Council Preview: The Budget ... and Everything Else
After a daylong budget work session, the Council still have a lot to take on
For a change, this week's City Council meeting (May 2) may well adjourn at a reasonable hour – they're only scheduled to meet in an all-day budget work session from 9am to 4:30pm. The priority subject will be the individual departmental financial forecasts and presentations, but Council members barely began to dig in after last week's initial budget office overview, so expect some interplay on the broader financial forecast and how it might affect budgeting decisions and the all-important property tax rate (see "Happy Times ... in Moderation," April 26).
This year the budget office is trying something a little different: In addition to the work session conversations, departments have been preparing video presentations for Council and public review, also available online (as are Budget in a Box workshop materials for neighborhood associations and other organizations). Last week, Deputy Chief Financial Officer Ed Van Eenoo estimated the total video playing time at around seven eye-glazing hours (although the viewer controls the pacing), which means just about half of them have already been posted on the city's financial services page (look under "Forecast Worksessions"). Note: We may be seeing an entirely new potential venue for politics as "show business for ugly people."
If they survive the budget prep, the Council is readying what looks like an equally daunting draft agenda for the May 9 meeting – and don't expect that one to adjourn in daylight. In addition to more wrangling with the Austin Energy governance question – the much-amended proposal for an independent AE board is up for second reading – newly surfaced (not yet on the draft agenda) is Mayor Lee Leffingwell's proposal to consider some kind of public-private partnership or leasing arrangement for Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. The mayor suggests this could become a way of underwriting the planned urban rail project without another big bond issuance (and property tax debt), letting "transportation fund transportation." Whether it will fly on the dais (or with the public) is another matter. (The latest word from City Hall is that it won't in fact make the Council agenda before the May 23 meeting.)
Beyond the big picture items, there will be plenty more to debate. Returning is the Bill Spelman/Laura Morrison/Kathie Tovo proposal to toughen the Downtown Density Bonus Program (promoting affordable units) to make it harder for developers to dodge the program via rezoning. The East Riverside Corridor Regulating Plan (aka "The Neverending Story") returns once again, in several items scheduled in theory for third reading – although that may be an illusion and, like the invocation the entire subject has just become, a permanent part of the agenda. There are scheduled public hearings about rising Texas Gas rates, short-term rental regulations (that should be fun), Rainey Street building relocations, and a neighborhood association appeal of the outdoor music venue permit granted to Fifth Street's Tiniest Bar in Texas. Maybe if they feature Miranda Gil – it's her Proclamation Day – the neighbors will be mollified.