Monthly Archives: July 2014

Rail And Road Bond Taxpayer Impact – A Chart Of The Numbers

By Bill Oakey – July 30, 2014

We know now that the $1 billion package of urban rail and road bonds would raise the debt portion of our City of Austin property taxes by 6 cents.  Between 2015 and 2020, that rate would increase from .1151 to .1751.  As you discuss this epic boondoggle with your family and friends, and urge them to vote against it in November, you can use the chart below to show them the taxpayer impact on their homes.

Since many readers of this blog have complained that their tax appraisals have increased dramatically in the past few years, I decided to build the chart using annual appraisal increases of both 5% and 10%.  The appraisals range from a starting point of $200,000 to $500,000. The chart makes it easy to see that the cumulative level of tax and appraisal increases that Austin is currently experiencing is simply not sustainable.  If all of the estimated tax increases for the various taxing entities were built into a single chart, I shudder to think how ominous it would look! So, for now, let’s just examine the taxpayer impact of the rail and road bonds.

Click the link below to see the chart.

Property Tax Impact of Rail & Road Bonds

Rail Bond Vote Would Bring Historic Tax Increase

By Bill Oakey – July 30, 2014

If anyone thinks the property tax impact of an annual City Council budget battle is something to worry about, please consider this.  For the last two years, the budget discussions have centered around changing the City’s tax rate by a tiny fraction of one penny.  That’s because our tax appraisals have skyrocketed, meaning that even a zero change in the tax rate would yield a considerable tax increase.

Well, make sure you are sitting down when you read this.  If voters approve the $1 billion urban rail and road bond package in November, they can say hello to a 6 cent increase in the property tax rate over the next five years.  The sobering details are contained in a City document called “General Obligation Bond Capacity Analysis.”  You can read it here.

What Would Happen to Our Bond Debt If the Rail Bonds Pass?

That’s an easy question to answer.  It would flat out double!  Our current general obligation debt, made up of previous bond votes for roads, parks, libraries, open space, and housing stands at about $1 billion.  So, in one fell swoop we would double our debt by voting for the rail and road package.  And the worse part is that it would do essentially nothing to relieve traffic congestion for most existing residents.

In fact, Austin won’t even come close to attaining the ridership levels needed for Federal funding for the urban rail line unless we reach extremely optimistic, massive growth projections. The developers pushing for the rail line from Riverside to Highland Mall would need to convince voters of the “miracle” in economic development potential that the project would bring. And yet, as one Austin American-Statesman reader wrote to the editor recently, “Well, thank goodness they are building a line from Riverside to Highland Mall, because I travel between those two points all the time. SAID NO ONE EVER!”

What the City Report Says About Taxes, the Debt and Our Bond Rating

Here is a snapshot of some of the report’s most significant facts and conclusions:

1. Our current general obligation debt is about $1 billion.

2. We still have an additional $425 million in 2006-2013 bonds left to issue.

3. The City estimates that another $425 million will be needed in a separate bond election in 2018, on top of the $1 billion in rail and road bonds to be voted on this November.

4. In order to preserve our AAA bond rating, we would need to raise property taxes by 6 cents between 2015 and 2020 if all of the bonds pass.

5. Not only would the property tax rate increase by 6 cents, but the City estimates that property tax appraisals will jump by over 25%!  Their example shows a $200,000 home being assessed at $255,000 by 2020.  So, the tax impact would multiply exponentially.

Don’t Forget About All the Other Tax Increases!

None of the above estimates include the back to back tax increases for the main part of the City Budget, plus utility rate increases and add-on fees, and taxes for AISD, Travis County, ACC, and Central Health.  And don’t forget that ACC will be asking for a $386 million dollar bond package this November as well.

So, as long as your career is rocking along with huge pay raises every six months or so, or your retirement income is zooming past inflation and leaving you with extra piles of cash, then you can easily afford to vote for the rail bonds.  But if you’re like the vast majority whose income is flat or even decreasing, then make sure you pass this information along to your friends and ask them to cast a resounding NO vote in November.

Maybe In Another Lifetime…

By Bill Oakey – July 26, 2014

This blog posting is a tribute to a special friend that I have not even met in person.  Her name is Roberta.  She follows this blog and often challenges me with good questions and interesting thoughts to ponder.  Like many of us, it appears that she is prone to occasional bouts of whim and fantasy.  I should know all about that.  My biggest creative influences growing up were Rod Serling and Richard Matheson, and others with a sweeping capacity for wild and adventurous imagination.

Here is what Roberta slipped into a message that she sent this morning:

Me for Mayor

I must admit that I love her styling!  Such a cool font, and just the color that I happen to like. How could she have known that?

There was another time, back in the old days, when people used to entertain suggestions about me running for City Council.  So, what I did was try to imagine what that might really be like. Here’s what I was told by a top aide to the mayor at the time.  When you run for office, all of your friends turn out to cheer you on.  You see those same friends and meet new ones every single day.  They are just like you.  They want grassroots representation at City Hall.  They want you to stand up to the special interests.  You are surrounded constantly by the best people you would ever want to meet.  The excitement of the campaign builds to a fever pitch.

Then comes Election Day.

Then comes the Victory Party…

Then, your friends practically lift you off the ground, as they clap and holler and raise the roof off the place.  You WON!!  TV cameras start glowing.  You start glowing.  You go to bed that night, thinking it was the biggest night of your life.  And maybe it was.

By the next morning, if not sooner, things begin to shift just a little.  People that you never spoke to during the campaign suddenly start smiling at you.  I’m talking big, wide smiles.  They dress a little bit nicer than some of your friends.  Maybe a whole lot nicer.  But it’s their demeanor that really stands out.  They approach you like that long lost roommate that you haven’t seen in 25 years.  They’re so happy to see you, and they can’t wait to sit down for a chat.

Then, as you pull your chair up to the table, your brand new friend hands you a business card. That person behind the smile wants something from City Hall.  Something that you probably campaigned against.

From that point on, your life changes completely.

Suddenly, it becomes a lot trickier to determine who is your friend and who is not.  What they say to your face and what you hear that they said behind your back may be two different things.  But still, you try your best to get used to it.

After you move into your new office, you look forward to greeting the friends that surrounded you during the campaign.  But where are they?  Why don’t all of them show up on your calendar?  The reason is really simple.  They are just too busy, with some of them working two jobs to take care of their families.  But your calendar is full.  There is no shortage of people with plenty of time on their hands.  Because they will be paid to come and see you.

The bottom line is that you have two choices.  Try to be nice to all of them, even if you plan to vote against some of their requests most of the time.  Or, brush them all off and sit alone in your office with nobody to talk to except the walls.

Ah, but there are some advantages.  Restaurants that you could never afford to go to suddenly show up on your calendar.  The check is never placed next to you at the table.  Tickets to plays, concerts, and all manner of things drop out of the sky.  Lavish parties.  Schmoozing events. Comedy shows…

Speaking of comedy shows, did I forget to mention those long Thursday meetings down on Second Street?  The ones that start at noon and sometimes don’t end until 3:00 the next morning?

It’s not that I don’t have lots of things in store for the new members of the Austin City Council. They will be reminded that all of us are still out here watching what they do.  Because I will be one of those reminders.

As you sit down with your friends at your favorite hangout during one of Austin’s high-flying events, that glass of wine or beer might start to wobble.  You might hear the deafening roar of a helicopter overhead.  The mayor and his top aides will be swooshed away to an air conditioned box at Memorial Stadium or a certain unnamed racetrack.

And I will be either sitting at this computer, relaxing on the couch with a cold beer, or out partying with real, dependable friends.  With thoughts of the next reform that needs to be finished, somewhere in the back of my mind.

But all of us should be lucky enough to have at least one Roberta in our corner…

Top Neighborhood Leader Files CodeNEXT-Related Ethics Complaint

By Bill Oakey – July 25, 2014

Mary Ingle, President of the Austin Neighborhoods Council has filed a complaint with the City Ethics Review Commission over the alleged lobbyist status of a CodeNEXT Advisory Group appointee.  The Austin City Code bans lobbyists from serving on boards, commissions and citizen advisory panels.

Ms. Ingle’s primary concern is the fact that the Land Development Code Advisory Group is stacked with special interest members from the real estate and development community.  This is the group that is working with City staff and hired consultants on the CodeNEXT project, which will overhaul the established City Code provisions for land use planning and zoning. Neighborhood leaders are seriously concerned that CodeNEXT will be used to override hard-fought neighborhood protections from inappropriate development.

Implementing Code Revisions Before They Are Even Written

Without a doubt, anyone can see that elements of CodeNEXT are already creeping into certain areas of the City, even before the ink has time to dry on the preliminary stages of the code revision process.  In fact, the November bond proposition for urban rail pre-supposes that certain parts of town will be turned into CodeNEXT-styled corridors of massive multifamily “activity centers.”  So, not only was the output of the CodeNEXT consultant work pre-ordained before it started, but the imprint from the special interest “advisory group” can be viewed from anyone’s car window, bicycle or skateboard.  Or even from a Capital Metro rapid accordion bus.

Can We Limit Special Interest Representation on Advisory Panels?

When Mary Ingle emailed her press release to me last night, it triggered some old memories from 1985.  That was the year that I tried to get the City Council to adopt a Public Interest Protection Ordinance.  It would limit the number of special interest members on boards, commissions, and advisory panels.  Today I retrieved the old documents and a newspaper clipping form the Austin History Center.  This calls to mind another reform that was suggested in the old days, but never came to pass.  My hope is to revive it and bring it before the newly elected City Council next year.  I have a blog posting on it planned for next week.

Mary Ingle’s Press Release – Kudos to Her!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Austin, Texas

July 24, 2014

On July 24, Mary Ingle, who is president of the Austin Neighborhood s Council, filed on her own behalf an ethics complaint against a member of the City’s Land Development Code Advisory Group. The complaint alleges that Melissa Neslund is an unregistered lobbyist in violation of the City Code and that she is barred from serving on the Code Advisory Group that was created for citizen input on the current plan to revise the City’s Land Development Code.

“By filing this complaint, I am trying to signal what is symptomatically wrong with our City’s land planning and development process,” said Ingle. “The Land Development Code Advisory Committee was appointed by the City Council and City Manager. The composition of this group is almost exclusively from members of the real estate industry to the virtual exclusion of neighborhood advocates. Only one of the 11 members of the group can be characterized as speaking for neighborhood interests. Too many of the others either have financial ties to real estate industry or motives to please the City staff. I think that I can safely say that the real estate industry shares my lack of confidence in the Planning and Development Review Department. The bottom line is that this exclusionary group will produce undue, biased influence on the new code product. Undue influence of developer – financial interests can be linked to the root cause of many of our community’s problems.”

At a press conference today in East Austin, Ingle observed that older core neighborhoods are being radically transformed by profit – driven developers given almost a free hand by City staff to demolish existing affordable homes and replace them with less affordable structures not compatible with neighborhoods.

She said that higher property taxes are driving ordinary citizens to the suburbs. “We can do a better job than this,” she said. “The current process to revise our land development code is flawed. The data- gathering process is statistically invalid, an d those relative few people who have given input have been excluded from commenting on the data compilation. This is a bad start for a process that will affect the live s of generations of ordinary citizens”.

Ingle said that the complaint is not personal. “Our laws should be enforced, and an investigation of business relationships of other members of the Citizens Advisory Committee should commence.”

“It’s time for ordinary citizens to wake up,” she said. The Citizens Advisory Committee and City Staff are advocating sweeping changes in our neighborhoods, including possible radical zoning changes. Our Land Development Code needs updating, but not this way,” she said.

“We need to go back to the drawing board and get this right, “ Ingle concluded.

City Council Needs To Throttle Austin Energy’s Huge Fuel Charge Increases

By Bill Oakey – July 25, 2014

When Austin gets embroiled in a formal Austin Energy rate case, it brings on tons of media attention and large crowds of customers at public meetings.  The rate hearings can last for several months.  What you may not realize though is that about 35% of your electric bill comes from the fuel charge.  The bureaucratic name for it on your bill is the “power supply adjustment charge.”

Well, that charge is set to go up in a few months by 4.4%, which is on top of the 4.6% increase that we got last year.  So, we’re talking about a 9% increase over a two-year period.  Like so many City regulations and policies these days, the Austin Energy fuel charge needs a good thorough public review and much better transparency.  It’s like one of those Facebook relationship status deals, where somebody says “It’s complicated.”

Supposedly, the fuel charges are passed through to the customer at no more than what it costs the utility.  But when we hear that natural gas prices have fallen like a rock over the last several years, why would Austin Energy be jacking up the cost?  And why would the increases compound themselves instead of leveling off?  This is where I think Austin Energy has a lot of explaining to do.

Part of the problem is a contracting procedure called “hedging.”  The utility can purchase fuel contracts at the current rate and lock them in for long periods, hedging their bets that price will go up instead of down.  Apparently Austin Energy bet the wrong way and lost awhile back.  And then there’s a situation during periods of high demand, like our unusually cold winter, where they have to purchase fuel at very high prices from the statewide grid.

Here Are the Questions That the City Council Needs to Ask Austin Energy:

1. What exactly are the specific factors that add up to a two-year cumulative fuel increase of 9%?

2. What options does Austin Energy have to bring down the cost of fuel in their planning processes?  Do they have a fuel cost management strategy, and is it plugged into a forecast with goals and targets?  If not, let’s insist that they get that done.

3. What is the complete, detailed breakdown of the various categories of costs that get dumped into the “power supply adjustment charge?”  I have spoken with members of the Electric Utility Commission, and they have not been given the keys to this cryptic puzzle?  It’s time to crack it open and shine a light on it!

4. Where can Austin Energy cut their budget to help offset these high costs, at a time when Austinites are getting taxed, charged, and fee’d out of their socks?  Most of us don’t make the six-figure salaries that the Austin Energy executives make.

Today, I am sending this blog posting to all seven members of the Austin City Council.  And I have one other recommendation for them to consider.  They did something right when they appointed a Joint Committee on the Water Utility’s Financial Plan.  They met with the staff and identified a total of $29.5 million in budget cuts between now and next year.  (See it here in Recommendation #5).

What I will ask for is a similar committee to meet with Austin Energy and give their budget a good little haircut.  It’s time for the City to come down to earth and recognize that most of us are having to cut out things that we would like to have but can’t afford.  They need to learn to do the same thing, especially since it is our money that they are spending!

Support Laura Pressley For City Council District 4

By Bill Oakey – July 23, 2014

We would all like to find candidates who will hit the ground running as soon as they take office. But the voters in District 4 are lucky enough to have someone who is working hard for affordability even before the election!  I’m talking about Laura Pressley, and I’m pleased to offer her the endorsement of this blog.

Laura_PressleyPressley_Logo

Here’s What Laura Has to Say About Affordability

“As a survivor of domestic violence and sexual assault and one that received support from various organizations to survive, I understand the need for social services in our community.  I have lived through not being able to pay for rent, food and only having $16 to my name at Christmas and not being able to buy my daughter any presents.  Those were incredibly scary times and we got through them with the help of many generous organizations and friends.”

“Today, a woman coming to Austin, in my same situation, most likely would not be able to make ends meet given the cost of living and affordability issues we have.  Many of the overwhelming affordability pressures that exist in Austin are directly due to the policies of our elected representatives at City Hall.  The massive corporate subsidies and tax breaks, the misplaced budgetary priorities, up-zoning that enables and drives gentrification, inefficiencies in key city departments, and the “we’re rich” spending culture that various Mayors, City Council Members and City Staff have with regard to parties, banquets, travel, etc. are like a thousand cuts tearing at our affordability.  These are some of the important policy changes that are needed at City Hall.”

“We need a course correction at the leadership and policy level of our City Council.  We need experience, leadership, and the courage to lead by example and hold the budget writers and departments accountable for waste and policies that drive higher utility rates, higher tax rates and more City debt.”

Here’s a Look at What Laura Has Already Done for Affordability

1. Stopping a $1.5 Million Water Utility Fee Waiver – The City Council was poised to give away $1.5 million in badly needed Water Utility revenue to U.T. for a medical school construction fee waiver.  After reading about it on this blog, Laura dug into the issue, contacted the media, and stood her ground in front of the City Council on June 12th.  Her success in stopping the fee waiver is nicely documented in this YouTube video.

2. Taking the Lead On Public Outreach Regarding the Urban Rail Bonds – When Laura joined an email discussion of the badly misplaced and hugely expensive urban rail bonds, she did a lot more than just listen and share her thoughts.  She organized an urban rail public forum for August 26th, which will feature several speakers focusing on various aspects of the issue.  The forum will be moderated by KVUE-TV.  More information will be posted on this blog as soon as it is available.

3. Helping to Reform the Public Input Process at City Hall – Like most of us, Laura is frustrated by the fact that big ticket consultant-driven plans like Imagine Austin, CodeNEXT, and Project Connect only pay lip service to public input.  There are no guidelines to require that the public suggestions and opinions be summarized, quantified, or incorporated into the new policies that are developed in the plans.  On this blog I proposed that the City adopt a Public Engagement Ordinance.  (You can read about it here).  Laura immediately took the proposal to the Austin Neighborhoods Council Executive Committee, so they could prepare a resolution.  Once again, she is hitting the ground running, without waiting until after the election.  District 4 voters should follow her lead and run to the polls during early voting this fall and vote for her.

Visit Laura Pressley’s Website And Facebook Page to Learn More

When you go to her website, you will see that affordability is right at the top of her list!  You can click here to make a donation to her campaign.  And go here to visit her Facebook page.  Make sure that you send this blog link to all of your friends and neighbors in District 4.

Kathie Tovo Is Hands Down Best Candidate In District 9!

By Bill Oakey – July 22, 2014

If you walk through District 9 and you happen upon someone sitting on the fence, help the person down off that uncomfortable perch, and over to Kathie’s side.  There is simply no comparison between the candidates. Kathie Tovo is far and away the best choice!

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13499-Tovo-Placecard-2

The current City Council does not elicit much excitement these days, but Kathie stands out as the strongest voice for grassroots Austinites.  The special interests would love to see her defeated, but we are not going to let that happen!  While the other incumbants should be running away from their records, Kathie and her supporters have plenty of reasons to be proud of hers.  Here are just a few examples:

1. Increase to the Over-65 Homestead Exemption – Kathie and her staff did not back down in the face of initial resistance to this City Hall victory.  We won because she listened to the facts and fought to convince a majority of the Council to stand up for Austin seniors.

2. Not spending the $14 million budget surplus – While other Council members looked for ways to spend the surplus, Kathie applied her diligence to the issue and avoided any new spending.  The taxpayers scored another victory when her vote helped preserve the entire surplus.

3. A Resolution to End Costly Fee Waivers – Kathie sponsored a resolution to explore alternative funding for special event fee waivers for profitable event promoters.  The funds would come from ticket surcharges or the Hotel Occupancy Tax.  This reform would save taxpayers millions of dollars.

4. A Resolution to Consider a General Homestead Exemption – The City staff has been directed to evaluate the impact of setting up a general homestead exemption.  We are hopeful that this can happen, perhaps by phasing in the exemption over a few years.  Once again, Kathie is our champion for taking the first step in this important effort!

5. Standing Up for Neighborhoods Time After Time – Kathie understands the importance of preserving our neighborhoods and not letting them become gentrified or hobbled by inappropriate development that destroys their character.  Ask any neighborhood leader this: Who among the entire seven members of the City Council can you trust the most?  They’ll tell you it’s Kathie Tovo!

6. A Council Member and Staff That Listens to the People – As a veteran City Hall watchdog for over 30 years, I have never encountered a better working relationship with anyone on the City Council or their staff.  All of Kathie’s staff do a great job, but my special thanks go to one policy aide, Shannon Halley.  When you vote for Kathie in November, just know that you are getting not just one person, but a whole team who will do the research, listen to your concerns, and do what’s best for those of us who really care about Austin!

You can visit Kathie’s website here, and click here to make a donation.  And go here to visit her Facebook page.  Make sure that you send this blog link to all of your friends and neighbors in District 9.  When it comes to affordability, we just can’t afford to pass up the opportunity to keep Kathie Tovo.

See below for the award that Kathie earned from this blog earlier this year.  Click to enlarge it.

Tovo Award

10,000 Page Views – And It’s Time To Ask For Accountability!

By Bill Oakey – July 22, 2014

This blog has now passed the 10,000 mark for page views.  That’s because here in Austin, 2014 has become the tipping point for affordability.  We can no longer afford to stand by while public officials spend our money without serious accountability reforms.  We need bold initiatives to steer us away from business as usual.

Nobody Will Tell Us How Much Money Is Left In the City Budget!

Year after year, the Austin City Council pads the City Budget with surplus funds, yet does not provide transparency for the taxpayers.  Even the Council does not track the running surplus balance because they have yet to adopt my proposal to ask the City Manager to present quarterly reports on the breakdown of surplus funds to the Audit and Finance Committee.  This blog and its followers were able to halt the spending of a $14 million surplus that was declared back in February.  And with unfilled staff vacancies representing nearly 10% of the workforce still on the books, plus sales tax and permitting fees on the rise, we have no inkling of how much surplus funds could be used to lower taxes and reduce a water rate increase.  It is time for all of us to hold them accountable!

What Can You Do to Help?

On August 5th, the City Council will hold their first work session on the budget.  Now is the time for all of us and our friends to contact them and ask for full accountability on the surplus funds in the budget.  If we leave it to the City Manager, the surplus will be quickly and quietly absorbed into new spending projects.  Let’s ask for the detailed quarterly reports on the budget surplus, and insist that the full amount be applied to lower taxes and utility rate relief.  You can contact all 7 City Council members with one click, using this link.

How to Get the Most Out of This Blog

Use these handy tools in the right hand column:

Search:  Enter a topic into this box, such as taxes, budget, City Council, etc.

Follow:  Enter your email address to receive automatic affordability updates

Vote for These City Council Candidates!:  Visit the candidate websites endorsed by this blog

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Categories:  Pick one of these to see all the posts in that category.  Check out “Humor” for a good laugh or stress reliever

Don’t Let Your Friends, Neighbors, and Co-Workers Miss Out on Affordability Updates

Be sure to email, tweet, and Facebook everyone on your contact lists with a link to this blog. Stay up to date on the upcoming City Council races, affordability reforms, and the need to defeat the incredibly wasteful urban rail bonds that will be on the ballot in November.

Imagine ONE Austin – Just Imagine!

By Bill Oakey – July 21, 2014

Imagine ONE Austin.  Just imagine.

No more weirdness, no more aging hippies or former flower children selling Armadillo music posters.  No more riffraff tax protestors fighting for their single family homes, quiet streets, and backyard barbecues.

Just one fully gentrified, hipster, “new urbanist” Austin.  With month-long festivals, loud all night parties and no parking anywhere.  For the rest of eternity.

But wait.  Instead of grumbling about losing the laid back, easy going, affordable Austin that we enjoyed for most of our lives, maybe it’s time to adjust our thinking. Maybe we should all join hands and embrace the changes.

So, let’s just imagine it.  Think of the pathway envisioned by the likes of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, Project Connect, and Imagine ONE Austin. Here is a smattering of the news headlines that we can expect to see in the coming years.

January 2023 – Austin Installs Cloned City Council

Austin will begin the bright new year with a smooth transition to the new City Council.  The bold experiment to clone all seven members of the 2014 City Council and advance their ages to adulthood was a perfect laboratory success.

After eight tumultuous years with Council members elected from ten districts, America’s Chosen City will return to an era of orderly progress.  Last night, the Chamber of Commerce and the Real Estate Council of Austin presided over the swearing in of the new Council.  Austin will soon be back in business with business as usual.

“I’m ready and eager to get back on track,” Mayor Bluffingwell announced.  “I’m grateful that the people listened and they voted exactly the way we told them to.  Everyone in the room today recognizes that our namesakes made Austin a booming city.  Now we can return to predictable 5-2 votes on every critical issue.”

June 2025 – Music Concerts Cancelled at Condominium Shores

As everyone expected since the renaming of the former Auditorium Shores, the City announced today that all remaining concerts there have been cancelled.  Dogs, frisbees and kites will also be permanently banned.  Leases for high-density development have been finalized for the last 100 acres of open space.  The new revenue from the leases will allow the City to reduce property tax increases from 10% down to 9.8% for most homeowners.

Beginning this September, ACL Fest will be held in the streets, along Congress Ave. from Lady Bird Lake to the Capitol, and along East Sixth Street from I-35 all the way to Lake Austin Boulevard west to Lake Austin.

March 2026 – City Adopts New Slogan, “Keep Austin Cleared”

Today marks the start of one of the most progressive initiatives ever undertaken in Austin.  The City Council has voted to have all trees removed from the City.  The planning consultants and staff advisers have determined that trees are a serious impediment to high rises and multifamily developments.  The new slogan, “Keep Austin Cleared” will be printed on all utility bills, which will include a new “tree removal fee” until the cost to obliterate every tree in Austin is recovered.

October 2028 – Austin to Revise Land Development Code

Octopus Consulting has been hired to guide the City in a new revision of the Land Development Code.  To be dubbed CodeLAST, the new zoning system will be streamlined to generate the speediest development permits ever provided by an American city.  “We have devised a plan that will accommodate every need,” stated a spokesperson for the Real Estate Council of Austin.  “The consultants will be able to formulate it even faster than they did with CodeNEXT.”

The heart of the plan is an innovative zoning category called “Vertical Combined Use (VCU).”  It will allow developers to construct multistory towers that completely surround single family homes.  In fact, in selected neighborhoods, entire blocks could be reconfigured with interconnected structures that consume almost all of the available space.  It has been suggested that some of the old fashioned homes could be turned into tourist attractions.  Others could be demolished, and a few could remain for families eager to experience the joys of onsite community living.

February 2030 – Austin to Host Circus of the Americas

The long battle over the fate of Lions Municipal Golf Course in West Austin has finally been resolved.  The Governor and the U.T. Board of Regents announced this morning that the site will be the future home of the Circus of the Americas.  All state and local taxes for the enterprise will be waived for 25 years.

The mayor has vowed to address any logistical concerns.  He acknowledged that international guests may encounter problems with limited neighborhood street parking, but he pledged to accommodate them with 24 hour helicopter service from anywhere in the City.

Once again, Austin has landed an economic development wonder that will be the envy of the nation.  It is certain to restore the circus industry to all of its former glory.  The owners issued a statement promising to satisfy any potential critics, “It is our firm goal not to abuse the animals any more than necessary to provide a rich and rewarding entertainment experience.”

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Imagine what a fabulous place our ONE Austin could become!

Affordable Housing Builder Hit With Tax Roadblock

By Bill Oakey – July 17, 2014

Today I got an email that really hammers home the critical problems with Austin affordable housing.  An independent builder, Eric Femrite, has been hit with high property tax appraisals that will prevent him from being able to assist the low-income renters on two of his properties.  Mr. Femrite is a dedicated affordable housing advocate.

With ten years of experience in the field, he is the very type of person that our leaders should be encouraging in every way possible.  Instead, we find that his efforts to fight gentrification and continue offering affordable housing have been thwarted.  In addition to the tax appraisal issue, he explained that there is much room for improvement in how funds from local affordable housing bonds are administered.

With an eye toward focusing public attention on this problem and the need for reform, I have obtained Mr. Femrite’s permission to post the letter that he has written to the Austin City Council.  The City Council may not be able to directly help in lowering his tax appraisals, but his dilemma should bring a new awareness of how important it is to fight for affordable housing, combat gentrification, and fix the tax appraisal inequities.  Regardless of how tough the challenges are, we must keep pushing for better solutions.

Here is the letter:

Hello Mayor and Council Members,

I am seeking your assistance.   I am a landlord and provide affordable housing for a living.  I currently have 21 houses, all with families below the median income level.  I am in the process of appealing my property taxes this year, and have hired a firm to protest them for me.   Unfortunately some of the properties taxes have almost doubled.  I originally built these homes under the Affordable Housing Program / SMART Housing.  Two properties  in question are1806 Perez St and 1808 Perez St went from a value of $228,000 up to $352,000.

There is no way I can cover these tax increases and continue to keep the rent affordable.  One of the families on Perez was a Hurricane Katrina Evacuee family.   They lost everything when Katrina hit New Orleans.  They have started a new life in Austin.   I am proud to provide them an affordable home to live in.  Travis Central Appraisal District and their tax increases are going to force me to tell these families they have to move, as they have been gentrified.  Please help me in my appeal to continue to provide Affordable Housing to these families.

The property at 1806 Perez St, Austin, TX 78721 already had its value reduced for 2014 to $336,000.   I have called TCAD to try to get this case reopened.   I have found they used incorrect comps in determining the value, and would like to appeal the case.   They told me no.   Could you help in getting this case re-opened?

I want to continue to provide Affordable Housing in Austin, as I know this is a main objective of the City Council as well.

Thank you for you assistance.  Please contact me.

Thank you,

Eric