A Council’s Work Is Never Done
Agenda features budget, the future of AE, and a whole lotta housing
This week marks the moment when the regular City Council agenda and the annual budget preparation collide, and today's meeting (Aug. 17) could well upend Council's momentary victory over post-midnight meetings. There's sufficient potential for lengthy debate in today's agenda, and that's just taking note of the six (count 'em: Items 69-71, 73-75) public hearings dealing directly with various aspects of the proposed city budget: from capital budget water projects through various changing fees to the overall budget and proposed property tax rate. ("Point Austin: Priority Problems," Aug. 11.)
In all likelihood, several of the hearings will be folded together for testimony purposes, but this will be the first and primary chance of Austinites to speak out in general and specific terms about the budget as proposed, and to praise or take potshots at Council's tentative proposal to consider a "tax swap" with Austin ISD as a means of lowering the overall local property tax burden. By today we should know if the Legislature has imposed even tighter restrictions on the abilities of local governments to raise funds for basic services – with the ultimate consequences still to be realized – so all these moving parts will be part of the discussion today.
Also posted are more general dais discussions of the budget (Item 59) and the annual "concept menu" (Item 60, Council's budget wish list), although this early in that process, they might decide to confine themselves to Wednesday's work session.
Those hearings must happen today, but before the meeting ever gets to them there are plenty of other matters on the 76-Item agenda that could hoover up considerable debate time.
A few high-profile Items:
• Return of the Pool Monster: Last week, Council postponed "indefinitely" a decision on the proposed Aquatic Master Plan, mostly for fear of triggering public backlash over the possibility that some (unspecified) neighborhood pools might be marked for closing. Item 52 would create yet another "task force" to consider the Master Plan and the problem. This is one kicked can that simply won't go away.
• The Rent Is Still Too Damn High: Items 51 (on housing co-ops), 53 (a "displacement" task force), 54 (source-of-income discrimination), 55 (gentrification and displacement study) all attempt to address housing affordability from various angles. If task forces were horses, we'd all be riding ponies – even if you can't fault Council for trying. When these resolutions return with staff recommendations, maybe there will be a magic housing riding crop among them.
• TODal Density: District 3 Council Member Pio Renteria and his co-sponsors hope to amend the Plaza Saltillo Transit-Oriented Development density bonus program as it applies to a tract owned by Habitat for Humanity, and to consider it as a potential template for similar TODs (Item 56). At Tuesday's work session, there was talk of a "time certain" discussion of the resolution at 6pm – Renteria shrugged that midnight was getting closer and closer.
• The Future of AE: The public hearing on the Austin Energy Resource, Generation and Climate Protection Plan closed last week ("With All Deliberate Speed," Aug. 14), but now the dais needs to wrestle with just how aggressive the utility's overall planning goals need to be. If council members want to expatiate, this could take a while – or conversely, they could adopt the recommendations of the Electric Utility Commission Resource Planning Working Group with a minimum of fuss. Place your bets.
• Event Horizon: Revisions to the Special Events regulations are also returning (Item 14) after a long hiatus. First reading approval goes all the way back to October of 2013 (prior to 10-1 Council), after bouncing through various commissions, and the draft has since been tweaked (the backup provides annotations of proposed changes). These are mostly refinements, but there are quite a few of them, and Council is likely to either 1) postpone the debate to a possibly thinner agenda, or 2) spend a lot of time plowing through the details.
• Thanks for Nothing: An addendum (Item 76) sponsored by CM Greg Casar, et al., notes that the Lege (regular session) imposed another unfunded mandate on local jurisdictions, effectively requiring local taxpayers to subsidize wireless telecommunications companies by mandating open access to city facilities and limiting the fees normally charged to defray the related costs. The resolution estimates a $3.5 million hit to Austin for FY 2018, and a consequent "$750 million transfer from Texas taxpayers to the private cellular industry" (per the Texas Municipal League). The resolution would authorize the city manager to explore litigation to challenge the law, a challenge that would likely find plenty of urban allies.
Those are the tips of a potential agenda iceberg. There are also a few big-dollar contracts on the consent agenda that could be pulled for closer examination, a specific resolution on the special event use of Republic Square Park, and who knows what other land mines concealed in the underbrush. No proclamations on the advance agenda, but DJ HellaYella is the musical honoree. Expect a Hulking good time!