Austin's NPR Station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Austin

City Hall Hustle: The Middle-Year Itch

Cole Tovo.jpg
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 spend a $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 list of 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 news@kut.org

Related Content