Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Alternatives needed to restore Affordability


"But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts?"
James 2:6

Erin McCann, the only non-incumbent running in Austin City Council district 9, nails it:
Austin, TX (September 15th). Austin residents have been vocal about the two most troubling issues facing Austinites: affordability and traffic. Regrettably, the major concerns of Austin residents have not been heard at City Hall. Fortunately, there is hope in November. Austinites will have the opportunity to elect a concerned and qualified citizen in every one of the newly created City Council Districts. In District 9, Erin McGann’s victory in November would ensure a completely new City Council, while giving District 9 residents a representative who listens to their concerns.

The back of the purple & white shirts McGann’s supporters wear walking the streets of District 9 read, "We cannot solve a problem from the same level of consciousness that created it.” Albert Einstein’s famous words are especially relevant as the current City Council pushes through measures that will negatively impact every Austin resident. On Monday, September 8th, the Austin City Council voted to increase spending in the City budget for 2014-15, resulting in an increase in property taxes, Austin Energy rates, and Austin Water Utility rates.

McGann’s opponents in District 9 both voted in favor of these increases. In a statement this week, McGann said that, “Although I am happy to see some much needed additional funding for our first responders, it is disturbing to me that the City Council professes to be actively working to make Austin more affordable, while increasing utilities and spending the budget surplus they discovered in less than two weeks. This surplus could be returned to the taxpayer in the form of even lower tax rates for homeowners.”

According to the City’s website, every month Austin residents will experience an “approximate $2.72 increase for the typical Austin energy customer.” Along with this increase, Austin Water Utility will “implement a system-wide rate increase of 8.1%.” As for property taxes, this budget will implement “an approximate increase of $3.49 per month for the owner of a median-priced home, estimated at $202,254.”

In addition to these tax increases, the City has proposed adding $28.5 million to existing City debt, which is currently more than $5 billion, not including interest.. All current City Council members voted to borrow the $28.5 million in order to purchase a tract of land at the intersection of Bull Creek Road & 45th Street, bypassing a vote by citizens and committing them to additional spending in order to develop that land. This action, according to Mayor Leffingwell, would negatively “impact property taxes, without voter approval.”

In November, Austin residents will have the opportunity to decide whether or not to spend $1.4 billion on the proposed Austin Rail Project. The City Council, including McGann’s two opponents in District 9, voted unanimously in favor of Prop. 1, Austin’s Rail Project. Without truly addressing Austin’s most pressing issue, traffic congestion, this project will commit Austin tax-payers to further tax increases in the future. According to the City of Austin, once the project is completed in 2030, the Rail will carry only ½ of 1% of all Austin commuters. The projected ridership numbers fall very short of even carrying a small portion of those who will move to Austin by 2030.

As for the cost, according to the project planners, the $1.4 billion price tag would cost $155,000 per rider. This figure does not include the estimated $22.1 million in annual operating costs. Keep in mind that the last rail project cost 5 times what the City planners had projected. According to AustinAffordability.com, in order to fulfill the full Project Connect plans “80% [of future project funding] must come from local funding sources.” This would put an enormous burden on Austin taxpayers.

To truly address traffic congestion in Austin, the newly elected City Council must focus its stretched resources on a more sensible and effective approach to the problem. More effective alternatives include building new roads, improving existing infrastructure, traffic-light synchronization, improving and extending bus routes and schedules, encouraging expansion of services like Uber and Lyft, and even consider staggered City employee work hours.

McGann is publicly encouraging residents to vote no on the Rail proposition in November.. But she does understand that “traffic desperately needs to be addressed, and there are many other options on the table. Congestion can be positively affected with a more thorough, less expensive approach. The options include, but are not limited to, improving existing roads, providing City and State employees with bus passes and responding to the need for later and more frequent bus lines. When addressing the traffic issue, we must balance the cost to the citizen of Austin and remember our goal to keep Austin affordable for its diverse citizens.”
 Amen, amen, amen!!!

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