Dankert: Residential taxes could see little or no risePublished 10:45am Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Many Austin residents could go into 2013 without feeling the bite of a tax jump.
The Austin City Council voted in a work session Monday night to bring a proposed 2013 budget and tax levy to the next council meeting. The budget, which essentially focused on the same services as the 2012 budget but added two new staff positions, requires a 4.6 percent increase to the tax levy.
Taking growth estimates and recent valuations of commercial properties into account, however, that number could drop to the point where residents see little or no increase in their own property taxes, said Administrative Services Director Tom Dankert.
“The county assessors went through and revalued almost every commercial property in town,” he said. “There is a very good chance you won’t see a nickel increase in a residential property tax.”
While he said a substantial tax increase for residential properties is unlikely, Dankert stressed that estimate was not set in stone. If the city were to have stayed at the same valuations and population from last year, annual taxes on a home valued at $105,000 would have gone up by $12-15.
One of the new staff positions is a full-time administrative assistant for the Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department. The position will replace a temporary one with more permanent city staff in handling payroll, managing accounts receivable and payable and answering the phone.
The other position is a part-time worker to handle zoning issues. Council Member Judy Enright said the zoning position was very important, as it resolves most property issues in the community before they come to the council.
“We have to keep doing this,” she said. “We can’t let it go.”
In an effort to trim costs, Council Member Steve King discussed the possibility of combining the two staff positions so one person could do all the tasks of both jobs. City staff administrators agreed that the positions were too different for such a plan to work.
A separate part of the discussion revolved around the public bathrooms downtown, which had been closed following a fire in downtown Austin. According to City Engineer Jon Erichson, performing necessary repairs on the existing bathrooms and paying to keep them open and maintained for next year would add another $25,000 to the 2013 budget. The council voted not to include this item.
Council Member Brian McAlister said while the bathrooms were built about 40 years ago, they have amassed more than their fair share of issues.
“It’s never been a draw for the downtown area,” he said. “They’ve been a problem all that time.”
Council Member Judy Enright said too many businesses closed early in the evening not to have public restrooms. Marian Clennon agreed, saying it was a necessary part of getting visitors from out of town to explore Austin’s downtown.
“Something as small as having public bathrooms is a big deal,” she said.
Erichson said the bathrooms would be demolished, as was planned in the 2012 budget. The project was scheduled for this fall, but the council reevaluated it following a request to open the bathrooms back up.
The council will vote on approving the proposed budget and tax levy at the Sept. 4 City Council meeting. After Sept. 15, the council cannot increase the tax levy, though it may still raise or lower the budget. Future budget discussions are planned for each council work session from mid-September on.
The council voted 4-3 to change the lots for the Mayo Clinic Health System annex building and the former Comfort Care property on 14th Street NW to “arterial commercial” classification on its mapping of future land use. Roger Boughton, Clennon and Enright voted against the resolution.
The change leaves the area open for office space or retail development instead of low-density residential buildings.
King said gearing the lots toward commercial development could help take off the strain of taxes for Austin residents.
“We have an opportunity here to increase the tax base a little bit and keep property taxes low,” King said.
Neighbors to the site disagreed, citing concerns about the noise, traffic and view of a business so close to their homes, especially in the event it ended up being a fast food restaurant.
During the council meeting and the work session that followed, the council also:
—approved additional stop signs at Banfield Elementary School.
—approved a request from the Austin Downtown Alliance to allow street dances on the 400 block of N Main Street on Aug. 28 and Sept. 25.
—approved the scheduling of two public hearings over the designations of dangerous dogs for the Sept. 4 council meeting.
—granted permission to the Planning and Zoning Department to contract for the removal of junk and illegally stored vehicles from three Austin properties: 916 Fifth Ave. NE, 1012 10th Ave. SW and 701 12th Ave. SW.