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City Hall Hustle: The Middle-Year Itch

Jeff Heimsath for KUT News

What’s $14 million between friends? Grounds for argument, if the Austin City Council is any indication.

On Tuesday the council wrangled with how to spenda $14 million mid-year budget surplus, the result of higher than expected sales tax and development revenues. The day’s big winner? Affordable housing initiatives, which were earmarked for $10 million. 

In light of Austin voters’ surprising rejection of $78 million in affordable housing bonds last November, council member Kathie Tovo called for the city to step up its spending.

“You know we’re looking at some very significant gaps in these programs, and in the need to support seniors who need to stay in their homes, the creation of affordable housing,” Tovo said. “We’ve got a lot of great entities in our community who are able and willing to work on these and can leverage our dollars so it’s a great return on investment.”

For Mayor Lee Leffingwell, it wasn’t a question of how to spend the surplus, but whether the city should be spending the surplus in the first place. In all, Leffingwell voted against all but two of the spending items. (Here's a complete listof everything the council funded.)

Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole also tried to set aside surplus funds. She wanted to reserve $4 million to lower city property taxes by half a cent in 2014. But her proposal didn’t really go anywhere.

“I am highly disappointed that we have taken and spent 14 million dollars,” Cole said, “and not have reserved any sums of money for property tax relief or any other contingencies.”

By the time council had finished, her tax relief fund dwindled to just over $500,000 – and so had most council members patience. Leffingwell was the only one to vote against the entire spending package, and sounded a warning as he did.

“This is my official prediction,” he said. “This is going to be a year when we’re going to be struggling to find the funds that we need.”

We won’t have to wait long to find out: council kicks off fiscal year 2014 planning on April 18.

Rounding Out the Agenda

In Fact Daily contributor Mike Kanin joins the Hustle to dissect Tuesday’s budget action, and what it means for affordable housing initiatives going forward. We also preview a big item on this Thursday’s agenda: a resolution calling for an independent oversight board for Austin Energy.

Got the inside scoop on City Hall? Drop the Hustle a line a

Wells has been a part of KUT News since 2012, when he was hired as the station's first online reporter. He's currently the social media host and producer for Texas Standard, KUT's flagship news program. In between those gigs, he served as online editor for KUT, covering news in Austin, Central Texas and beyond.
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