If passed, the city’s minimum wage will increase from $17 per hour to $22 next year. It also includes a directive that the city manager “shall develop a plan that includes increasing the living wage each year to reach an hourly rate of $27.00.”
The cost of living in Austin is rising rapidly, with rents increasing by an average of 35 percent according to the city and appraisals in Travis County jumping 56 percent this year. Higher appraisals means more paid in taxes, funding the now $10.3 billion Project Connect light rail plan for which voters approved partial spending in 2020.
According to the council’s resolution, city staff vacancies are at 17 percent across the board — 25 percent in emergency medical services, 19 percent in the Austin Police Department, and 9 percent in the Austin Fire Department.
After the Uvalde shooting, governmental bodies across the nation are reevaluating gun policy, some more enthusiastically than others. The Austin City Council is among those calling for substantial restrictions on access to firearms. Before the council this week are two resolutions: one directing the city manager to evaluate ways to prohibit those under the age of 21 from purchasing an AR-15 rifle, and another calling for broader restrictions.
“It is incomprehensible that an 18 year old cannot purchase alcohol, tobacco, or a handgun (if nonmilitary) legally in Texas, but an 18 year old can purchase an AR-15 or similar semi-automatic rifle in our city and endanger the lives of our neighbors,” Councilwoman and Mayor Pro Tem Alison Alter said of her proposal.
State law allows anyone aged 18 or older to purchase firearms other than handguns. In 2019, the Texas legislature raised the age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21.
The other resolution lists out an array of policy changes such as expanding background check requirements to private sales; enhancing prosecution of straw buyers, individuals who use another person to purchase a firearm in their stead; pushing for safe storage laws; and limiting domestic abusers’ access to firearms.
Last weekend, a group of five Republican and five Democratic senators announced a compromise gun reform deal which includes funding to support state red flag laws, requiring background checks for all purchases by those under 21, and a lump sum of money to supplement a variety of mental health programs.
Related to the city’s years-long bout with a growing homeless population, the council is set to approve a $3.9 million contract with Family Eldercare to renovate the Candlewood Suites. The old hotel in the Williamson County portion of the city was purchased for $9.5 million in 2021 — and has faced a groundswell of opposition from the local neighborhood. Earlier this year, it was vandalized after a series of break-ins.
When completed, the city expects the shelter to supply 78 apartments as homeless housing.
Various other items before the body include $16.5 million in Certificates of Obligation, non-voter-approved debt, to renovate the Waterloo Conservancy and build a Family Violence Shelter and Protection Facility; a prospective suspension of a 4.5% utility rate increase by Oncor Electric Delivery; and a study of the current occupancy rate in the city’s office space, changed substantially by the pandemic’s explosion in remote work.
Item 54 is a resolution calling on the state legislature to exempt menstrual and diaper products from the state sales tax.
“[M]enstrual products and diapers are necessary to daily life for millions of Texans, and these taxes create an undue and inequitable burden on those who purchase them,” reads the draft resolution, adding, “period poverty is defined as a lack of access to menstrual products, which impacts the ability of those who menstruate to engage in daily activities.”
The council meeting begins at 10 a.m. on June 16.
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Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.