Struggling to afford living in Austin? Thank the city council, who just made your struggle worse.

Last week, the Austin City Council passed their new budget for the next fiscal year, one that includes raising taxes by 8 percent. That means the council will take roughly $100 more from the median homeowner next year.

But here’s the shocking part: Compared to just 11 years ago, the city council is now taking 100 percent more cash from the median homeowner.

That’s right. Double.

In 2008, the median city tax bill was $705, but now that bill is over $1,400. And that doesn’t even include the soaring tax bills from school districts and counties.

City council’s decision to constantly take more cash from working citizens has inevitably harmed Austinites who are just trying to make ends meet.

“When I bought this house 22 years ago, my property taxes were [roughly] $2,800 a year, which was doable,” said homeowner Brendan Sipple. “Now, they are $9,000.”

Sipple, a single father in north Austin, described how his now-tripled taxes are threatening to kick him out of his own home.

“It does worry me. I think about it all the time,” he said. “[…] at what point do I say I can’t do it anymore?”

A recent report shed more light on Austinites’ dire situation, showing that Sipple’s story is one shared by many across the city. According to a recent analysis by United Way, an astonishing 42 percent of Austin families are now struggling to pay their bills.

“[These people are] basically one kind of emergency away from falling into some sort of financial crisis that would cause them to not really be able to regain their sustainability and potentially just fall into poverty,” said Stephanie O’Banion, president and CEO of United Way Central Texas.

The report found that raising a family of four in Travis County costs a whopping $13,000 more per year than the statewide average.

“These are people who are working hard and working full time,” said David C. Smith, president of the United Way for Greater Austin. “They’re just still barely getting by and struggling.”

Whether you own property or not, higher property taxes mean higher bills everywhere, from renting an apartment to buying groceries to eating out at restaurants.

And now that Austin City Council is continuing to take even more cash from families and businesses, life is going to be more difficult for everyone. It’s as if the council is steering the whole city toward a cliff, and already forcing many Austinies off the edge. 

Take, for example, the more than 50 downtown local businesses that have closed in the past two years; many were culture-defining establishments, including Threadgill’s World Headquarters, The Frisco, and Hill’s Café. The city council helped plunder their wallets until there wasn’t any cash left to take.

“Property taxes have just gone through the roof,” said Eddie Wilson, owner of the iconic Threadgill’s, now closed after over 40 years in business. “It wasn’t really a decision I made. It was a decision made for me, by circumstance.”

Wilson’s monthly rent in 2018 was over $40,000, a staggering 350 percent higher than it was five years ago. His rent shot up because of government officials’ growing appetite for his money, something he couldn’t feed just by selling affordably priced chicken-fried steak and burgers.

This whole story leads to the question: Why is Austin City Council taking so much money from citizens?

The answer: They can’t stop spending.

With a record-high budget of $4.2 billion this year, the city council spends roughly double per citizen than cities such as Dallas or Houston. And more importantly, one look at how they spend those truckloads of cash may lead one to think the money would be better off staying in the hands of Austin families.

Over the past several years, the city council spent nearly $1 billion on an ill-advised biomass power plant that produced energy for only six months. The whole project has since been shut down because it was such an expensive disaster. The council also overspent $140 million on a flawed tunnel, blew $450,000 on two public toilets, tossed $115,000 to clean one public toilet, and literally gave away millions to citizens who simply emailed the city asking for cash.

And that’s just scratching the surface.

The worst part of their foolish spending is that those billion-plus dollars wasted could have instead meant hundreds of extra dollars in Austinites’ pockets every year, as well as lower prices for apartments, restaurants, and everything else in town.

Surprisingly, despite the harm the council has caused, Mayor Steve Adler doesn’t seem concerned about the 100 percent tax increase.

“The budget Council has approved is responsible, innovative and focused on equitable solutions,” Adler said in a statement. “The budget accomplishes all of this while preserving city service affordability for residents and homeowners.”

Ask homeowners like Sipple or restaurants like Threadgill’s if the council’s budget is affordable.

If Austinites are struggling to catch up with the council’s runaway taxes, spending, and costs, they can contact their council member and tell them. Otherwise, the council will continue steering the citizens of Austin toward a cliff—and sadly, only more will be forced off.

Jacob Asmussen

Jacob Asmussen is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard. He attended the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and in 2017 earned a double major in public relations and piano performance.