English To Cut Homeowner Tax, Rein in Growth

City Council District 7 candidate Ed English proposed to cut homeowner taxes, listen to constituents, and bring “Change” to City Hall at an election campaign kickoff Friday afternoon.

English’s kick-off was the first of the campaign season. About 30 people attended.

Candidate Pete Salazar holds his kick-off Saturday, with Jeb Boyt’s on 5/20 and Jimmy Paver’s on 5/24. Details are at http://www.austindistrict7.org/calendar/

Property tax came first on a list of priorities explored by English. “I left my appraisal letter on the desk a couple of days. How was I going to handle opening that envelope? I figured I’d get back in an easy chair, with a shot of Jack Daniels and open the envelope really slowly,” English teased.

“It’s onerous – it’s considered one of the chief reasons why people are leaving the city,” he said. To get a handle on taxes, City Council has two tools – a prudent city budget, and the tax rate. But English proposed a third – a homestead exemption. “You’ll hear from people who say that a homestead exemption will wreck the city budget. I’m not talking about a big exemption. Let’s get a small one on the books, one that can be adjusted over the years to help ease the burden.”

English said the City’s growth is out of control. “We need to change the policy of any growth, anywhere, at any price, at any cost that has been pervasive for many years,” he said. “We need to manage the growth in this city far more effectively. Austin will grow, and things will change. But we need to make sure that these changes are something the city can live with and they don’t outstrip our resources and infrastructure.” English said he doesn’t oppose density, but “it needs to be where it’s appropriate, and has minimal impact on the adjacent neighborhoods.” He said this was a particular concern for the neighborhoods along Burnet Rd. “Their rights need to be respected. They’ve invested their entire lives, raised their families, had working careers, in these very established and mature neighborhoods. I’d like to see some protection offered to that.”

English said the city’s permitting process is broken, and harming affordability. “It’s a discouraging factor for homebuilders, or even simple remodels on your home. When’s the last time you saw a builder build a starter home and advertise it in Austin?”

English recognized transportation as a major problem, one neglected for decades. “We need to look at buses, at rail, at road improvements – in my book, that’s not an ugly word. We need to look at bike paths. We need to make the city more walkable.” He said non-car resources should go into places with a high population density, to get the biggest reduction in traffic congestion.

Austin should curtail incentives and waivers, English said. “Incentives, at one point in time, were probably appropriate. I’m not anti-incentives. But going forward, those need to be used sparingly.” English said he would make sure that an incentive met a specific need, and that incentives broadened the job base away from IT. “All industries have their ups and downs. Good times don’t go on for ever. And we’ve allowed our industrial focus to become too narrow.”

English said he supports stringent water conservation measures to reduce risk from the extended drought. He said reducing water use and replacing leaking pipes were a start. Ironically, English said, successful conservation policies have reduced the water utility’s ability to cover its overhead. He said it might make sense to transfer revenues from Austin Energy to the water utility during drought periods, instead of putting the money into the general fund as is the current practice. He said keeping utility rates down for ordinary people needed to be a priority.

Parks, English said, are a particular challenge for North Central Austin. “Austin has great parks. There’s just one problem – they’re poorly geographically distributed.” He said the city could find vacant land, including cheap commercial properties to purchase at a reasonable price.

Public safety is also a priority, and English said he would add more officers to cover gaps in service coverage. “We don’t have a serious crime problem throughout the city. But within this district, there are areas that have problems with crime. And we need more officers to deal with that.”

English said he would promise to spend several hours a week in a district office, so that residents would have face time with their representative.

“This job requires the right people,” English said. “We need to have someone who understands the district, who can grasp details – I can do that. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a details person. The person will have to be fair and open-minded. I’m an issues-focused person. The challenges we face are city-wide. When you’re stuck in traffic, look around and tell me who the Democrats are and who the Republicans are. I’m a moderate, a centrist. That’s where work gets done.”

Seaufy Peg Frey, a former president of the Wooten Neighborhood Association, endorsed English. She said she met him during the campaign to get a 10-1 Council, and lauded English’s two-year effort to accomplish that reform.

David Orshalick, an Allandale resident, said he was impressed by English but wanted to learn about the other candidates before making a decision. “I’ve had conversations with Ed. He understands we have a water problem. He understands we have a transportation problem. He’s going to look for solutions, instead of having his head buried in the sand. He’s patient – a plodder, honest.” Orshalick said he was concerned about ‘false flag’ candidates who might promise things, then drop them once in office.

Ken and Bonnie Moyer, long-time residents of North Shoal Creek, said English’s positions were “in line with our thoughts,” especially on tax relief. They said they also needed to learn more about the other candidates. “We’re very excited about 10-1,” Ms. Moyer said.