Council unanimously supports ending ‘West Austin Tax Haven'

"It's just a little disappointing that they already had their minds made up today," said Deanne Breedlove, a Lake Austin homeowner. Property owners addressed City Council Thursday morning: frustrated by their elected officials.

"I find it egregious that we were informed of this decision less than 2 weeks ago in the paper and it was divisive and inflammatory as if we were stealing from the poor," said one property owner.

According to Council Members Greg Casar and Jimmy Flannigan who spearheaded this vote: it all started in 1891 when parts of the Lake Austin shoreline were annexed into the City's jurisdiction.

The legislature gave the "go ahead" but told the city those residents couldn't be taxed because they didn't get city services out there at the time. In 2019, what council calls a "tax haven" still exists.

"In this part of town where these lakeside properties exist, some of them are in Emergency Service Districts, some of them are partially in the City of Austin but ultimately they're not paying their full share of the ESD or the City tax. And this decision that we make today will correct that," said Council Member Flannigan. Council members say some 400 homes in question are worth more than $10 million.

The city estimates based on last year's tax rate, Austin could have gotten about $3 million in city taxes. "My taxes are assessed at over $30,000 a year. This new City tax will add another $8,000 a year to my tax bill," one homeowner said.

Residents pointed out their level of service isn't adequate. "We have no fire protection because there are virtually no fire hydrants. My house burned down in 1985," one homeowner said.

"Because of confusion between the City and the county, the appropriate ambulance was not sent out and my son was in cardiac arrest, and he did not survive," said homeowner Deanne Breedlove.

Breedlove doesn't fault the first responders. She says the response time was 14 minutes. "It's unfortunate that they feel like we have deep pockets, and they want to continue to tax us at higher rates when we receive much lower response times with EMS and fire," Breedlove said.

The decision to fix the so-called "mistake" on Lake Austin was unanimous. "My commitment to you as your representative is to work as hard as I can to make sure you have services and to make sure we do everything we can to reduce your public safety risks and to mitigate against the wildfire dangers," said Council Member Alison Alter.

Council passed a separate item that directed the City Manager to look into different services and initiatives the additional tax dollars could go to. Council Member Flannigan did not support that. He is interested in getting to the bottom of the fire hydrant issue that was brought up in the meeting.