City council takes up “Downtown Puzzle” funding, homeless work opportunities

Downtown Austin skyline Dec. 10, 2015.
Downtown Austin skyline Dec. 10, 2015. (KXAN Photo/Julie Karam)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Here’s a quick rundown of the items topping Thursday’s Austin City Council agenda:

Reallocating hotel occupancy taxes
When it comes to the hotel occupancy tax that right now goes toward the Austin Convention Center, Visit Austin and the cultural arts programs this resolution states, “state law allows Austin to spend considerably more than it has been spending on several categories of potential activities, including but not limited to historic preservation, tourism and promotion, and transportation that supports tourists and travel between hotel areas and tourist destination areas.” Council Member Troxclair tells KXAN this item focuses on the current hotel occupancy tax, while the mayor’s “downtown puzzle” looks at increasing the HOT by 2 percent.

Funding options for “Downtown Puzzle” that would increase hotel occupancy taxes, help fund homeless issues, and expand the Austin Convention Center 
This item directs the city manager to implement the “Downtown Puzzle” plan by bringing the tools to make it happen to Council. As KXAN has reported, it would create a downtown TIF (tax increment finance zone) that could dedicate $30 million in future property taxes to pay for homes for about a quarter of Austin’s homeless. The plan would expand the Waller Creek TIF that could dedicate $100 million, which the mayor says could be matched by private donations. It would also create a “Tourism Public Improvement District” by increasing the “bed tax.” This funding stream would hope to dedicate $4-8 million a year to homeless support programs, renovations to the Palm School, preserve the Historic East Sixth Street and the Red River Cultural District, and finish construction on the Mexican-American Cultural Center. An agreement to expand the convention center would get hotels on board to petition the state to allow an increase in the bed tax.

“We create this new funding stream by doing the convention center. But it ripples down because the pieces are connected. This is how we make the pie bigger,” Adler said in July, calling it a tool to drive the community benefits Austin wants to achieve.

Pilot program to offer temporary work opportunities to the homeless 
This item aims to curb the number of panhandlers and homeless individuals in Austin by connecting them with the services to get back into permanent employment and housing. Council Member Troxclair’s resolution is modeled after the “There’s a Better Way” program in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The program focuses on a city/non-profit partnership that offers those experiencing homelessness cash in exchange for day labor jobs, such as “beautification projects, graffiti removal, or walking dogs at the animal shelter” as the resolution states. It also provides counseling services.

New special events and high capacity event venues rules
Council will consider approving the second and third reading of an ordinance related to right-of-way closures, requirements for temporary food establishments during special events, street closures and penalties.

Public hearing on the proposed budget 
This is the second of two chances to voice your opinions about the budget.

Public hearing on the proposed tax rate 
Austin is considering a “tax swap” with the Austin Independent School District. The proposal calls for raising city property taxes to offset school taxes in AISD and six other districts that are in the city of Austin limits. It would work as a tax swap with AISD to reduce some of the funds that go to the state to be given to less property-rich school districts across Texas.

 

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