Public Notice: Waitin' for the Money

Budget, bond drama overshadows all else

Public Notice

It's all budget all the time in city government right now, as City Council tries to power through the many, many details of the annual city budget (see "City Council Clashes Over 2017 Budget,"), after apparently having achieved surprising unanimity last week on the $720 million Mobility Bond (see "What Would $720 Million for Transportation Buy?," Aug. 5).

Among the bigger-ticket items: Rail advocates appear to have lost their bid to get a light rail starter line included on the bond ballot; social services advocates are pushing for a bigger share of the overall pie, presumably instead of more police funding; even as public safety advocates point to a new study showing we don't have near enough police funding. Meanwhile, advocates for smaller, more focused programs are looking on anxiously, hoping their projects don't hit the cutting-room floor as time and money get tight.

One of those projects is a full, citywide rollout of curbside compost collection, with service reaching all Austin Resource Recovery customers by 2020. That's currently in this year's budget, and environmental and Zero Waste supporters are holding an event today to draw attention to the goal and to cement Council support for the initiative. This Thursday, Aug. 18, at 3:45pm in the City Hall Media Room, representatives of Texas Cam­paign for the Environment, Austin Neighbor­hoods Council, Compost Pedallers, Compost Coalition, and the Zero Waste Advis­ory Com­mission will present over 18,000 petition signatures in support of the program and urge Council to accelerate the rollout by one year, to be complete by 2019. Austin Resource Recov­ery will make their formal budget presentation next Wednesday, Aug. 24, and Council will take their final vote by Sept. 14.

Meanwhile, in quieter budget news, Travis County Commissioners announced this week that they expect to balance their FY 2017 budget while dropping the property tax rate by about 8% – from 41.69 cents to 38.38 cents per $100 of taxable value – fully offsetting the increased property valuations that TCAD anticipates. That tax rate, a county press release noted, "would result in no County property tax increase for the average taxable homestead for the third consecutive year." The county's Preliminary Budget totals $976 million, up about 2.6% from 2016, and just a hair larger than the city's $969 million General Fund budget. It's available on the Travis County website: www.traviscountytx.gov/planning-budget/budget-development. The Commissioners Court will hold public hearings on the tax rate and budget on Sept. 20, 23, & 27, and is scheduled to adopt it on Sept. 27.


Council punted the two contentious development cases on last week's agenda – the Grove PUD and the Lenox Oaks/Cactus Rose case – for a full month, until Sept. 22, which was probably a no-brainer, because as I pointed out last week ("Public Notice: Inconvenient Details," Aug. 12), neither proposal is quite ready for prime time, and both will benefit from more attention than Council is prepared for right now. After today, Council's next regular meetings are Sept. 1, then Sept. 12, 13, & 14, which will be largely devoted to passing the 2017 budget, and then Sept. 22.


One item of business that Council will get to today is to again postpone the ordinance governing overnight concrete pouring in the Central Business District, which has been a subject of considerable discord for Downtown residents for some time now. This "interim" ordinance originally took effect Dec. 1, 2014, one of the last acts of the outgoing Lee Leffingwell council, and it was supposed to expire March 31, 2015, before which time the city manager's office was to have consulted stakeholders and presented Council with a recommendation for a permanent ordinance "within 60 days." Since then, Council has extended that expiration date numerous times and is set to do so again today, pushing it back from Aug. 31 to Nov. 30, because, although they've supposedly been working on this for almost two years now: "After recent discussions with the Economic Development Department and the Austin Police Department, it was determined the enforcement provisions of the proposed ordinance could not be enforced as written. The Development Services Department and Planning and Zoning Department will be working with these departments and the Law Department to create a new ordinance that addresses this problem. Staff anticipates a revised ordinance will be presented to Council "within the next 45 to 60 days."


The annual Anne McAfee Quartet of Stars Lunch, a fundraiser for the Travis County Democratic Party, is Sun., Aug. 28, at 1pm, at the Westin Hotel Ballroom at the Domain, this year honoring Amy Wong Mok, Shuronda Robinson, Cynthia Valadez Sr., and Lara Wendler, with Sarah Weddington as keynote speaker. Advance tickets ($60-10,000) are at www.traviscountydemocrats.org.


The very great Graham Reynolds is developing an experimental chamber opera, Pancho Villa From a Safe Distance – "a thoughtful examination of the life and death of Pancho Villa, the enigmatic hero of the Mexican Revolution, unlikely film star and notorious bandit." Ballroom Marfa has launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the project, the third installment in Reynolds' "Marfa Triptych." Search for Marfa at www.kickstarter.com for more info or to donate.

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

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

city budget, FY 2017, City Council, mobility bond, light rail, police funding, compost, Austin Resource Recovery, zero waste, Travis County Commissioners, Grove PUD, Lenox Oaks, Cactus Rose, overnight concrete pouring, Anne McAfee Quartet of Stars Lunch, Graham Reynolds

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