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In a recent poll, residents of Austin cited rising property taxes as a major issue they face, iconic business are having to close their doors and longtime residents are moving out citing rising property taxes. Some have also cited homelessness as an impediment to business. How would you slow or stop the increase in City property taxes, encourage other taxing entities to do the same, and balance the requests for more funding coming from the City Departments and the public? One example of the request of more funding is to expand social service contracts to meet needs, including to provide more supportive housing programs. How do you balance less taxes and increased demand for social services? Please explain.

Todd Phelps


Formulating a realistic budget that provides for social services and public safety, is a matter of identifying the priorities and making hard decisions. We need to focus on our needs first and provide the basic social services as efficiently as possible. Any left-over resources can be allocated based on a priority system. Comprehensive Efficiency Audit–If Proposition K (the comprehensive audit of the city operations), passes on the ballot in November, this can be a potential tool for setting a baseline of effective operations. The city must as expeditiously as possible prepare a Request for Proposals. To be effective there must be an independent objective selection of the audit firm and there must be an oversight team not only of people that are familiar with city operations, but also some outside members of the public that are objective and not on the city’s payroll. This audit, if correctly done, could serve as a blueprint for efficiencies that result in cost reductions without negatively impacting vital services. Department Performance–Departments can produce real savings and innovation if they trust the budget process to be fair and are expected to perform effectively as well as efficiently. The budget process needs to provide incentives for achieving objectives. Too often in governments there are no incentives for performance. Very often, budget processes provide disincentives for those that perform well. Competent Management– Managers in the City are well paid. They should be expected to execute all management functions. Creating new positions and additional oversight is money wasted. All managers should be competent in their subject matter areas. They should also be responsible for such things as “equity” and “inclusion, transparency, constituent satisfaction, etc. in the operations they are managing. Through mismanagement, for instance, The DNA lab problems caused taxpayers millions of dollars as have the problems reported in the Zucker Report with regard to planning. Comprehensive Review of All Underutilized City Owned Land– Determine the highest and best use. If it is advantageous to the taxpayers to sell city owned land it should be competed by Requests for Proposals in a transparent manner, and the proceeds redirected to other city initiatives or reducing taxes. The soccer negotiations, for example, were not handled this way. It was unilaterally decided to give a $22.5 million to $29.5 million parcel of land to a for profit sports enterprise. PSV will be exempt from all property taxes for 50 years and will pay less than market rate to lease the land and will have free rent for 5 years. While the Mayor and 6 members of the council decided to give away this parcel, which was the top-rated candidate for affordable housing and mixed use, at the same time they are suggesting buying $100 million of other land for affordable housing in Prop A this November. Giving away $29.5 million of land and asking taxpayers to agree to spend $100 million to buy more land, is the type of transactions that make Austin unaffordable. Litigation Review—Governments should operate within the rule of law. The City appears to be engaged in a disproportionate number of lawsuits. These actions cost taxpayers money. The quality of legal advice needs to be reviewed to make sure that Council is not involved in unnecessary litigation at taxpayers’ expense. Out of control spending results in property tax increases which force more people into the position of needing social services. It also creates increasing affordability issues for those who are on the brink of having to sell their homes or close their business. So first, spending has to be brought under control to free up funds for critical safety and social service programs.