Category Archives: Action Alerts

It’s Time For Taxpayers To Contact The City Council – Watch Out For The Budget!

By Bill Oakey – August 20, 2015

Many thanks to Council Aide, Michael Searle in Council Member Ellen Troxclair’s office. He provided me with a document that shows the current status of proposed cuts and additions to City Manager’s proposed City Budget. Today it is available online. You can read the details by clicking the link below:

City Budget Concept Menu Aug 20

There Is Good News and Bad News

One piece of good news not noted in the chart is that, according to an information request from  Council Member Troxclair, there are no funds budgeted for special event fee waivers. If this position holds, it will be a major victory. It is long past time for the City to pay for special event services from sources other than local taxpayers.

The bad news is the bottom line. This current “budget concept menu” calls for $30.7 million in increases to the General Fund budget, with only $13.4 million in spending reductions. It should be noted, however, that several of the budget change suggestions from Council members have not been quantified yet by City staff. Those items are labeled, “TBD” – To Be Determined. So, in all fairness, the jury is still out on whether this current menu would offer pain relief to taxpayers or serious indigestion.

A Closer Look At Some Of the Highlights

  1. Item 2.13 – Council Member Troxclair recommends freeing up $9.7 million in Budget Stabilization Reserve funds. This would lead to taxpayer savings.
  2. Item 2.14 – Huge Kudos for Troxclair! This item would end three layers of utility subsidies for “economic development” (giveaways for corporate recruitment) to the tune of $11 million. This would lower our utility bills.
  3. Item 2.4 – Thanks to  Mayor Steve Adler. Debt financing of select capital expenses would free up $12.9 million in reserve funds that could lead to tax savings.
  4. Item 2.3 – Thanks to Council Member Don Zimmerman. Implement a sliding scale for City employee pay raises. This would save a total of $7 million. Why should the fat-cats at the top of the scale get continuous big raises every year, while tens of thousands of Austinites struggle with stagnant wages?
  5. Item 2.2 – Thanks to Mayor Steve Adler. He offers an alternative plan for the tiered pay increases that would save $4.7 million.
  6. Item 2.23 – More thanks to Ellen Troxclair. This item calls for a staff pay increase structure that would save $6 million. We need to press the City Council to adopt either the Adler, Zimmerman or Troxclair plan!
  7. Item 3.3 – Thank you, Mayor Pro-Tem Kathie Tovo. Increase Development Services fee to 100% of cost of service. This would save us $1.4 million.
  8. Item 3.6 – Huge thanks to Council Member Sheri Gallo!. Increase Senior Homestead Flat Exemption to levels comparable to 2005 property valuations.
  9. Item 3.13 – Troxclair again! Freeze utility rates and fees to this year’s levels.
  10. Item 2.18 – Still more kudos to Troxclair. Limit additional police positions to 53. The staff’s ambitious increase in police is too much for one big jump in this year’s budget.

Here Is What You Can Do to Help!

This is our big chance to really make a difference in affordability. We need to let every City Council member know that we want meaningful reductions to the budget without being totally swallowed up by budget increases. In other words, tangible relief in taxes, utility rates and fees.

So, please take the time to email the Mayor and all Council members, using this one-click email link. Then, please send emails, texts, Facebook and Twitter postings to as many neighbors and friends as you have on your lists. If we all join together, we can score a nice victory in the new budget. Time is very short, so let’s get the action started now!

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Special Event Fee Waivers: Will The Old Guard Please Sit Down, Will The New Guard Please Stand Up!

tererBy Bill Oakey – June 3, 2015

For the past several years, various citizen groups, City Commissions and the Austin American-Statesman editorial board have called for doing away with taxpayer funded fee waivers for large for-profit special events. This endless stream of subsidies adds up to somewhere around $2 million per year. Of course, the granddaddy of them all is South By Southwest.

The Old Guard message has always been the same. That these big festivals bring in tourists and boost the economy. They claim that the fee waivers are a “sound investment.” In reality, they put a strain on the taxpayers that has persisted for far too long.  At the biggest events, public safety is severely compromised, with police shortages in neighborhoods citywide. It’s time for the New Guard at City Hall to stand up and tell these event promoters that we just can’t afford it anymore.

The question comes down to priorities. If the City insists on not making the for-profit event companies pay their own fees, then they could easily fund the subsidies with the Hotel Occupancy Tax. The revenues from that fund have ballooned from $51 million in 2012 to over $70 million in 2014.

The Old Guard prefers to restrict every penny of the Hotel Occupancy Tax for tourism and convention activities. Their lobbyists have erected a wall of resistance around City Hall. But what are the community’s priorities? Do we have a crisis in Austin with low tourism rates, or do we see new hotels popping up like mushrooms? A couple of million dollars per year would be a minor tick to the tourism fund, but it would certainly help offset the tax burden when combined with other affordabilty reforms.

In May of last year, Council Member Kathie Tovo got a resolution passed directing the City Manager to review usage of the Hotel Occupanct Tax and ticket surcharges as alternatives to the event subsidies. His report was due last August and was specifically timed for last summer’s budget talks. That deadline passed and a new one for this August emerged. in a Long Term Analysis of Special Events, City Manager Marc Ott proposed a new plan that completely sidesteps the Tovo resolution. He wants to establish multi-year City agreements with the major event organizers. If the watchdogs amongst us are not careful, the taxpayers could easily get locked into muti-year fee waiver subsidies.

Sometime between last May and November, the previous City Council heard from vested interests on the Music Commission and the Arts Commission that the Hotel Occupancy Tax should be off limits for special event fee waivers. But the new City Council is appointing brand new members to all boards and commissions. And here’s a parting thought. Lean closer and let me whisper a suggestion that has not appeared on any Council agenda or City Manager memo…Psst…Why not make the for-profit event owners PAY AT LEAST SOME OF THEIR OWN FEES? Sorry, that wasn’t a whisper, but I couldn’t help myself!

Here’s What You Can Do to Help

Use this single link to email the Mayor and all Council Members to ask for an end to the fee waiver subsidies. We can make positive changes if we look forward and we work hard enough. Will the Old Guard please sit down, and will the New Guard please stand up!

Come And Speak 4:00 PM Thursday At City Council On Tax Appraisal Challenge

By Bill Oakey – May 26, 2015

The Austin City Council must decide by June 1st whether to launch a landmark challenge to the Travis Central Appraisal District over the undervalued commercial properties in this year’s tax appraisals. You can help convince them make the right decision to go forward with the appeal. Come to the City Council Chambers at 301 West 2nd Street, this Thursday May 28th. Bring your neighbors and friends. Email, text, Tweet and Facebook the link to this blog posting. We have obtained a 4:00 time certain for speakers on this topic, which is Item #4 on the agenda. You can sign up to speak, using the kiosks in the lobby of the Council Chambers anytime between now and Thursday’s meeting.

Please keep in mind that this is not an adversarial action against the TCAD appraisal officials. They have been very cooperative with our City Council members and City staff. This is the legally required process to correct major flaws caused by the Texas appraisal system. The law does not require sales price disclosure on either residential or commercial real estate transactions.

Here are some new developments on the Council’s pending decision on the appraisal challenge. Two major stumbling blocks could cause Travis County, AISD, or any of the other taxing entities in our area to oppose Austin’s challenge to TCAD. Both involve a potential delay in TCAD’s new certification of the tax rolls after the revised commercial appraisals have been calculated.

For one thing, taxpayers who usually make their payments to the Travis County Tax Office at the end of the year might lose the opportunity to do that, and then lose their Federal income tax deduction for this year. But a solution to that problem was discussed at Tuesday’s City Council Work Session. A plan is underway to allow taxpayers to pay an estimated tax by the end of the year and still use that for their Federal tax deduction. Then they would simply make a final supplemental payment once the new tax rolls are certified and final tax bill amounts are determined. With these tax receipts coming in, the taxing entities would not face a delay in receiving the revenues needed to fund their operations.

Plans are also being considered that might allow TCAD to certify the new tax rolls faster and shorten the delay period. City Council members are looking into whether each taxing entity could make a small contribution to TCAD and the Travis County Tax Office, so they could hire temporary workers to help them through the clerical work required to finish the new certification and get new tax notices sent out

We’ll see you in the City Council Chambers on Thursday afternoon. We are one step closer to ending the egregious inequity of undervalued commercial properties that has plagued residential taxpayers for too many years. For more information on the flawed Texas appraisal system, please visit Real Values for Texas at this link. Read their report and watch their excellent video.

Where To Help For Central Texas Flood Relief

By Bill Oakey – May 24, 2015

The storms that swept through Blanco, Wimberley, San Marcos, Kyle and other communities near Austin brought historic flood levels in some areas. Homes have been damaged or destroyed and people, pets and livestock have been injured or displaced.

If you would like to donate or find out where to volunteer, please contact the Austin Disaster Relief Network using this link. Or, you can call them at 512-428-6322. Their address is 1122 East 51st Street, Austin, TX 78723. The entrance to their office is facing 51st Street.

Highlights From The MoPac Rally And A Summons To The City Council Meeting This Thursday

By Bill Oakey – May 3, 2015

If you missed the big “Keep MoPac Local” Rally on Saturday, please take a moment to enjoy some photos from the event. Then mark your calendars for this coming Thursday, May 7th. Plan to come and join the gathering of citizens at the Council Chambers at 301 West 2nd Street. You are urged to come at 4:00 PM and support Item 26, which is a resolution opposing the construction of new toll lanes over MoPac through Zilker Park and across Lady Bird Lake. Speakers can sign up at the kiosks in the City Council Chambers from now through Thursday.

You can see the resolution here. The resolution is sponsored by Mayor Pro-Tem Kathie Tovo, and co-sponsored by Council Members Ann Kitchen, Leslie Pool, Gregorio Casar and Delia Garza. 

Why Should We Oppose Four Toll Lanes Over Lady Bird Lake?

This project is not a transportation plan. It is a TRANSFORMATION PLAN!

If you are a wealthy homeowner in a new subdivision built over the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone, then you might love this new tollway and the bridge. It will only cost you upwards of $12 to $14 per trip to use the lanes. That adds up to a whopping $504 to $588 per month for 21 workdays! And many of us are opposed to the added noise and pollution in Zilker Park near and along the Roberta Crenshaw Pedestrian Bridge. We don’t like the idea of dumping thousands of cars onto Cesar Chavez at Austin High School as a route into downtown. The ultimate goal of this project is to connect SH-45 SW, I-35 and MoPac, transforming local streets in Central Austin near downtown into a totally gridlocked traffic nightmare.

Two Other Important Meetings You Should Plan to Attend

1. Attend -This Tuesday, May 5 at 10:AM – Travis County Commissioners Court, 700 Lavaca. Toll Road Authority presentation.

2. Attend and Oppose – Next Monday, May 11 at 6:00 PM – Joe C, Thompson Conference Center, 2313 Red River, Room 3.102. The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) will vote to adopt the 2040 Transportation Plan. Come and speak against the Southern MoPac lanes over Lady Bird Lake. (Oppose inclusion of the 4 toll lanes on South MoPac, SH-45 SW, & Connection to I-35).

Websites to Visit for Project Background and Details

1. Keep MoPac Local

2. SOS (Save Our Springs) Alliance

Photo Highlights of the Rally On Saturday

Tremendous thanks to the many volunteers who worked to put the rally together and to keep us informed about the financial and environmental encroachment of toll roads over Lady Bird Lake. One person really stands out. Brigid Shea, the founder of SOS back in the 90’s, and now one of our Travis County Commissioners, did a fabulous job helping to organize the rally and serving as MC. Click to enlarge the photos.

Brigid Shea & Bill Bunch

Brigid Shea & Bill Bunch


Bill Oliver

Bill Oliver


City Council Member Leslie Pool


Hope Springs Eternal

Hope Springs Eternal


A Very Good Question

A Very Good Question


Tranquility At Risk

Tranquility At Risk

Rally Tomorrow To Stop $12 to $14 Toll Lanes Over Lady Bird Lake!

By Bill Oakey – May 1, 2015

One of the biggest rallies to hit Austin in a long time will take place at 10:30 tomorrow morning, and you need to be there! Even if you had other plans, this will be a moment in history not to be missed.

Mayor Steve Adler, Commissioner Brigid Shea, other leaders and  several of Austin’s most prominent grass roots organizations are hosting this event to stop a massive double-decker toll bridge over Lady Bird Lake. If it were built, not only would the tranquility of Zilker Park and Lady Bird Lake be lost forever, but drivers who use these toll lanes would be hit with tolls up to $12 to $14 per trip.

Picture yourself strolling along the hike and bike trails like you’ve done for years. Now you are about to enjoy the peaceful breeze and the views as you step onto the Roberta Crenshaw Pedestrian Bridge. Suddenly you are transported to five years in the future. All you can hear is a deafening roar. The bridge vibrates and shudders as you try to walk. The person standing next to you can’t hear a word that you say…Then you’re back in 2015. You hear an old song with a new meaning, Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”

Don’t let it happen. Come to the rally tomorrow!

RALLY to STOP the Double Decker Toll Roads over Lady Bird Lake

Saturday, May 2 @ 10:30am

Roberta Crenshaw Pedestrian Bridge – Under Mopac (near Austin High School on Stephen F. Austin Blvd)

The toll road authority plans to build FOUR TOLL LANES on MOPAC from Cesar Chavez to Slaughter Lane, including a double-decker toll road bridge over Lady Bird Lake & Zilker Park with a flyover next to Austin High School.  The plan will not increase public lanes, only add expensive toll lanes (possibly costing as much as $12-14 a trip) & expand MoPac to 12 lanes! (I-35 has 8)  The toll authority has added this plan to our regional transportation plan (called CAMPO 2040 Plan) – we’re urging them to scale this plan back. The CAMPO Plan also includes connecting I-35 to MoPac via SH45 SW, creating a western bypass and adding thousands of extra cars & trucks DAILY to MoPac. 

If you love Austin and want to protect our Lady Bird Lake, Zilker Park, Barton Springs, Hike/Bike trails, Austin High School, Lamar Beach, Neighborhoods & Downtown – Please be at the RALLY this Saturday.

This four lane toll road / double-decker bridge plan was authorized by the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA) Staff & Board of Directors.

Please visit the Rally Facebook page and Keep Mopac Local for more information.

CTRMA’s drawing of expanded MoPac, plus double-decker over Lady Bird Lake & Zilker Park (12 Lanes of traffic)  Will block out sky above Roberta Crenshaw Pedestrian Bridge!

RALLY HOST COMMITTEE (partial list)

Brigid Shea, Travis County Commissioner
Steve Adler, Austin Mayor
Kathie Tovo. Austin Mayor Pro Tem
Delia Garza, Austin Council Member
Leslie Pool, Austin Council Member
Amber Elenz, Austin ISD Board Trustee
Paul Saldana, Austin ISD Board Trustee
Laura Morrison, Former Austin Council Member
Jim Harrington, Founder/Director Texas Civil Rights Project
Nelson Linder, President NAACP
Dr. Sterling Lands, II, Senior Pastor Greater Calvary Church
Heyden Black Walker, Reconnect Austin
Clark Richards, Attorney & son of Ann Richards
Susan & Jerry Jeff Walker, Environmental Leaders & Musician
Robin Rather, Environmental Leader

Keep Mopac Local Coalition:

Save Barton Creek Association
Save Our Springs Alliance
Austin Sierra Club
Clean Water Action
Environment Texas
Friendship Alliance of Northern Hays County
Fix 290 Coalitions
Tex PIRG

—————————————————————–

Bridge Over Troubled Water

Composed by Paul Simon

When you’re weary
Feeling small
When tears are in your eyes
I will dry them all

I’m on your side
When times get rough
And friends just can’t be found

Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

When you’re down and out
When you’re on the street
When evening falls so hard
I will comfort you

I’ll take your part
When darkness comes
And pain is all around

Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

Sail on, Silver Girl
Sail on by
Your time has come to shine
All your dreams are on their way

See how they shine
If you need a friend
I’m sailing right behind

Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind

Who To Contact To Support Property Tax Relief At The Legislature

By Bill Oakey – April 30, 2015

The State Legislature has convened a joint House / Senate Budget Conference Committee. This committee will iron out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget.

We need to support the Senate version, which provides $2.4 billion in property tax relief. The House version contains no property tax relief, and would only give a tiny reduction in the sales tax. Here is a link that describes the Senate’s proposal for property tax reductions.

I urge everyone to email or call the House members of the Conference Committee listed below. Ask them to support the Senate’s recommended property tax reductions in their budget negotiations. Let them know that Austinites are struggling to keep up with sky high taxes and double digit appraisal increases. Please email, Tweet, and Facebook this blog posting to all of your friends and other contacts and ask them to do the same.

Texas House Members of the Budget Conference Committee:

Click each name to send an email. Phone numbers are listed on each page.

Appropriations Committee Chair John Otto

Appropriations Committee Vice Chair Sylvester Turner

Rep. Trent Ashby

Rep. Sarah Davis

Rep. Larry Gonzales

If you belong to a neighborhood organization or have access to any organization newsletter, please see that this appeal is posted. Try to get it circulated on as many blogs and forums as possible.