Public Notice: Golf and Taxes at City Council

Proposals before Council suggest change is in the air

Take a look at today's City Council agenda, and you might groan at first: Decker Lake Golf? Homestead exemptions? Haven't we been here before?

But take a closer look: It's springtime ... do we see, in fact, seeds of change starting to sprout?

Take taxes first: Council will debate the homestead exemption, yes, but they'll also mull a much more far-reaching proposal: filing a broad appeal against the Travis Central Appraisal District's commercial property valuations in general, which everyone agrees are ridiculously low compared to residential valuations. A new study of commercial appraisals (see Point Austin, p.10), suggests that more equitable valuations could allow for lower tax rates from all the taxing entities, and save $218 for the average homeowner – about four times as much as the homestead exemption Council is separately considering – and likely much more for homeowners inside the Austin school district. How that appeal would be met – and fought by large landowners – is an open question. But hey, it's a start.

Meanwhile, the Decker Lake golf proposal comes back to Council with a lot different spin than when it went off to the committees for further study. The Economic Oppor­tun­ity Committee, in particular, came back with some very specific recommendations for staff and the full Council to consider: First, take a step back and look at all options, rather than simply weighing the proposal on the table against the status quo.

Meanwhile, too, the American-Statesman has editorialized heavily against alienating the parkland without the public vote that move would seem to require, and even City Manager Marc Ott has now proposed that the Council put a lease or sale of the property to a citywide vote. From his April 29 memo to Council: "While we have a variety of license agreements for the use of parkland, I have to acknowledge that none of them may approach the scale of the one currently in front of you for consideration. With that in mind, giving our residents an opportunity to directly vote to either sell or lease the land may be an equally viable option."

Council won't likely call that vote, of course; but what they will likely do is direct city staff, and the involved stakeholders, and their own committees, to take a fresh look at this offer, and at economic incentives in general. As CM Greg Casar put it: "On getting the figures from real estate on more or less how many chips we have on our side, I think that it does make sense to take a look at what we can really ask for in return if we were to move forward on this deal." That may seem elementary, but it hasn't at all been standard operating procedure when city staff considers economic incentives. So it's great that we've at least gotten that far.

As I suggested a few weeks ago: Perhaps this is the way the committee system was supposed to work.

Speaking of which, this is that extra-busy week City Council has at the end of each month – compressed because of Memorial Day into six meetings in three days:

3pm Tue., May 26: Public Safety Committee

9am Wed., May 27: Audit and Finance Committee

4pm Wed., May 27: Housing & Community Development Committee

2pm Wed., May 27: Open Space, Environment, and Sustainability Committee

9am Thu., May 28: Austin Energy Utility Oversight Committee

11am Thu., May 28: Full Council, Special Called Meeting

This Monday, May 25, is Memorial Day; most government offices and city facilities are closed (as are the Chronicle offices), but trash pickup and other such services remain unchanged. Many Downtown roads will be closed for the Life Time Tri Cap Tex; see www.austin texas.gov/citystage for a complete list. But the Austin Animal Center will be open normal hours, 11am-7pm.

The Austin Humane Society has a Memorial Day adoption special going through May 25: free adoptions for veterans and active-duty military, while the general public can take home adult dogs at 50% off and adult cats for free. 124 W. Anderson Ln.

The annual ENERGY STAR® Sales Tax Holiday is this weekend: Sat.-Mon., May 23-25: Pay no sales tax on qualified air conditioners, refrigerators, ceiling fans, fluorescent light bulbs, dishwashers, clothes washers, and more. See details at www.comptroller.texas.gov/taxinfo/taxpubs/tx96_1331. The biggest savers: compact fluorescent light bulbs can save about 80% of the energy used by conventional incandescents; ceiling fans can save 60% on your energy bill, and an efficient clothes washer can use 25% less energy, and 40% less water.... Also, Austin Energy offers rebates of $50 up to $1,600 on various energy-efficient appliances and measures. Info at www.powersaver.austinenergy.com.

A view of Rainey Alley
A view of Rainey Alley

The Rainey Alley Project is a city initiative, funded by the developer of the Millennium Apartments, to repave the Rainey Alley, and turn it into "an activated public space while still preserving core alley services." Come see what that could look like, on Tuesday, May 26, 5-7pm at the Mexican American Cultural Center. Volunteer designers will share their creative responses to what they've heard so far, and seek your feedback.

Old News

The Aquatics Division still really needs lifeguards; see www.austintexas.gov/department/lifeguarding-austin for info on training and available incentives.

Bike Month continues – there's a huge schedule of rides, meetups, and miscellany all month long; see www.biketoworkaustin.org, www.bikeaustin.org, or www.bicycleaustin.info for oh-so-much more info.

AISD budget conversations continue this week. Learn about, and provide feedback on, the district's proposed FY2016 preliminary budget:

• Wed., May 27, 6-8pm at Perez Elementary School.

• Thu., May 28, noon-1:30pm at Doss Elementary.

Send gossip, dirt, innuendo, rumors, and other useful grist to nbarbaro@austinchronicle.com.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

City Council 2015, Decker Lake Golf, commercial property appraisals, Marc Ott

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