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How the Hyde Park Flag Store is Impacting Austin's City Budget

The Austin City Council returns to the dais as 10 a.m. this morning to finalize the city's Fiscal Year 2014 budget.

Yesterday, council members voted unanimously to hold the line of property tax rates. They also spent most of the day funding initiatives that weren't in City Manager Marc Ott's initial budget proposal.

How was the council able to keep the tax rate the same while funding new initiatives? Part of the reason was due to better than projected sales tax and property tax collections. But additional funding was freed up simply by taking it from somewhere else.

And that's where the Flag Store comes in.

The Hyde Park Market at Duval and 45th Streets is known for its low gas prices, staggering beer selection, and overstuffed shelves. But it's mainly known for its flags - dozens of flags attached to every conceivable overhang outside.

The market became a cause célèbre a few weeks ago when word spread the store was removing its flags. The culprit? An agent with City of Austin Code Compliance, the department tasked with enforcing city codes concerning health, safety and blight. Prompted by an anonymous complaint, a Code Compliance inspector informed the stores owners the flags – unlicensed "signs" in the inspector's opinion  – needed to come down. The store owners were informed they could face fines of up to $2,000 a day.

A media circus ensued, the inspector's decision was reversed, and the flags went back up in Hyde Park. And while the episode was certainly embarrassing for Code Compliance, now it's proven costly as well.

Heading into budget talks, Code Compliance had proposed 19 new positions. Citing the Hyde Park fracas, council member Mike Martinez moved to eliminate nine of those positions yesterday, freeing up $875,000 to be spent elsewhere.

“Where a Code Compliance officer is citing a business and then threatening $2,000 in fines per day for hanging flags in front of their business,” Martinez said, “… maybe there is something internally that needs to be done in relation to training our existing staff better, as opposed to just adding more staff.”

The Austin City Council reconvenes to take a final pass at the budget this morning at 10 a.m. You can watch the meeting online.

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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