Oversight group looks at $140.8M in unspent bonds after KXAN investigation

AUSTIN (KXAN) - A group tasked with overseeing how bonds are issued and used in the city of Austin wants to know more about the $140.8 million in unspent money KXAN identified in an investigation published earlier this month.

The Austin Bond Oversight Commission meets Wednesday and that group's chair told KXAN she plans to address whether the city does enough behind-the-scenes work to determine how much a project will cost before asking voters to approve bonds.

"It's particularly important to be having this discussion right now as we prepare for a potential 2018 bond," Keri Burchard-Juarez said.

That proposed bond, pegged at $851 million, includes money for affordable housing, transportation and stormwater management projects, among other priorities.

The discussion over that bond comes as neighbors tell KXAN they were frustrated with the lack of progress at the site of an old Home Depot store at Interstate 35 and East St. Johns Avenue, where the city planned to build a police substation and municipal courthouse. 

Voters approved $19.7 million for that project a decade ago, and the city spent $12.38 million to buy the property and to design the project. The remaining $7.31 million was never spent, and the building remains vacant.

The city said they thought there would be enough money for the project, but after purchase and design realized it was not going to be enough.

That's one of several projects that have stalled after voters specifically approved them, and Burchard-Juarez wants to know why.

The money for those projects, approved between 2000 and 2013, she said, isn't just sitting around, though. What voters approve is the authority to issue bonds when the city needs the money, so the unspent bonds equate to unused authority to move forward with projects.

Burchard-Juarez said the commission will also look into whether that authority can be transferred to other projects that need funding.

"That may not be possible because the voters voted on that particular project," she said, "but we are going to ask staff to look into that."

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