If Austin City Council is looking for a New Year’s resolution, here’s one suggestion: stop helping close iconic local businesses.
Many famed Austin places face a harsh reality in 2019. In the past year, a slew of local restaurants including Threadgill’s World Headquarters, The Frisco, and Hill’s Café closed their doors permanently, joining over 50 other downtown restaurant casualties since 2017.
The harsher reality is that Austin City Council helped kill these landmarks.
Year after year, the council and other local government officials made the decision to keep increasing taxes, snatching more and more money out of these business owners’ pockets. Unsurprisingly, their pockets eventually became empty.
“Property taxes have just gone through the roof,” said Eddie Wilson, owner of the iconic Threadgill’s, which is now closing after over 40 years in business. “It wasn’t really a decision I made,” he said. “It was a decision made for me, by circumstance.”
Wilson’s monthly rent is over $40,000, a staggering 350 percent higher than it was five years ago. That rent shot up because of government officials’ growing appetite for his money, something he couldn’t feed just by selling inexpensive chicken fried steak and burgers.
Wilson’s story is sadly becoming common in the city of Austin.
“Our property taxes have doubled over the past three to four years,” said Harry Akin, co-owner of The Frisco, a favorite Austin eatery since 1953.
“Let’s just say [our property tax bill] went from dropping change in a jar to quite a bit of money,” said Glenn Moore, owner of Springdale Farm, a beloved East Austin urban farm.
The list goes on. Famous coffee shop Austin Java, downtown pizza staple Frank & Angie’s, and eclectic antique shop Uncommon Objects are just a few of the local establishments who have cited out-of-control property taxes as reasons why they closed or were forced to move.
Austin’s iconic, culture-defining places are rapidly vanishing, and the worst part is that this tragic scene was completely unnecessary. What has the city council done with the piles of money they have taken from these businesses? They’ve wasted it: $140 million was overspent on a disastrous tunnel project, millions were given away freely to any citizen who applied, and $115,000 per year was spent to clean one downtown public toilet.
And that’s just scratching the surface. The city council spends over $4,000 per Austinite, roughly double what cities such as Dallas or Houston spend per person.
Furthermore, on top of city hall’s portion of Austinites’ tax bill, county and school districts have also grabbed more money, as those elected officials refused to lower tax rates enough to offset rising property values.
All of the money seized by city, school, and county taxes could have stayed in the hands of the people of Austin and saved their favorite places, but city officials have decided to take it from them year after year.
The consequences of city hall’s tax and spending decisions could be an opportunity for them to change course, but sadly there has been no indication from any council member that they desire to let Austinites keep more of their hard-earned money.
If the city council continues on its current path, Austinites and their iconic places will only continue to be run out of town.