As working-class Austinites struggle to keep up with runaway property tax bills, their local government is busy spending truckloads of their cash on parties.
According to KXAN, the City of Austin shelled out over $156,000 in December 2019 for holiday parties and lunches. That amount was an increase from 2018, where they paid out over $140,000. The City of Austin spent more on parties than Dallas and Houston combined.
Three city departments splurged over $15,000 for their celebrations, which included DJs, photo booths, and trophies for employees. The public works department racked up the highest tab, spending over $18,000 on their holiday lunches and parties last December.
For perspective, Houston—which has about 9,000 more employees than the capital city—spent roughly half of Austin’s 2018 tab.
Even progressive Austin Council Member Leslie Pool said last year that some of the spending was “unacceptable”; she even called for a review, but there has not been one yet. The city currently does not have any clear policy on party spending.
However, the Austin City Council does have a consistent and clear policy on one thing: taking more money from Austinites and spending it wildly.
For the past decade, the city council has taxed more from families every year. Compared to 2008, city hall is now taking 100 percent more cash from the median homeowner (the 2008 property tax bill of $705 is now over $1,400.)
On top of that, the council spends roughly double per citizen than cities such as Dallas or Houston. Their spending includes expenses such as $450,000 for two public toilets, $115,000 to clean one public toilet, $140 million overbudgeted on a flawed tunnel, nearly $1 billion on an ill-advised power plant disaster that produced energy for only six months before being shut down, and millions literally given away to citizens who simply emailed the city asking for cash.
And that’s just scratching the surface.
Apart from the numbers, though, what are the real-life consequences of the council’s plunder-and-spend decisions?
“When I bought this house 22 years ago, my property taxes were [roughly] $2,800 a year, which was doable,” said Austin 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 also highlighted Austinites’ dire situation, showing that Sipple’s story is one shared by many across the city. According to an analysis by United Way, an astonishing 42 percent of Austin families are now struggling to pay their bills.
The worst part of the council’s foolish spending is that those billion-plus dollars they’ve taken and 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.
If Austinites ever want that kind of relief from the hardship they’re in now, they may need to elect council members who will let them prosper rather than continually take their hard-earned money.
Meanwhile, at least city hall is having a good time.