Austin voters will soon determine the fate of Project Connect, a 15-year, $7.1 billion overhaul of the city's transit system. Although it has been in development since 2013, the plan is still opaque to some residents, who have questions about what it might mean for their neighborhoods—and their wallets.
This week, Austonia will be answering some questions, ranging from the cost of the plan to the projected ridership. You can find the other installments here:
- How feasible is Project Connect's $7.1 billion price tag?
- How much has Capital Metro spent on advertising Project Connect and who is funding the groups that oppose it?
- How will Project Connect affect transit ridership?
- How does the pandemic affect Project Connect?
If Austin voters approve Proposition A this Nov. 3, they will see a permanent 8.75-cent increase to the city's property tax rate. The revenue from this increase will fund the initial investment of Project Connect, the proposal for which includes two light rail lines, an underground downtown tunnel, a bus system expansion and new park and rides.
There have been conflicting reports, however, about how such an increase will impact taxpayers.
Two groups that oppose Project Connect—the political action committee Our Mobility Our Future and the nonprofit Voices of Austin—both have said it will amount to around a 25% increase. Voices of Austin recently debuted a calculator tool using this figure.
Meanwhile, Capital Metro says Proposition A would increase local property tax bills by 4%.
So which is it?
If approved, Proposition A would lead to a 20% increase to the city of Austin's property tax rate. It's important to note, however, that city property owners also pay property taxes to other entities, including Austin ISD, Travis County, Austin Community College and Central Health. If Proposition A is approved, city residents would see their overall property tax bill increase by around 4% because of Project Connect. Those who live outside the city limits will not be impacted.
In terms of dollars, the owner of a $401,644 home—the average appraised value in the city of Austin this year—would see a tax bill increase of $351.44 if Project Connect is approved. The owner of a $1.5 million home would see an increase of $1,312.50.
How did the aforementioned groups arrive at 25%?
They included the property tax rate increase approved by Austin City Council for expenses unrelated to Project Connect.
Local governments in Texas can increase their property tax rate a certain amount—such that it would return 3.5% more revenue than the previous year—without voter approval. Austin City Council voted in August to increase the city property tax rate within that range for the upcoming fiscal year. The revenue that is collected under that rate will go toward the city's FY 2020-21 budget, which funds the police and fire departments, Austin Public Health and the library system, among other things.
Additionally, council members voted to order a tax rate election, which is required to increase the property tax rate beyond the 3.5% threshold. Proposition A asks voters to approve an additional 8.75-cent increase to the city's property tax rate to pay specifically for Project Connect.
When considered together, the city's approved FY 2021-22 property tax rate and Proposition A would lead to a 24.5% increase to the no-new-revenue tax rate, or the rate that would result in the same amount of property tax revenue as the city collected last year.
As property owners are aware, home values typically appreciate each year. The average appraised home value in the city of Austin increased more than 6% between 2018 and 2019. As home values increase, so too does the tax burden on their owners.
Notably the Travis Central Appraisal District is not reappraising homes this year due to a dispute with the Austin Board of Realtors. As a result, the appraised value of homes will remain unchanged from last year.
Jeffery Bowen has lived in Austin since 1989 and is a member of the Project Connect ambassador network, where he represents the Austin Neighborhood Council. If Proposition A is approved, it will lead to a $225 increase in his tax bill—not accounting for the other tax rate increases.
Bowen doesn't feel that Project Connect is worth the cost considering its limited reach to his neighborhood. "In the southwest part of town, I kid very seriously that we are nothing but a bunch of cash cows for feeding Capital Metro," he said.
(The Austin Neighborhood Council does not make endorsements on local propositions.)
Homeowners are not the only ones who will see a difference if Proposition A is approved. Commercial property owners, such as landlords, will owe more in property taxes, too, which will trickle down to their tenants.
Leslie Pearlman has lived in Austin for 10 years and rents a place in the Cherrywood neighborhood. She plans to vote yes on Proposition A because she believes Project Connect can address the city's major issues of traffic congestion, affordability and equity.
"When I pay rent, I am paying property taxes," she told Austonia. "To me, it is the same as if I owned a house, and I am willing to pay more."
This story has been updated to clarify the initial investment proposed under Project Connect.
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After two years of no in-person events, Austin festival South by Southwest has agreed to give 50% of ownership to P-MRC, a Los Angeles company that controls publishing operations for Rolling Stone and Billboard.
The media venture was founded in 2020 and is part-owned by Jay Penske, racer Roger Penske's son and head of Penske Racing and Penske Media.
The move comes after the COVID-19 pandemic left the festival with two years worth of hemorrhaging funds. SXSW organizers were left scrambling for solutions in March 2020 when the city of Austin canceled the festival at the onset of the pandemic. One-third of the festival's 175 year-round employees were laid off, and the festival ran a shortened virtual event in 2021.
SXSW CEO and co-founder Roland Swenson said in a statement that the company is grateful to get aid when they need it most and that they are now looking to the future.
"It has been an incredibly tough period for small businesses, SXSW included," Swenson said. "When Jay Penske approached us with an interest in becoming a partner, it was a true lifeline for us. Both of our companies share a passion for producing high-quality content that helps shape modern culture, so this feels like a natural alliance."
Both of Austin's big-name festivals are now in the hands of out-of-town buyers. In 2014, homegrown festival Austin City Limits was bought in part by LiveNation, who took 51% ownership in Austin live promoter C3 Presents.
The fest has captured the essence of Austin arts and culture for 34 years, and it doesn't plan on stopping now. With P-MRC by its side, SXSW said it plans on keeping its unique identity but expanding operations as it prepares for an in-person celebration next spring.
"Since 1987, SXSW has been the world's premier festival centered at the convergence of tech, media, film, and music," Penske said. "Today SXSW continues to be one of the most recognized brands for empowering creative talent and bringing together the brightest creators of our time. As part of this significant investment, we plan to build upon SXSW's incredible foundation while extending the platform further digitally and assisting Roland and his incredible team to bring their vision to even greater heights."
With their future restored, SXSW's newest slogan rings truer than ever: "See you next year at SXSW!"
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Update: Former Travis County deputy suspected of killing 3 in northwest Austin now in police custody
Stephen Broderick is now in police custody for a suspected domestic violence incident that killed three in northwest Austin on Sunday.
After initially being called an active shooting incident, joint local law enforcement and more than 75 FBI agents proceeded with an almost day-long manhunt with three helicopters and on-ground teams for former Travis County deputy Broderick. Police captured him after a 911 caller reported a suspicious man walking along U.S. 290, where he was taken into custody.
Police believe the victims, who have been identified as two Hispanic women and one Black man, knew their assailant. A child was involved but is now safely in police custody. Two of the victims have been identified as former and current Elgin ISD students: Alyssa Broderick and Willie Simmons III.
The school district released a statement offering its condolences to the families. Alyssa was enrolled until October 2020 and played on the basketball team. Simmons was a senior at Elgin High School where he was captain of the football team and had been recruited to play football at the University of North Texas.
Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez released the following statement on the incident: "I'm truly heartbroken that a former Travis County Sheriff's Office Deputy is the suspect in such a horrific incident. TCSO is standing by to provide any, and all assistance we can to the families of the victims in their time of need. I'm proud of the integrity and professionalism shown by the men and women of TCSO, APD and other law enforcement agencies, who worked tirelessly throughout the night to locate Stephen Broderick. I'm especially grateful to the vigilant citizen who called 911 after seeing Broderick, and to the Manor PD officers and TCSO deputies who took him into custody this morning."
APD @Chief_Chacon provides updated media briefing in relation to Great Hills Trail incident. - PIO8 https://t.co/47siNWhARI
— Austin Police Department (@Austin_Police) April 18, 2021
During a press briefing at 4:45 p.m. on Sunday, Interim Police Chief Joe Chacon said law enforcement was on the scene for several hours investigating the incident with 41-year-old Broderick.
"We're very sorry that obviously this has happened and we continue to try and locate this individual, we are transitioning from a search in this area to a fugitive search and those efforts will continue until this person is located," Chacon said. "I don't want anyone to think that we're packing up and going home. We're going to continue to look for this individual because he continues to pose a threat to this community."
#texasshooting #masshooting Arboretum shooting Austin. pic.twitter.com/SkIsgDoYHt
— Jamie Hammonds (@jamie_hammonds5) April 18, 2021
This story has been updated at 8 a.m. Monday to include the latest information.
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Formula 1 is returning to Florida for the first time since 1959, announcing that the brand-new Miami Grand Prix will join the calendar in 2022 and Austin will no longer be the only F1 race in the U.S.
Held at the Hard Rock Stadium complex in Miami Gardens, this will be the first race in the Sunshine State in 62 years. With a new track setup, F1 will loop the stadium, home of the NFL's Miami Dolphins.
Excited for @F1 @f1miami @HardRockStadium - a Global Entertainment Destination. This event will bring opportunities for so many and will be world-class. Thank you to @gregmaffei #chasecarey #stefanodomenicali @MayorRHarris @Ogilbert @CommishDiaz @MayorDaniella pic.twitter.com/n6dDDD1cPX
— Tom Garfinkel (@TomGarfinkel) April 18, 2021
The new 3.36 mile circuit has 19 corners, three straights and potential for three DRS zones, with expected top speeds of 198 mph.
Now with two races in the U.S., F1 President Stefano Domenicali said they will avoid having back-to-back events by keeping the Miami Grand Prix separate from the U.S. Grand Prix, which is held at Austin's Circuit of the Americas.
The date of the race has yet to be confirmed, though Domenicali said he expects the first race in a 10-year deal to take place in the second quarter of 2022. Austin's race will take place on Oct. 24 this year.
"The USA is a key growth market for us, and we are greatly encouraged by our growing reach in the U.S. which will be further supported by this exciting second race," Domenicali said.
Miami will mark the 11th race location in the U.S. since the Championship began in 1950: Circuit of The Americas in Austin; Dallas, Texas; Indianapolis, Indiana; Sebring, Florida; Riverside, California; Watkins Glen, New York; Long Beach, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; Detroit, Michigan and Phoenix, Arizona. COTA was first opened in 2012.
Domenicali said F1 will be working with the FIA and the Hard Rock Stadium to leave a lasting impact on the community: discounted tickets for residents, a program to support local businesses and a STEM education program through F1 in schools.
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