Frustration mounts for city leaders after bonding request lost

Published 6:59 pm Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Venting their frustration with the state legislature, the Austin City Council  and Rep. Patty Mueller expressed their disappointment Monday night at the news that Austin’s bonding bill request was scrapped in the final days by the legislature.

Speaking before the board, Mueller reported on the requested $14.5 million bonding being stripped at the last minute after it had initially made the list.

At the same time, Mueller reported that other items she believed should have been included weren’t, despite the over $9 billion budget surplus legislators had at their disposal.

“I’m disappointed, I’m frustrated,” Mueller said. “Because with the surplus I wanted to see tax relief and I wanted to see one-time funding for mental health and your bonding bill.”

The $14.5 million asked for by the City of Austin would have gone toward the Wastewater Treatment Plant renovation.

According to City Engineer Steven Lang, the estimated cost dating back to July of 2021 was $76 million. However, he also said that industry reports are estimating 15-20% in inflationary increases.

While Mueller said she hopes to secure bonding money next year or maybe the year after, it didn’t stop the mayor and council members from voicing their disappointment in not only failing to get the money, but in the process itself.

“I think the disappointment is with leadership,” Mayor Steve King said somberly. “It’s disappointing overall. We are the losers on that bonding bill. We don’t have the luxury of waiting. We just have to get it done.”

Mueller responded: “You should be upset. The system is broken.”

If Austin can’t secure these bonding funds, then fears turned to taxpayers possibly having to shoulder more of the weight of renovating the plant.

Councilman Mike Postma said that it seemed to him that priorities were somewhat misplaced and ultimately played a hand in bonding talks not getting the attention it deserved.

“This is a bonding bill year,” Postma said. “I think the budget sucked up the oxygen in the room.”

Despite not getting the money this year, planning continues forward. Lang said that bid opening has been moved back two weeks to July 12 to allow contractors more time for developing their overall project costs. At the same time he said he hoped to have a little clearer picture of the scope of the renovation in the near future.

“By the first council meeting in July I hope to have some scenarios looking at inflation and trying to estimate what the project cost is going to be,” Lang said. “It’s taking that back to how we’re going to fund it, what level of increases are likely to be seen for residents based on lack of bonding dollars and inflationary increases.”

In other news:

• The City Council took their first look at the upcoming 2023 budget during the meeting’s work session. This first step was an opportunity for the council to start creating a wish-list of items they would like to see in the budget and acts as a base prior to each department’s budgeting. A preliminary tax levy for a proposed budget must be approved by the council by Sept. 30. All final resolutions must be certified before Dec. 28.