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Council loosens laws affecting homeless; fixes "Mistake On The Lake"

Other action from marathon meeting includes new operator for Butler golf course

June 21, 2019 - 7:14 am
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AUSTIN (Talk1370.com) -- Austin's City Council worked through a marathon agenda Thursday, in their last meeting prior to the council's summer break.

In the final action of the night, council voted 9-2 just before 2:30 a.m. Friday morning to loosen the city's "no sit, no lie", camping, and solicitation laws. Under the modified ordinances, someone will only be violating the laws if they present a public health or safety hazard, or blocking a walkway. Those who are homeless will also be able to ask for money, but council members specifically wrote in that people cannot be "aggressive".

Those in support of the changes say that they will help decriminalize the act of being homeless; opponents, including downtown businesses, fear it will create situations of more agressive encounters with those who are homeless.

Council also approved a purchase of what will become a new shelter facility at Ben White Boulevard and Bannister Lane in south Austin. Residents in the nearby neighborhood oppose the idea, with a petition against the proposal having gathering nearly 2,500 signatures early Thursday. The purchase would cost just under $8.5 million; Travis County Appraisal District values show the property's most recent appraisal at just over $3.5 million.

In earlier action Thursday, Council voted unanimously to repeal a 1986 ordinance that exempted some 400 homeowners along Lake Austin from paying city property taxes. When the city first annexed the properties more than a century ago, they didn't receive adequate city services to justify paying taxes to the city, an arrangement that was officially codified in the 1986 ordinance.

Although the properties still aren't serviced by Austin Energy, Austin Water, or Austin Resource Recovery, council members argued that the residents vote in city elections and on city bonds, and receive city services such as police, EMS, code enforcement, and watershed protection that are directly funded by property taxes. Some council members dubbed the oversight the "Mistake On The Lake."

At present values, the city says adding the properties to the tax rolls will represent about $3 million in tax revenue each year, with an average property value of $2.1 million. Council members also passed a resolution on a 10-1 vote calling on city staff to examine the possibiliity of dedicating that tax revenue to issues relating to homelessness and early childhood education.

Council also voted to approve a new contract for operation of the Butler Pitch & Putt golf course in downtown Austin. Pecan Grove Golf Partners will operate and manage the course for up to 20 years under the new agreement; current operator Lee Kinser, whose family has run the city-owned course for 70 years, failed to sign a portion of her application during the bidding process, resulting in her bid being dropped from consideration despite significant public outcry over what some council members called a technicality.

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