By Bill Oakey – May 7, 2021
A Quick Background Summary
I have been a community taxpayer advocate since 1983. I have recently urged the Austin City Council to allocate a significant portion of their $195 million in Federal COVID Rescue Plan Funds to cover the City’s budget shortfall, and reduce or eliminate any property tax increase in the upcoming City Budget. So far, I have run smack into a brick wall. They never even thought of what I’m suggesting, and the City’s CFO has asked the City for authorization to raise taxes all the way to 8%, instead of using the Federal money. Please go to the home page of this blog and scroll down to earlier postings for more details.
Please Send Me Your Hardship Stories…
Use the Comments section of this blog, or email me. If you or someone you know is facing difficulties with this year’s high tax appraisals, send me their stories. Do you know a landlord who cannot afford to keep their property because they can’t raise the rent high enough to cover the taxes? Or someone who could be forced to give up their own home? Or a small business that will have to close if their taxes continue to rise beyond reason? I will compile these stories and submit them to each member of the City Council. It is HIGH TIME that longterm Austin residents and our iconic business owners had their voices heard at City Hall!
Read On, And Let’s Break Through That City Hall Brick Wall!
On Wednesday, I met with a City Council policy advisor. It did not go well. And I’m afraid that many others at City Hall have had their heads dunked into the same sour vat of faulty reasoning. The comments below are addressed to all of them. The last part is a fervent appeal to anyone at City Hall who might be willing to wake up and see what is happening around them.
Hello to Anyone Listening at City Hall,
I don’t know where you are getting your advice from. But they steered you in the completely wrong direction. Their mode of thinking will make our City’s financial condition much worse than it is today. You won’t have to take my word for it. You will see it unfold yourself, and it will not be a pretty picture!
If you and the people who have influenced you cannot see that $195 million in aid from the Federal government can help a City mitigate their financial difficulties, then maybe you and they are beyond help. There are many other cities that saw it several months ago, and they are taking the obvious and correct actions. This is not just about lowering taxes. The Federal money needs to be applied towards shoring up the city’s financial foundation, regardless of where you set the tax rate.
Providing tax relief during a recession and a pandemic is a separate issue. And it’s one that should be considered as well. It could only be done for a year or two, but THAT’S WHAT A RECOVERY IS. It’s a temporary thing. If you don’t want to cut the effective tax rate to zero, then cut it to 1%.
Do not obsess over the limitations placed on the City by the State Legislature. If you are concerned that their limit on raising taxes will hurt the City’s financial condition long term, then get this. That’s all the more reason to shore up the budget now with Federal money. That’s a major reason why Congress passed the American Rescue Plan in the first place!
You have the information on the other cities that are following the correct path. You can choose to ignore it. Or, you can choose to dissect each of those cities’ plans, and conjure up reasons why Austin’s situation is somehow different. But it won’t change the reality. Austin is in financial trouble, for all of the reasons that you pointed out. But refusing to take advantage of a large infusion of money that could provide relief to the citizens makes no sense at all.
Please do not think that what I am telling you is coming from me alone. This is not about one person sitting at home with a blog. A large number of people across the City are involved in this effort – because they care about Austin. All of them can easily see a few simple facts:
1. Austin’s bond rating has already been lowered once. We cannot afford to pass up the opportunity to prevent it from being lowered further.
2. Spending nearly all of the Federal money on the homeless and other social programs would be a very bad idea. There is plenty available to take care of those needs AND shore up the City budget too.
3. In my meeting on Wednesday, I was told 15 or 20 times that the City cannot afford to lower taxes because of Austin’s debt, contracts with City workers and the City’s structural financial weakness. If that is the case, then please tell the community HOW IN THE WORLD we can possibly afford billions in additional debt for Project (Dis)Connect??!!
4. The high tax appraisals and looming tax increases facing homeowners and small businesses are not on the City Council’s radar at all. You can’t address a problem until you make it a top priority. It is long past time for at least one or two City Council members to stand up publicly and finally take notice! Which one or two of our City Council members will it be?