By Bill Oakey – April 27, 2021
Winning a battle to help the taxpayers is not an easy task. It’s like climbing up a hill backwards during a snowstorm in the dark. But it can be done, and this time it really must be done!
Get Ready To Go Down Into The Weeds!
This is what I have learned so far in researching the Federal American Rescue Plan Act. I am sharing this information with the Austin City Council:
1. Drill down on the American Rescue Plan details. Here is a good summary.
Take note of Item 2. on Page 17, under “Allandale Use of Funds”:
2. for the provision of government services to the extent of the reduction in revenue (i.e. online, property or income tax) due to the public health emergency.
This provision nails it. Austin has lost sales tax, property tax and various fee revenues since the pandemic began. These revenue losses can be covered with American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds. Some or all of the City’s projected budget shortfall can be covered with these funds. Here’s how to determine the exact amount:
This information is from the bottom of Page 2, in this Texas Municipal League document.
Eligible uses of ARP funds include:
– Responding to the public health emergency with respect to Covid-19 or its negative economic impacts, including assistance to households, small businesses, and nonprofits, or aid to impacted industries such as tourism, travel, and hospitality.
– Responding to workers performing essential work during the pandemic by providing premium pay to eligible workers performing services inside recipients’ territories, or to eligible employers that have eligible workers who perform essential work.
– Providing government services to the extent of the reduction in revenue of such recipient due to the pandemic relative to revenues collected in the most recent full fiscal year of the recipient prior to the pandemic.
– Necessary investment in water, sewer, or broadband infrastructure.
The third bullet applies to our City Budget. Our most recent full fiscal year prior to the pandemic was FY 2019. It appears that pandemic-related revenue losses in the FY 2020 Budget are covered by the Rescue Plan funds, to the extent that the added revenues will bring the total up to the FY 2019 level, for each type of revenue. This provision does not make clear whether any FY 2021 revenue losses can be replenished with Rescue Plan funds. Please address this question to the Texas Municipal League or the U.S. Treasury. If I find out, I will let you know. You have until December 31, 2024 to spend the Rescue Plan funds. So, you could easily apply them to next year’s Budget, and provide relief on taxes and fees.
2. The Rescue Plan funds can be used for various health initiatives and social services. Many of these programs are funded annually in the City Budget. It seems to me that you should be able to apply the Rescue Plan funds directly to those eligible services, in lieu of property taxes. That would be in addition to the revenue shortfalls that you are allowed to cover.
Here’s the Bottom Line
You folks on the City Council have a unique opportunity to bring tax relief to homeowners and small businesses during this stressful period of the pandemic. This should be an easy win-win for everyone concerned. Think about these words from the recent KXAN News story:
Patrick Brown, a former Travis County chief appraiser, said with people already strained, an increase in the property tax calculation cap may put too much of a tax burden on Austinites.
“It’s definitely going to affect all the commercial properties and land, and rental properties and the landlords, particularly ones that have acquired a mortgage loan in the last two or three years,” Brown said.
That, in turn, he said will affect rental rates.
“And that could push a number of residents out into the periphery and make Austin even less affordable than it is already,” he said.
Stay Tuned and We Shall See What Happens…
The next step is to ask the Travis County Commissioners to use part of their $247.1 million in Rescue Plan Funds for property tax relief. This news article makes no mention of their planning to do any such thing.