Working Austinites may soon not have a single voice on the city council advocating their interests — unless residents vote in a crucial December runoff election.
It’s without question that middle-income and low-income Austinites are struggling to carry an increasingly crushing affordability weight: overwhelming taxes on homeowners have forced many to move out of the city; overbearing taxes have been placed on businesses, forcing places like grocery stores and restaurants to raise their prices; and punishing regulations on developers have forced housing costs through the roof.
In large part, these calamities have been willfully enacted by the Austin City Council.
For many years now, the council has voted nearly unanimously to increase taxes, regulations, and costs on the city’s hardworking taxpayers. The average Austin homeowner now has to shoulder a city property tax bill that is 80 percent heavier than it was just 10 years ago.
Austin taxpayers aren’t likely to change out their city council any time soon; indeed, a number of members were just re-elected. They can, however, preserve the one seat they have.
The District 8 seat, representing southwest Austin, is up for grabs in December after no candidate achieved a majority in the general election. The runoff features two candidates: Frank Ward and Paige Ellis.
Ward, a public relations consultant who has helped grow a small business in Austin, said his No. 1 goal is to relieve Austinites of their strenuous property tax burden.
“What matters is who’s going to fight to get property taxes under control,” said Ward. “With the trajectory we’re currently on, property taxes will double in the next 10 years.”
Out of the 26 combined city council candidates and current elected members, Ward is one of only two who have openly advocated lowering property taxes. He’s been endorsed by a variety of organizations, including the Austin police and fire unions as well as the Austin Board of Realtors.
Ward’s opponent, Paige Ellis, works for an environmental consulting firm and has been endorsed by numerous Democrat clubs and leaders, including several city council members. She has not expressed any desire to lower taxes on Austinites, but her website’s platform priorities do include environmental issues and staunch support for the city’s special $1 land lease deal with Planned Parenthood.
Ironically, on Ellis’ platform she also sharply denounces the city’s special deal with a soccer stadium, writing that “corporations moving to Austin must pay their fair share.”
The election is significant for Austinites in many ways. The District 8 seat is currently held by Ellen Troxclair, the lone conservative on the dais who has continually advocated for hardworking taxpayers: she’s urged the council to relieve the property tax burden and get rid of the tangled web of regulations that have stifled prosperity and affordability. The council hasn’t listened, but Troxclair has been the one voice advocating for policies to help working families.
Now that Troxclair did not seek re-election, Ward is endeavoring to step in as that voice. He has received the full support of the outgoing councilwoman.
“We are in desperate need of somebody who’s going to say ‘stop’ and ask the questions,” said Ward, adding that it’s critical for the city council to have a difference of opinion and an exchange of ideas.
Should Ellis win the election, that voice could be silenced, leaving the council solely with incumbents who have already voted against the working class and newcomers who support more of the same decisions.
And those decisions of heavier taxes? Austin taxpayers won’t be able to afford them much longer.
Early voting is currently underway and runs through Friday with Election Day on Tuesday, December 11.