Council: Taxes Are Challenging
Council prepares to challenge TCAD
Looks like City Council is indeed preparing to challenge the Travis Central Appraisal District on the accuracy of its commercial property appraisals. That's the thrust of Item 22 on today's agenda (May 21), partly the fruit of a city-commissioned report just issued by consultants the Aegis Group and UT-Austin real estate professor George W. Gau. According to the report – commissioned by the previous Council as a preliminary step toward a challenge – "commercial properties have been substantially undervalued by TCAD for property tax purposes. For the period of 2012-14, the average undervaluation was 47%." The report says the primary reason for undervaluation appears to be the lack of sales price information (legally obscured under Texas law), and suggests that if the undervaluations were corrected, "there would be potential savings for both Austin renters and homeowners through lower property taxes."
How long such a challenge would take, its chances of success – and the eventual effect on tax rates – remains to be seen. Item 22 could be called bipartisan: sponsored by Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo (District 9), co-sponsored by D5's Ann Kitchen, D6's Don Zimmerman, and D8's Ellen Troxclair. (The morning briefing will also address the subject of a challenge; the vote may not come until next week.) In the meantime, Item 2 proposes to increase the current homestead property tax exemption (.01%, or effectively a flat $5,000) to a not-yet-specified percentage – presumably to be talked through at today's session, so tax matters may occupy Council for quite a while.
Other money matters include a couple of proposals by D4 CM Greg Casar. Item 23 (co-sponsored by Mayor Steve Adler, D1's Ora Houston, and D7's Leslie Pool) would direct the city manager to draft a budget that includes raising the current $11.39 minimum wage for city employees (to a rate not specified but tied to inflation). Item 25 is a "ban the box" proposal (referring to the criminal history questions on job applications) – it would convene a working group to develop "fair chance" hiring practices in Austin for ex-inmates.
There's plenty more on today's to-do list:
• Items 31-34: Pursuing work in progress on taxicab franchise extensions, including perhaps a fourth (co-op) franchise;
• Item 42: The Decker Lake golf course proposal returns after several committee reviews (public hearing closed), with Council members and the mayor sending mixed signals on how they're leaning;
• Item 48: Hearing on an appeal of the Planning Commission decision to allow a variance for construction in the setback of the Waterfront Overlay in the Red Bluff district; in work session, Mayor Adler suggested a resolution that would involve realigning a city street above the tract, presumably clearing the setback;
• Items 49-53: Public hearings include continued discussions of utility rate revisions for major commercial customers, which has been a fairly volatile subject (perhaps less so this round, with the Lege nearing sine die).
There's always more where those came from: The musical honoree is Jackie Venson, it's both EMS and Public Works Week, Safe Boating Week and Motorcycle Safety Month (insert gratuitous Waco joke here), and among the Distinguished Service awardees is the hardest-working woman in voluntary development review: Zoning and Platting Commissioner for Life, Betty Baker.