The Austin Chronicle

Council: Do I Hear Six Percent?

Council approaches a decision on homestead exemption

By Michael King, June 5, 2015, News

Plenty of work is on City Council's front-burner today (June 4), and it will be a test to work through the 64-Item agenda at any speed, especially if the checkbook balancers on the dais want to review every purchasing contract of any size. The headline this week is Item 10 – a final decision on the homestead property tax exemption – on which Council members have gone back and forth for weeks, less on whether to expand the currently small (flat $5,000) exemption than on just by how much to expand it.

Based on the ongoing conversation, it would appear that a majority, led by Mayor Steve Adler, is leaning toward enacting a 6% exemption, as the first step toward a four-year phase-in of 20% overall (a couple of members appear to favor an immediate 20%). That should make it both more economically feasible (in budgeting terms) and politically marketable, to those on and off the dais who consider it basically a gift to the wealthiest homeowners. But there's been some pushback from the Eastside districts (1-4) – where renters heavily outnumber homeowners and the home values are lower. In the Statesman this week, one of the most vocal opponents, District 2 CM Delia Garza, described the exemption as both inadequate and inequitable, while inexorably leading either to service cuts or a higher tax rate. It's also unclear if the Legislature's just-enacted expansion of the state exemption on school district taxes, which won't take effect before next year, will have any effect on the city's discussion. On Wednesday, the mayor and D4 CM Greg Casar floated a proposal that would pair a 5% exemption with the equivalent of 1% targeted to helping renters. For details, see "New Homestead Exemption Proposal," June 3.

Expect speechifying.

Still simmering is last week's tentative decision to move forward with the challenge of commercial appraisals by the Travis Cen­tral Appraisal District – that's not on today's agenda, but the city is consulting with TCAD and its potential partners to determine whether to confirm the challenge before the Appraisal Review Board convenes. (The refusal of Travis County Commissioners Court to join the city was not encouraging.)

And there's plenty of additional gristle it will take time to chew, for example:

Ratification of the labor contract with the Austin Firefighters Association (Item 15) is listed on consent, as are two related consulting contracts (17-18); they might not require discussion, but the ashes are still glowing;

Approval of negotiation and purchase of 63 properties in the Williamson County floodplain (Item 21), to a limit of $18 million; at Tuesday's work session, some CMs were a bit restive on the price tag, but seemed ready to accede;

Approval of a Library Depart­ment contract for audiobooks, over six years total, at $1.95 million (Item 30); not remarkable, but some CMs seem determined to question every lib­rary expenditure, so this may hit a bump;

Approving the (annual) issuance of Water and Wastewater bonds and Certificates of Obligation (Items 38-40) – standard stuff, but nine-digit numbers make some CMs nervous;

A resolution to create a Flood Mitigation Task Force (relevant departmental staff as well as Council appointees) in response to recent floodwaters (Item 44); a couple of CMs were skeptical, but this is likely to survive with some tinkering;

A resolution to create a Joint Sustainability Committee under the 2015 Austin Community Climate Plan (Item 48); some skepticism from the right on the dais, but the Item already has five sponsors;

A resolution attempting (once again) to jumpstart long-delayed homestead preservation districts (Item 51);

Taxi franchise and ground transportation regs return for third reading (Items 52-55); the trip adjustments continue.

It's National Trails Day, and the kickoff of the Capital Area Food Bank's Summer Food Service Program; the musical honorees are the Digital Wild: Put your hands up ... and together.

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