AUSTIN (KXAN) — One of the more contentious Austin City Council agenda items Thursday was a vote on Austin Energy rate hikes that will cost the average user roughly $15 more a month. We broke down that decision, and other items covered during Thursday’s meeting.
Austin Energy rate hikes — approved
Austin City Council members voted Thursday to approve one of two proposed rate hikes for your Austin Energy bill, which will go into effect next month. Council approved the item with a 7-4 vote, with Council Members Mackenzie Kelly, Paige Ellis, Natasha Harper-Madison and Vanessa Fuentes voting against the item.
“I was always try to keep in mind the folks who are on fixed income where they’re paying, maybe their house is paid off, but they’re paying their utility bills and those are the cost drivers of their family budget,” said Ellis, who is running for re-election. She said she wants the rate to be looked at more regularly instead of just once a year.
Mayor Steve Adler, and the councilmembers who did vote yes on the proposal, said it was necessary to cover the tab of the high price of buying and supplying energy last year. The February winter storm didn’t help.
Council member Alison Alter said the changes were “primarily driven by external market factors” beyond the city’s control. Austin Energy said it was $104 million short in power supply adjustment costs last year. The extra roughly $180 from you a year will go towards paying that off.
Council member Leslie Pool, the chair of the Austin Energy Utility Oversight Committee, noted the original proposal discussed in a work session earlier this week was going to cost customers even more. Council cut the cost down monthly by extending the cost recovery period from one to three years.
It’s not the last time council will talk about how much you pay to turn your lights on. There are two major components of all residential and commercial customers’ bills, explained Austin Energy spokesperson Matt Mitchell, the base rate and the pass-through rate. Council approved Thursday the pass-through rate, which will increase customers’ bills by approximately $15 a month.
Mitchell added city council members are set to vote on the second, the base rate increase, on Nov. 17. That could tack on another roughly $15 a month.
Tenants’ rights items — one approved, one postponed
Austin City Council postponed a vote to codify tenants’ right to organize without fear of retaliation and approved a tenants’ rights assistance program.
“This is a program aimed at ensuring that there are resources in place, so that if renters want to have meetings with their landlords over health and safety issues, if they need counseling, if they need assistance, if they just want to know how to navigate the process, this program will be set up to administer those services,” Council Member Vanessa Fuentes previously said.
Lyndsay Hanes, the principal of Metric Property Management, agreed renters should have resources and know their rights — after all, landlords don’t want to evict people who are paying rent — but she also said the right to organize is already protected in Texas.
“But the additional protections that eliminate or could convolute some of the protections that landlords have to enforce the contract later is where the concern lies,” she explained, saying landlords would rather have renters come to them with their concerns than go door-to-door, possibly bothering other tenants.
Creating public health commission — approved
Austin and Travis County voted Thursday to create a new public health commission, which the agenda says will “serve as an advisory board to City Council concerning public health programs, projects, and services within Austin and Travis County.” Council approved the item on consent, meaning no specific discussion on the item was held prior to their vote.
Austin-Travis County already has a local health authority, Dr. Desmar Walkes, who regularly briefs and coordinates with both the city and the county, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cut down on single-use plastics — approved
City council is looking at a new way to reduce the use of single-use plastics at bars and restaurants, which passed on consent Thursday.
According to the council agenda, the item asks the city manager to “implement a strategy, engage with stakeholders, and provide public information campaigns” about the matter.
Supporting council members want the City to work with the Texas Restaurant Association to encourage businesses to replace single-use plastic and Styrofoam with biodegradable materials.