First off, there really is no huge disparity between commercial and residential property appraisals in Travis County. RECA conducted our own study. Unlike the study commissioned by the city and used to “prove” what the council already believed — we focused exclusively on comparing current appraisals and sales, in the current market. Between January 2014 and March of this year, the median residential property was assessed at 96.24 percent of its market value. The median commercial property? 93.10 percent.
You can download study here:
There's a infamous selling technique called moving the focus.You never ask the buyer "Do you want to buy a truck?" Instead, you ask, "Would you rather drive a black truck or a red truck?"
Now the buyer's focus has been shifted so they are thinking about owning and driving a truck--and they are no longer thinking about the sale of the truck.
This week, many citizens will be talking City Council about items they want to see in next year's budget. And after months of moving the focus, City of Austin will sell citizens a budget. Using Budget in a Box, media coverage, and a great deal of calculated spin, Austin has succeeded in getting citizens to ask, "Where should we spend the money we have?"
But citizens have been hoodwinked into overlooking an even more important question--Why is there no accountability or auditing of the City's revenue streams?
For example, Seaholm is #TIF 18. What is a TIF? It's where the city collects additional taxes or revenues for specific costs or projects.
Here is a powerpoint on TIFs:
Here is the City Auditor's page:
And a list of special reports:
Where is current information on these 18 TIFs? Which TIFs are still being collected? How is the money being collected, and what is the auditor doing to ensure all the revenue for these TIFs is being paid to the City?
Let's look at Hotel Taxes. Citizens have been assured that between events and all the money spent downtown Austin has a booming hotel industry that generates millions in hotel taxes. Well, according to the Auditor, 5 hotels were checked and none of them were paying all of their taxes:
Once again, there is a disturbing lack of any evidence that the City is actually taking the collection of hotel taxes seriously, and there is also no evidence the City did anything after discovering all 5 hotels were not in compliance during the last audit.
How about the Austin Convention and Visitor Bureau? Through the agreement with PCMA, the Bureau generates eleven different kinds of revenue. Eleven different sources and yet, there is no audit or accounting trail to be found on the city website. We just know how much the contract costs:
Ever heard of the TARA office? Thats the City's Telecommunications and Regulatory Affairs office and one of their jobs is to make sure the franchise fees and access line fees get paid. According to the Auditor's webpage, the last audit was done in 2012:
EMS is paid for through a complicated agreement between the City and Travis County. Here's a sentence from the 2012 audit:
"As a result, EMS management cannot provide assurance that the department is depositing all revenue it recieves"
Once more, there is indications from both audits there is serious problems with how the money is being collected, but there appears to be no follow through and no plan in place to ensure these revenues are being tracked and accounted for.
Finally, there is the official Interim Audit Plan, for 2015. A look at the list of projects shows that not one project is related to auditing or checking incoming revenue:
As the Gray Panthers have pointed out, affordability starts with accountability. The current budget is 3.5 billion dollars for Austin. Let's do an exercise. Let's say that Austin is only losing 5% of its revenue through lack of audits, and adequate checks and balances. That would mean we still have 175 Million dollars missing.
That's more than enough to repair some pools, build a few more sidewalks, and still keep a library branch or two open on a Sunday.
When you are asking City Council to approve certain items in the budget, take a moment to also ask them the question you are not supposed to ask--
When is there going to be some accountability and auditing of the City's revenue streams?
editor, Love North Austin
From City Council Member Gallo's newsletter:
We are one step closer to finalizing the property tax rate. Now that the tax rolls have been certified it appears that Austin's growth and the increase in values of commercial properties will mean the tax bill for Austin homeowners should stay the same or go down slightly from last year.
This past week the City Council, as mandated by Charter, set a preliminary tax rate of .4609 as proposed by Mayor Adler. Council Member Gallo and Council Member Zimmerman supported Council Member Troxclair's amendment to lower the maximum rate even further to .4598, but could not get support from the other Council Members.
There are two upcoming Council meetings scheduled on the budget and tax rate. Click here to see the official posting with details. The meetings are:
September 10th, 9:00 a.m.
City Hall - Council Chambers
301 W. Second St
September 17th, 4:00 p.m.
City Hall - Council Chambers
301 W. Second St
Keep Austin Affordable
In addition to supporting a lower tax rate, Council Member Gallo co-sponsored and supported the phased-in homestead property tax exemption resolution. The property tax relief will begin this year as a six percent homestead exemption. Council also voted to "encourage" (we can't mandate what future Councils do) the city to gradually increase the percentage of that exemption each year until it reaches 20 percent in four years.
Citizen bond oversight commission updateOn Aug. 13, City Council decided to re-establish a citizen bond oversight commission, which will have representation from each of the Council districts as well as an appointee by the Mayor.
The new commission will:
Read the draft ordinance here. The final and signed ordinance will be posted at a future date at AustinTexas.gov/CityClerk. If you are interested in applying to be on the Bond Oversight Commission, go to the online application here.
The City of Austin is going to court. The mayor and mayor pro-tem made that announcement Monday as they try to balance tax appraisals across Austin. As our City Reporter Jeff Stensland explains, a win in court could save you money.
During construction, Circuit of The Americas claimed it was building a $300 million racetrack.
After it received its first tax appraisal, the track claimed it's only worth a third that amount..... A study by the City of Austin found icons like the Driskill Hotel were appraised at about half their market value.
Travis County's Chief Appraiser says that's because she has no access to sales data, unless she pays for it.
(warning - opinion piece)
"Greetings Residents of Travis County,
As you may be aware, on Tuesday, August 18, 2015, the Commissioners Court voted unanimously to place the Civil & Family Courts Complex on the November 3 ballot. The current Hemann Marion Sweatt Courthouse is 84 years old and no longer serves our county residents in an efficient and productive manner.
Several open house events have been planned to educate our community on the need, cost, location, and safety aspects of the new facility. Let me emphasize that Travis County is prohibited by state statue from advocating; therefore, these open house events are for sharing information and answering questions you may have about the new facility, so that you are better informed before November 3.
Attached is a flyer with the dates, times, and locations of the open house events. Please feel free to share this information as you deem appropriate and we look forward to seeing you at any of the events."
Beverly S. Silas
Travis County Civil & Family Courts Complex Project Team
The only meeting for North Austinites is:
Saturday, September 19 10:00 AM-12:00 PM Northwest Recreation Center 2913 Northland Dr. Austin, Texas (Precinct 2)
The County has set the price tag at $287 million:
We would like to remind readers these are same commissioners who voted to sit on the sidelines, while Austin City Council tries to do something about the very broken tax appraisal system:
Travis County Commissioners voted on Friday to do nothing.
That was the decision in a rare special voting session called to address the city of Austin’s decision to challenge commercial property tax appraisals.
The commissioners had before them three options: file their own challenge of the appraisals, direct county attorneys to participate in the city’s challenge or do nothing. In the end, on a motion floated by Commissioner Ron Davis, they voted 3-2 for option No. 3. County Judge Sarah Eckhardt and Commissioner Brigid Shea voted against the substitute motion, which replaced their own attempt to allow county attorneys to help the city. Commissioners Gerald Daugherty and Margaret Gómez joined Davis in opting to keep the county on the sidelines....
After the meeting, Shea slammed the choice for inaction and told the Austin Monitor that the decision left her “appalled.”
“This community is in absolute pain over the skyrocketing cost of living, the most pressing being housing,” Shea said. “And one of the structural flaws that’s contributing to a higher cost of living is the fact that commercial properties are not paying their fair share, so an unfair burden is being pushed onto homeowners. I cannot fathom why my colleagues would vote to do nothing.”
Good to know that the Comissioners are taking their role as servants of the people seriously.
~Mary Rudig, editor - Love North Austin
ity Council Member Don Zimmerman has proposed that Council cut by 50 percent payments to companies that have Chapter 380 agreements with the city, as a way to “reduce the tax burden by over $6.8 million without cutting city services.”
Zimmerman’s message as posted on the Council Message Board states, “This would just be for FY 2015-16 and would not impact future years. However, I would be open to reducing the Chapter 380 agreements by 100% and make that change the policy moving forward.”
Over the years, the city has reached agreements that mostly involve abating property tax payments from businesses moving to Austin in return for investment in the city, a promise of jobs, use of local contractors and other benefits that Council believed were desirable. There are currently seven active Chapter 380 agreements, named after the state law that allows for creation of such agreements. Those agreements are with the following companies: Samsung, Apple, VISA, HID Global, Athenahealth, Advisory Board Company and Hanger.
City department heads took turns Monday getting grilled by the Austin City Council for the first time since the proposed 2015-16 budget was released. The council was in session for about seven hours, but in brief, here are five takeaways:
Click read more for entire article
ravis County’s property tax rate is expected to dip during the next budget cycle, but taxpayers shouldn’t necessarily expect lower bills.
According to the preliminary budget for Fiscal Year 2016, the rate will drop by 6.62 percent. However, rising property values mean that the owner of a home with the average taxable value of $262,199 will pay $22 more on the tax bill compared to this year.
That increase would appear to wipe out most of the savings the median Austin homeowner could hope to see from the 6 percent homestead exemption approved by City Council back in June.
Travis County Commissioners Court considers $942.3M county budget for FY2016 - Impact of $22 per home
Home values might increase, but interim County Executive Jessica Rio said staff’s tax rate recommendation is anticipated to result in a tax impact of approximately $22 on the average taxable homestead. Homestead owners who are disabled or age 65 and older will see an average annual tax increase of approximately $1, she said.
Note: If voters also approved the $300 million dollar courthouse packag, that will add an additional $40, which brings the total bill up to $60.