Austin City Council approved the budget for the 2016-2017 fiscal year last week. Surprising no one, the $3.7 billion budget lacks any serious consideration for the city’s rapidly increasing unaffordability.

Although the new budget does reduce the tax rate to 44.18 cents per $100 valuation (down from 45.89), residents can expect to pay more due to skyrocketing property appraisals. That’s because – similar to most local governments across Texas – the council refused to adopt the “effective” tax rate.

This is on top of what taxpayers will pay for the looming “mobility” debt package, if voters approve the bond proposition in November.

We’ve previously covered how the average homeowner in Travis County pays the 3rd highest total property tax bill in Texas, which includes the cost of all local governments combined. The City of Austin is making this problem even worse.

The budget does provide some degree of tax relief to the disabled and seniors over 65 by increasing their homestead exemption to $82,500. By and large, however, residents can expect an increased tax burden overall, averaging about 2 percent. Residents and businesses that faced a significant appraisal hike will be hit even harder.

Predictably, the discussion was not unanimous – Councilmembers Don Zimmerman (District 6) and Sherri Gallo (District 10) opposed the budget.  Although Councilmember Ellen Troxclair (District 8) was not present due to maternity leave, she did voice her disapproval, calling it, “unaffordable.”

“Our population only grew 2.5 percent, and inflation was about one percent,” Troxclair said while discussing the 8 percent increase in the budget from last year. “That, to me, means we should be able to live within our means by not increasing spending by more than about 3.5 percent.”

In addition to voicing her disapproval, Troxclair made an effort to reduce spending in the budget prior to its ultimate approval last week – presenting her colleagues on council with a myriad of ways to reduce city spending. The list she provided would have totaled around $14 million in savings to the city by reducing items such as incidentals and consulting expenses – had they been approved.

All told, residents can expect an increased tax burden of about 2 percent – which will help pay for new budget items such as:

  • $2.8 million for opening the new Central Library
  • 52 new sworn positions to complete transition to EMS 42 hour work week
  • 12 additional police officers and 21 new Police Department staff
  • 2 percent performance-based pay increase for all non-sworn city employees beginning in December
  • 2 percent pay increase for sworn Police, Fire, and EMS.

And most ironically, $1.1 million for preserving and creating reasonably priced housing in the City of Austin – essentially a rhetorical parachute while avoiding the real work necessary to make the city more affordable.

All told, the budget reflects the city’s usual approach to the problems it faces: avoid the hard work and tough decisions necessary to make a meaningful difference – while also taking and spending more taxpayer money.

Greg Harrison

Gregory led the Central Texas Bureau for Empower Texans and Texas Scorecard. He attended the University of Texas at Austin, where he got involved politically through the Young Conservatives of Texas. He enjoys fishing, grilling, motorcycling, and of course, all things related to firearms.

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