Austin City Council recently had a choice: Let some citizens stay in their homes, or take more of their cash and force them out. The council unanimously chose the latter.
Last week, the council voted to add a group of 400 lake-area properties to their tax rolls, a move that will flood council’s coffers with roughly $3 million extra per year, according to 2018 city estimates. The properties weren’t originally on the city’s tax list because they were in a century-old designated area that was not receiving adequate city services.
Fire protection, police, water, trash pick-up—all are lacking or completely absent for these homeowners.
City council, however, claimed they were righting a “mistake on the lake”—but residents there won’t be getting much in additional services, just a lot more in taxes.
At the council meeting, several of the homeowners testified of the drastic impact the council’s cash grab will have on them.
“My husband and I have lived here for 28 years in a 3,000-square-foot home,” began Judy Harwood, who said she spoke on behalf of the senior citizens affected by the decision. “We knew that because we received minimal services in our neighborhood, we were getting some deduction, but the upcoming $8-9 thousand increase was a shock.”
“Being on a fixed income means we cannot afford this increase. I know there are many others in this same boat,” she added.
“I bought my house in 1997 with the intent of living in it the rest of my life,” said Dianna Johnson, another resident. “The appraised value has doubled in the last five years and has quadrupled since I bought the house. My house is not a mansion, and I resent being characterized as a multi-millionaire living in a mansion on the lake and not paying property taxes. My taxes are assessed at over $30,000 a year, and this new city tax will add over $8,000 per year to my tax bill … don’t tax me out of my home.”
Johnson detailed how she has to spend thousands a year on necessities the city doesn’t provide, such as water systems, a septic tank, and trash pick-up. She also added that there are virtually no fire hydrants.
“My house burned down in 1985. I watched the house next door to me burn to the ground in 1998,” she said.
Yet another homeowner, Deanne Breedlove, described her own tragedy with the lack of services.
“Because of confusion between the city and the county, the appropriate ambulance was not sent out, and my son was in cardiac arrest, and he did not survive,” she said. “It’s unfortunate that [council] feels like we have deep pockets, and they want to continue to tax us at higher rates when we receive much lower response times with EMS and fire.”
In addition to taking money without fixing the minimal services, citizens also argued how council silently rushed this cash-grab decision.
“This item has been brought up without any conversation with any stakeholders,” resident Adam Goldman told the council. He said homeowners found out about the council’s decision less than two weeks ago through a local newspaper headline. “Not a single one of you had a single meeting with anyone affected by this, but, yet, you did speak with the [local newspaper] for days or weeks [prior].”
In response to the testimonies, council member Natasha Harper-Madison implies taxing some of these homeowners out is only fair because of the city’s past history of racism.
“Black Austinites for decades, because of their race, were discriminated against and didn’t have access to equitable systems but were still forced to pay taxes,” Harper-Madison said. “And that’s something I don’t want anyone to miss the relevance of that. I think, right now, we have a brilliant opportunity to realign our city’s understanding of equity by ensuring this additional revenue from property owners—who have been lucky, frankly, for a century—will benefit communities and residents who have not been so lucky.”
Unfortunately for Austinites, council’s newest cash grab isn’t merely plundering lake-area residents’ wallets but is rather an example of what they’ve already been doing throughout the whole city. Across Austin, city council is now taking 80 percent more from the average homeowner than they did just 10 years ago, a colossal cash grab that has already forced many to move out of their homes because they can’t manage to quench council’s growing thirst for their money.
And if this newest lake incident is any indication, the council’s thirst will only keep growing—regardless of the harmful consequences for homeowners.