Austin City Council votes on homelessness, federal relief spending

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Thursday is the last Austin City Council meeting until the end of July. Here’s what we’re following:

Federal relief and homelessness spending: Approved

The council must decide how to spend $143.6 million in federal pandemic relief dollars. City staff has recommended that city council direct 58% of those funds – nearly $84 million – to homelessness services over the next two years. However, that is far from a certain number going into the day of the meeting.

If the council didn’t vote on the American Rescue Plan spending framework Thursday, it would have had to wait until after its summer break. The next meeting is July 29.

Momentum increases for Convention Center expansion: Approved as amended

The council’s approval Thursday will allow the city to request qualifications for an architectural firm to provide design services for the expansion of the Austin Convention Center. City staff could also begin soliciting contractors. These are the latest steps in the future of the expansion project.

Expansion will involve demolishing and rebuilding portions of the existing Convention Center as well as adding on. Beyond that the details aren’t as clear. The initial plan was to expand the center west but the city said acquiring that land proved to be too expensive.

“Despite the best efforts of all parties, the final proposal was unable to deliver the programmatic requirements for the Convention Center within the properties currently under the developer team’s control and exceeded anticipated costs,” a city spokesperson told us in April.

He added the department anticipates reevaluating expansion within the current site of the Convention Center that would deliver a “larger, more efficient facility.”  

Another item by council member Kathie Tovo would direct the city to use the convention center’s capital budget to solicit innovative design ideas to make the center a “landmark of great distinction, a bustling and vital public gathering place, and a point of pride for the community.”

Funding toxic algae prevention: Approved

The council approved a multi-year contract with SePRO Corporation to prevent, manage and treat toxic algae blooms. SePRO would provide sediment and water quality testing, and the contract would allow for more research into harmful algae prevention, according to staff in city documents. The city is investing $296,800 initially but could pay close to $1.5 million over five years.

In 2019, there were several dog illnesses and deaths in Lady Bird Lake because of exposure to toxic algae.

“Without this contract, the recreationally important reservoir, Lady Bird Lake, will likely continue to suffer unchecked toxic blooms of algae, putting the beneficial uses of the reservoir at risk as the threat to human and animal health persists and possibly expands,” said staff in documents to council.

Council to renew APD car theft grant: Approved

The council approved to continue receiving grant money for the Austin Police Department to reduce auto thefts and burglaries. The $411,299 in funding comes from the Texas Motor Vehicle Crime Prevention Authority, which APD has partnered with since the late 1990’s.

The funding will cover the costs of already existing positions, including three detectives, one administrative specialist and a neighborhood liaison.

Homestead exemption change: Approved

The council gave final approval to increase the residence homestead exemption for city property taxes from 10% to up to a maximum of 20%. Council members gave initial approval on this last week.

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