Tag Archives: Mike Martinez Austin

Steve Adler Supports City Homestead Exemption

By Bill Oakey – August 5, 2014

Voters who were still undecided in the mayor’s race can breathe a big sigh of relief.  The decision just got a whole lot easier with yesterday’s announcement.  Steve Adler is calling for the City to adopt a 20% residential homestead exemption on our property taxes.  No sooner did the words spring forth from his lips, than Mike Martinez and Sheryl Cole shrieked their resistance.

Of course the City cannot be more responsible in its budget.  Of course they can’t grant us the very same exemption that Travis County has offered for two decades!  What an outlandish and preposterous idea!  The financial rule of thumb at City Hall has been to spend as much money as possible as quickly as possible. And if there is a budget surplus in midyear, be the first out the door with ways to spend that too.

That’s precisely why Austin has an affordability problem.  If the local leadership does not set the right tone, every other group, public or private, will assume that we don’t have a problem.  But this time around, the citizens know better.  We have seen how affordability affects our own family budgets.  And we cringe at the thought of so many good people having to sell their homes and leave Austin.

What we need to do is tell Mike Martinez and Sheryl Cole that their time is up.  They each had eight years to steer the City onto an affordable path.  Instead they did the exact opposite.  Both major utilities are facing unending rate increases.  Taxes and fees at every level have spiraled out of control.  So, why should we expect anything more than business as usual from either incumbent candidate for mayor?

Here’s What Steve Adler Says About the Homestead Exemption

“Yesterday, as I officially filed for Mayor on the City of Austin ballot, I announced my support for a twenty percent property tax homestead exemption for Austin homeowners. I hope you’ll join my efforts in charting a new way forward, away from the same old policies that have left our city the most unaffordable in the state.”

“The time has come for tax relief for Austin homeowners. I propose phasing this in over four years in a revenue-neutral way, without cutting city services and without significantly impacting renters.”

“I would prefer this homestead exemption be a flat amount instead of a percentage, but state law does not provide that remedy. A twenty percent homestead exemption is the maximum allowed by Texas state law, and is one of the only tools we have for property tax relief now. As mayor, I will fight hard at the legislature for more fairness in our tax structure.”

But What About Those Loud Voices Criticizing Steve Adler on the Environment?

Out of hundreds of legal cases over a long career, Steve participated in a tiny number of cases that were not favorable to the environment.  It is a huge stretch to even think about comparing those to the untold number of harmful votes by both Mike Martinez and Sheryl Cole.  During eight years in office, they attended close to 400 City Council meetings.  In that time period, they voted against neighborhoods and the environment dozens upon dozens of times.

If you are happy with the status of development over the Edwards Aquifer, or the wasteful spending on Water Treatment Plant #4, or the steady erosion of neighborhood plans and protections, then feel free to vote for more of the same.  If you have not met with Steve or attended a forum to listen to his ideas, then keep an open mind about him.  You owe it to yourself to consider a fresh start to a badly broken and unaffordable system at City Hall.

The next time you pull out your wallet or purse, ask yourself if you are better off than you were a few years ago.

photo

Ask yourself if you can afford more of the same.  Or, if you would rather vote for a mayor like Steve Adler, who will listen to all of the people instead of just the special interests.

What Happened To Austin’s Budget Surplus – And Why Is Nobody Talking About It?

By Bill Oakey – August 1, 2014

Back in March, readers of this blog launched a successful email campaign to stop the City Council from spending a $14.2 million budget surplus.  But since then we have heard nothing from City Hall about what has been done with that money.  This week the City Council began discussing the budget in earnest during a two-day work session.  But there are several critical questions that have not been brought to light:

How Much Has the Budget Surplus Grown Since February?

It was at a March City Council work session that they made the decision not to spend the $14.2 million surplus.  So, if that money went into a reserve account, how much is it worth today?  We were told that the announced February surplus came from a combination of increased sales tax revenues, vacant staff positions, increased permit fees, and other revenue increases from an improving local economy.  Now we deserve to know how much the surplus has grown since February?

I have repeatedly recommended that the City Council ask for detailed quarterly reports on the budget versus actual spending numbers.  These reports should be presented to the City Council’s Audit and Finance Committee.  This simple, common sense reform should have been in place already.  And we should not have to wait for the new City Council to enact full transparency for our taxpayer dollars.  Especially when two long term incumbents are asking voters to elect one of them as our next mayor!

How Much Money Is Left Over From All Those Vacant Staff Positions?

As of last December 31st, the City Manager reported that 9.7% of the City’s workforce existed only on paper as unfilled vacancies.  Every month that has gone by since then with unfilled vacancies presents the potential for increases to the budget surplus.  When I researched this issue back in May, I learned something quite disturbing from Council Members Mike Martinez and Bill Spelman.  They both informed me that the vacant positions are fully funded in the budget, and that the affected City departments can transfer the money and spend it on other items!  We are talking about millions of dollars of taxpayer money that is repeatedly and consistently allowed to slip down into a black hole.

Despite my meetings with both Mr. Martinez and Mr. Spelman, no action has been taken to improve the accountability or the transparency of these surplus budget funds.  Even at a time when affordability has risen to the top among the issues in the current City Council campaign.

In previous postings to this blog, I have recommended that the City limit the funding of vacant staff positions to the 5% level that has been adopted by Portland, Oregon.  And I suggested that the City Council enact the Honolulu model for controlling funds for vacant staff positions.  In Honolulu, these funds are held in a provisional account in a central office.  They are restricted for use only to hire new employees, and the funds are distributed on an as-needed basis.  It is long past time that the taxpayers of Austin be given the same accountability standards that other prudent American cities enjoy.  And we should only elect City Council candidates who commit to adhering to these logical and reasonable standards.

To learn more, you can read one of my previous blog postings on this topic here.