801 Ainez. The BEAC also holds regular committee meetings, open to the public, to consider the liberating power of bonds, with the reasonable application of fiscal discipline for which the city is known. For more info and a full calendar, see the city's Web site at www.ci.austin.tx.us/budget/beac.htm.


City Bond Projects: A Needs Assessment

Drainage: $198.6 million

Transportation: $185.0 million

Renovations & Maintenance: $104.3 million

Public Health & Safety Facilities: $99.5 million

New Central Library: $106.7 million

Land Acquisition: $50.0 million

Affordable Housing: $25.0 million

Needs Assessment Total: $769.1 million

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