Tag Archives: Sarah Eckhardt

Would You Vote For $600 Million In City Bond Projects – Every Year For Five Years In A Row?

By Bill Oakey, December 6, 2017

Think of our city as one big extended family. That family has to look out for each of its members. Now, put that into context with your own family. The holiday shopping season is now underway. Your inbox overflows with tempting cyber-this and hyper-that offers. All you have to do is type in your credit card number and click…

But somewhere in the pit of your stomach, you know it’s not quite that simple. Your family has to stay within a budget. You and your spouse, the kids, and the other folks on your shopping list  can only have what your family can afford. Unless, that is, you are reckless enough to pile on the debt and t refuse to take it seriously.

In 2014, Austin voters faced a billion dollar bond election for one sliver of a citywide urban rail system. We were told then that it would double the City’s outstanding debt. We voted against those bonds for several reasons, even though many of us support rail in a general transportation plan. So, here we are three years later. The City’s Bond Election Review Task Force really is considering $3 billion in bond-funded projects over the next five years.

Look at the big picture here. Where does that leave Travis County? What about AISD, ACC and Central Health? And where does it keave us as taxpayers? The City Budget is so tight that its share of our property taxes are in danger of doubling in nine years. And with new debt on top of that, it could be even worse.

I was a little rough on AISD in a recent blog posting. When their CFO reached out to me, I softened just a little, and requested a meeting to talk things over. Wish me luck as I try to convince AISD to stay very close to their low estimate on the cost to refurbish their new headquarters building.

Let’s try to end this on a brighter note. County Judge Sarah Eckhardt gets it. In fact, here’s how she painted the picture when we discussed the long list of “needs” that our local governments think they have to have. She said this, “If you load too many ornaments on the Christmas tree, it will topple over.” Then she graciously accepted the challenge to work with the City, starting early next year on a “Go Big” on affordability initiative. I have since received some positive signals from City Council members.

Enjoy the holidays with your family. But don’t click too many of those online offers without remembering your wallet!

Musical Accompaniment for This Blog Piece

1. “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” – Elmo & Patsy
2. “Christmas In Jail” – Asleep at the Wheel
3. “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” – Gayla Peevey
4. “Nuttin’ for Christmas” – Barry Gordon
5. “The Twelve Gifts of Christmas” – Allan Sherman
6. “Monster Holiday” – Lon Chaney
7. “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth” – Spike Jones
8. “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” – Jimmy Boyd

Advertisements

County Judge Sarah Eckhardt Steps Forward To “Go Big” On Affordability

By Bill Oakey – November 6, 2017

What a difference a day makes! Last Thursday was like any other day for the last several months. I had begun to wonder what happened to affordability. Nobody at City Hall or Travis County seemed to be talking about it any more. Was it even worth it to keep this blog going?

Then I walked into my Friday morning appointment with County Judge Sarah Eckhardt, who was joined by her chief of staff, Peter Einhorn. I made a really bold suggestion, thinking at the very least that it couldn’t hurt to try. I told her that the numbers are there to prove that we are facing an “affordability perfect storm” And that the only way to stop it would be to launch a major initiative. We would have to go big!

My recommendation is a joint effort by the City and the County, every bit as ambitious as the City’s highly publicized “Year of Mobility” last year.  In my presentation to Judge Eckhardt, I suggested that the issue could be approached on two basic fronts:

  1. Conduct a “Pre-Mortem.” We need to assemble the data to show that we are on a cost spiral that is absolutely unsustainable. Our local taxes, spending and debt are accelerating at a dizzying pace. Because of our dubious distinction as the most economically segregated region in the United States, we need to shift course before it’s too late. A pre-mortem is simply the opposite of a post-modem. Let’s be proactive and solve the problem now, instead of asking what went wrong after the fact. Think of a chart in front of you that shows what your taxes might look like in five years and again in ten years, at the current rate of acceleration. How much debt would our local governments have? How bad would AISD taxes be without any reform of the Robin Hood funding formulas? What would average home appraisals be? What would our median family income look like with our current mix of jobs and wages? I contend that this analysis would show that we are headed for an affordability cliff. Unless steps are taken to turn the situation around.
  2. Now for the next step. A lot of very competent people have studied and spoken about affordability. In the last few years, we have heard many great speeches, attended lots of meetings and forums, and walked away with fancy reports tucked under our arms. But after the presenters turn out the lights and send us home, what happens to those reports? Far too often, nothing much. They languish on shelves like lazy cats…

The challenge to Judge Eckhardt last Friday was to see if she would spearhead an effort to turn those affordability reports and committee proposals into concrete action. With a formalized plan and timeline. I suggested that if she would take the lead, others would follow. The exciting news is that she enthusiastically embraced the challenge. “We will get the reports off the shelves,” she insisted. “There will be rules of engagement that will not only look good, they will do good.” We talked about forging ahead with a can-do spirit. And now she is ready to try to make it happen.

Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt

Sarah Eckhardt possesses the tenacity and the smarts to tackle a big project by focusing on the broad objectives, and then drilling down to the finest details. In our meeting, she rattled off several examples of ways to implement cost-saving and efficiency measures. Her approach includes protecting seniors, workforce development, affordable housing and many other areas. She would like to exchange ideas, not only with the City of Austin, but with other cities and counties. And she’s willing to confront the State Legislature about what they need to do to help. Here’s hoping that Austin city officials will come on board and allocate the time and resources necessary to deliver some solid results on affordability. It is time for everyone to wake up and spring into action!
    

    

Musical Accompaniment for This Blog Piece

  1. “What a Difference a Day Makes” – Dinah Washington
  2. “A Little Less Conversation” – Elvis Presley (selected by Sarah Eckhardt)
  3. “Where the Action Is” – Freddy Cannon
  4. “Cat’s In the Cradle” – Harry Chapin
  5. “All the Cats Join In” – Teresa Doyle
  6. “Where You Lead” – Carole King
  7. “I Will Follow You” – Ricky Nelson
  8. “Stand and Deliver” – Adam & the Ants