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Frequently Asked Questions

2012 Bond Program

The debt service tax rate, or the portion of the tax rate that goes to paying off debt, is not expected to rise this year as a result of the 2012 Bond Propositions being passed.

 

The City anticipates starting the first wave of projects beginning in spring or summer 2013. Some projects will be ready for construction quickly while others will need to go through additional planning, design, preliminary engineering and community input before being ready for construction.

Based upon the mix of anticipated improvements, it is estimated that the 2012 Bond Program would be substantially complete within five years.

The projects identified in the bond brochure represent the City’s current intention for use of the bond funds if the propositions are approved by voters. The 2012 Voter Information Brochure says “may include” because the City seeks to maintain flexibility during implementation of the 2012 Bond Program.

As bond programs are implemented, unforeseen challenges may arise that can delay or prohibit a project from moving forward. For example, the price of materials could increase, altering the total cost of the project; environmental studies may reveal subsurface issues; or negotiations over land or right-of-way acquisition may take longer than expected.

If a certain project faces insurmountable or unreasonable obstacles, the wording of the bond propositions would allow the City to reallocate funding to projects that meet the public purpose of the proposition. State law requires that voter-approved bond funds are spent on projects that meet the public purpose of the approved proposition. In other words, funds authorized for transportation must be spent on transportation and cannot be used for something like library improvements. 

As the 2012 Bond Program is implemented, the City may seek public input on projects prioritization and how funds for some projects should be allocated. The City gathered extensive public input during development of the 2012 Bond Propositions, and the 2012 Bond Program reflects certain community priorities.

2013 Affordable Housing Bond Program

This Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) is designed to provide general information about the proposal that will be presented in the Nov. 5, 2013, election for the consideration of the registered voters of the City of Austin. The publication does not advocate passage or defeat of the measure and is intended for informational purposes only.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, affordable housing is when a household pays no more than 30 percent of its annual income on housing. For more information about the federal definition of affordable housing, visit the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development website.

 

The people who may be eligible to participate in programs funded by the City’s Affordable Housing Bonds are described in the Voter Information Flier. The 2013 Income Limits for the City’s Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department programs, including the 2006 Bond Program and (if approved) the 2013 Affordable Housing Bond Program can be viewed here. The City expects to provide such funding by partnering with organizations that offer affordable rental and ownership housing and that support the preservation of existing affordable housing.

 

In 2006, Austin voters approved $55 million in general obligation bonds to support affordable housing. The bonds were used to create and preserve housing options for low-income Austin residents. These housing options included rental and ownership housing as well as home repair programs. The $55 million went to building, retaining, and repairing nearly 2,409 affordable units. Learn more about the projects here.  

 

No. Funding for the City’s affordable housing programs has been provided by other sources, including private developers and other public sources. These sources have been used in conjunction with the City’s 2006 housing bonds.

Developments funded through the City of Austin’s Housing Development Assistance Program can be affordable up to 40 years for rental housing and up to 99 years for ownership housing.

The property tax rate is composed of two parts: the operations and maintenance rate and the debt service rate. The debt service rate is set according to the amount of revenue necessary to make the City’s payments for tax-supported debt, such as voter-approved general obligation bonds.

When voters approve bond propositions, the City does not issue all of the debt immediately. Instead, debt issuances are spread out over several years. By monitoring the annual spending needs and not issuing all the debt at one time, the City can reduce debt service costs and keep the debt service tax rate more stable from year to year.

City Council approved holding a November bond election during the 2012-13 fiscal year, when the City’s debt service rate was 12.08 cents per $100 of taxable property value. The debt service rate was subsequently reduced to 11.71 cents per $100 of taxable property value for the 2013-14 fiscal year. If the 2013 Affordable Housing Bond is approved by voters, the debt service rate is projected to return to 12.08 cents per $100 of taxable property value for the 2014-15 fiscal year. The average cost to the typical (median value) homeowner’s property tax bill is estimated at $8.75 per year over the life of the debt.

For additional tax impact and other financial information, please refer to the City’s budget documents available online at www.austintexas.gov/finance.

The 2013 Affordable Housing Bond Voter Information Flier, which can be viewed here, provides general information about the proposed affordable housing bonds. You may also call (512) 974-7840.

 

2014 Bond

The route was identified through a year-long technical evaluation and public input process. Considerations taken into account include existing population, employment and ridership, anticipated future growth patterns and ridership, coordination with the existing Capital Metro Red Line, and likelihood that the City could receive federal grant or match funds to pay a portion of the costs of high-capacity transit service.

The 9.5-mile-long Urban Rail line has an estimated capital cost of $1.38 billion in 2020 dollars. That amount includes project construction, an initial fleet of nine urban rail vehicles, a vehicle maintenance facility, the cost to obtain land associated with the project, as well as professional services for planning, designing, engineering and project management-related costs.

If approved, the City would not issue the $600 million in public improvement bonds to pay costs (other than expenditures for planning, designing and engineering) of the Urban Rail project unless: 1) the City obtains commitments for grant or match funding from the Federal Transit Administration or from one or more other federal or state sources for the cost of the Urban Rail system; and 2) the City provides not less than $400 million of funding for roadway improvement projects identified in the 2014 Austin Strategic Mobility Plan.

If voters approve the proposition and the conditions discussed above are met, the City expects the Urban Rail line to be operational in 2022.

 

Yes. The project team considered a number of modes including bus rapid transit, light rail, streetcar, high-speed rail, gondola and monorail. The modes were evaluated based on current and projected population as well as employment density, existing transit service, proximity to destinations, constructability issues and more. The key factor that led to the identification of Urban Rail as the recommended mode was capacity for ridership growth and system expansion.

As indicated in the bond proposition, the City cannot issue bonds to pay costs (other than expenditures for planning, designing and engineering) of the Urban Rail line unless the City obtains commitments for grant or match funding from the Federal Transit Administration or from one or more other federal or state sources for a portion of the cost of the Urban Rail system. As discussed above, the City must also provide funding for certain road improvement projects before constructing the Urban Rail line.

If the proposition is approved, the City would likely apply for grant or match funding in approximately 2018-2019. Before applying, the City would conduct a federal environmental process, known as NEPA, which would include reviewing stop locations, analysis of the proposed route’s effect on the local community, and gathering additional public input.

Before calling the election, City Council directed City staff to coordinate with regional transportation agencies to identify potential road and highway improvements that are consistent with the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan. Those projects were included in the 2014 Austin Strategic Mobility Plan, which Council endorsed in June and which was used to develop the bond proposition. The roadway improvement projects involving I-35 were developed through the I-35 Capital Area Improvement Program in partnership with the City of Austin and Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT).  In the process of developing the I-35 projects, the City and TxDOT met with neighborhood and community groups and hosted open houses virtually and in person.

Yes. Based upon market conditions as of the date of adoption of Ordinance 20140807-017 on August 7, 2014, and using taxable assessed values for the 2013 tax year (2013-14 fiscal year), without adjustment for anticipated growth in the taxable assessed value in future years, if the bonds and notes are authorized, the estimated total tax rate of the City is expected to be approximately $0.6277 per $100 of taxable assessed value, which represents an increase of $0.1250 per $100 of taxable assessed valuation as compared to the City’s total tax rate as of the date of adoption of Ordinance 20140807-017 on August 7, 2014.

Assuming annual increases in Taxable Assessed Value, a tax increase of 6.25 cents spread out over five years would support repayment of the bonds and notes, if approved and issued, resulting in a projected increase in the debt service portion of the tax bill of $217 by 2020 on a home currently valued at $200,000.

The City funds its Capital Improvement Program in several ways. One way is through voter-approved general obligation bonds (GO bonds). GO bonds give cities a tool to raise funds for capital improvement projects such as roads, bridges, bikeways and urban trails and parks that are otherwise not funded by City revenue. As a result, GO bonds are typically used to fund capital improvement projects that will serve the community. Except for some specific types of projects, the issuance of GO bonds must be authorized by voters pursuant to a bond election.  If voters approve a bond proposition on an election ballot, the City is authorized to sell bonds up to the amount indicated in the proposition to fund capital improvement projects that meet the public purpose of that bond proposition. For example, in November 2012, voters approved City of Austin Proposition 14, authorizing the City to borrow up to $77,680,000 to fund parks and recreation projects.

The City’s GO bonds are backed by the levy and collection of an ad valorem tax on taxable property within the City. 

If the bond proposition is not approved, there would not be a requirement to fund the roadway improvement projects of regional significance before funding Urban Rail. The City may then weigh the projects of regional significance against other identified transportation and general financial needs as part of the City’s established capital needs identification process, which includes the Rolling Needs Assessment of unfunded capital needs, located in the Long-Range CIP Strategic Plan.

The City identifies potential capital improvement projects using technical assessments of infrastructure condition and need, public input received through individual department’s planning efforts, staff input and requests from City Boards and Commissions. The City expects to conduct another assessment of citywide unfunded capital improvement needs as part of the development process for a future general obligation bond program.

Recognizing that these major roads are part of a large transportation network that is used by and serves many in our community, the City of Austin routinely contributes to maintenance and repair costs on State of Texas-owned roadways. The Texas Transportation Institute notes that 85 percent of traffic on I-35, the most congested roadway in Texas, is local—meaning the trip starts or stops in Austin. Other major roadways, such as Loop 360/Capital of Texas Highway, MoPac, RM 2222, sections of Lamar Boulevard, a portion of South Congress Avenue and others, are all state-owned roadways within the Austin City limits and are utilized heavily by our residents and visitors. Due to the limited availability of funding, state and local entities coordinate to develop and build projects.

Residential road, bikeway, trail and sidewalk projects were major components of the 2010 and 2012 bond programs. For more information about these programs, please visit www.austintexas.gov/cip.

City Council directed staff to bring a list of regionally significant projects forward for their consideration in 2014. Routine infrastructure may be proposed in future transportation propositions in future years.

The City could consider multiple options to address the estimated $180 million difference.

  1. Identify cost savings opportunities. If voters approve the bond proposition, an environmental impact statement and preliminary engineering would be prepared over the following 2-3 years. During that process, the team would look for opportunities to reduce the project’s construction cost. Opportunities may include reducing the scope and cost of the proposed bridge over Lady Bird Lake or crossing the existing MetroRail Red Line tracks on an aerial structure instead of a tunnel.
  2. Identify other funding sources. The City may seek other sources of funding such as federal or state grants.
  3. Account for value of right-of-way.  Most of the proposed project will be located within existing, publicly-owned right-of-way; i.e. local streets. The current cost estimate does not account for the value of the City of Austin’s right-of-way and the University of Texas right-of-way that is expected be used for the Urban Rail project. The Federal Transit Administration allows for the value of this right-of-way to count toward the local contribution.  During the preliminary engineering and environmental study process, this property would be identified and appraised.

If approved, the City would issue $600 million in public improvement bonds for Urban Rail. These bonds would be issued over multiple years, to coincide with the expenditures of the project. At this time, the City anticipates the first issuance of these public improvement bonds to occur in 2015 and continue through 2020.

The majority of the regionally significant roadway improvement projects are for state highways. Pursuant to authority conferred by the Texas Government Code, which authorizes cities to issue bonds to finance costs of non-toll projects on the state highway system, the City expects to issue state highway improvement general obligation bonds secured by the levy and collection of ad valorem taxes. These state highway improvement general obligation bonds do not require voter approval. As with the public improvement bonds, these state highway improvement general obligation bonds would be issued over multiple years. At this time, the City anticipates the first issuance of state highway improvement general obligation bonds to occur in 2015, and continue through 2020. In addition to state highway improvement general obligation bonds, other sources of financing for the regionally significant roadway improvement projects may include voter approved public improvement bonds, other debt and cash funding.

The City’s bond capacity is determined by the existing tax rate, state law, and financial ratios, among other factors. At the current FY 2014 tax rate, the city has no new bonding capacity. The $600 million in public improvement bonds for Urban Rail and the $400 million in general obligation debt for roadway improvement projects (expected to be provided through the issuance of non-voted state highway improvement general obligation bonds), would require an estimated increase to the tax rate of $0.0625 cents (assuming growth in taxable assessed values). State law dictates that the City’s total tax rate cannot exceed $2.50 cents per $100 of valuation. The city’s current FY 2014 tax rate of $0.5027 is below this threshold. Finally, the City’s financial policies state that net debt to assessed valuation (AV) should not exceed 2%. Current debt/AV for tax rate pledged debt is 1.39%.

The Austin Around You

Capital improvement projects range from a new curb ramp or sidewalk to construction of multimillion- dollar facilities, such as public libraries and cultural centers.

The City identifies potential capital improvement projects using technical assessments of infrastructure condition and need, public input received through individual department’s planning efforts, staff input and requests from City Boards and Commissions. The annual project identification and prioritization process typically begins early in the calendar year with each City department conducting an analysis to identify capital project needs for the next five years. Part of this analysis includes the review of spending plans for completing existing capital projects and programs as well as the allocation of General Obligation bond funding to projects that meet the public purpose of bond propositions approved by voters.

These departmental spending and funding allocation plans are then submitted to the Capital Planning Office and the Budget Office of the Financial and Administrative Services Department, which review the projects and compiles a five-year Capital Improvement Program (CIP) Plan. The CIP Committee of the Planning Commission regularly reviews the CIP Plan during its development, at which time citizens have the opportunity to provide comments and feedback. The full Planning Commission gives the five-year CIP Plan final approval. The CIP Plan functions as a planning and budgeting tool, and serves as the basis for the City’s annual Capital Budget.

In September 2012, the City of Austin had about $830 million in net total tax-supported General Obligation bond debt. This is debt that is directly supported by property tax revenue.

Austin's debt per capita is $1,287. The debt-to-assessed value (AV) ratio is 1.24%. This means that the City’s debt is 1.24% of the total assessed value of properties within city limits. These figures are lower than the national median for cities with more than 500,000 people, according to Moody’s data. The national median debt per capita is $1,525 and the median debt-to-AV ratio is 2.2%.

The City has an AAA credit rating, which is the highest credit rating given by the three major credit rating agencies. Credit rating agencies consider four primary factors when rating a municipality’s credit: economy, finances, debt and management.

The City’s credit rating shows that it maintains a good standing with the credit rating agencies and is looked at favorably in how it implements capital programs and structures its debt.

 

 

The City’s Annual Budget has two primary components: the Operating Budget and the Capital Budget. The Capital Budget funds major improvements to City facilities and infrastructure, and is based on the first year of needs in the five-year Capital Improvements Program (CIP) Plan. The Capital Improvements Program (CIP) Plan is an annually revised document that guides the City’s investments in public facilities and infrastructure during a five-year time horizon. The Capital Budget is supported through multiple funding sources, including different types of bonds (debt), grants and cash as well as other smaller sources of funding.

The Operating Budget includes personnel costs and annual facility operating costs. It is funded primarily through local property and sales taxes; revenue transfers between departments; licenses, such as building and development fees; franchise fees for a company’s use of the City’s rights-of-way; charges for services; fines and other smaller sources of revenue such as interest on investments.

City Council holds public hearings on the proposed operating and capital budgets and then approves both budgets in August or September for the following fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

The Capital Improvements Program is supported through multiple funding sources, including different types of bonds (debt), grants, cash, transfers from department operating budgets, interagency agreements, developer contributions and fees, donations, sale proceeds and interest earnings on investments.

The types of funding used for a project vary based on the type of project and whether the City department or agency overseeing the project is part of the General Government or Enterprise Departments. General Government departments are primarily funded through property and sales tax revenues. Enterprise Government departments, such as Austin Energy and Austin Water Utility, generate revenue from the sale of services (ie: utility rates and user fees) and use this revenue to fund capital improvement projects and operations.

 

 

 

*Austin Energy, Austin Water Utility, Austin Resource Recovery, Aviation, Austin Convention Center and Watershed Protection.

**Building Services, Communications and Technology Management, Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services Office, Emergency Medical Services, Financial and Administrative Services Department, Austin Fire Department, Fleet Services, Health and Human Services Department, Austin Public Library, Municipal Court, Neighborhood Housing and Community Development, Parks and Recreation Department, Planning and Development Review Department, Austin Police Department, Public Works and Austin Transportation.

When voters approve bond propositions, they are giving the City authorization to sell bonds (borrow money) to fund long-term capital improvement projects. As of September 2012, the City had about $335 million in unspent bond authorization. Prior to the 2012 bond election, the most recent City of Austin bond elections were held in 1998, 2000, 2006 and 2010.

  • In 1998, voters authorized the City to issue $339,740,000 in bonds to fund transportation, parks, public safety, libraries and cultural facilities, and drainage projects.
  • In 2000, voters authorized the City to issue $163,400,000 in bonds to fund transportation and open space projects.
  • In 2006, voters authorized the City to issue $567,400,000 in bonds to fund transportation, drainage and open space, parks, cultural facilities, affordable housing, the central library and public safety facilities.
  • In 2010, voters authorized the City to issue $90,000,000 in bonds to fund transportation and mobility projects.

Based on the information available, more than 70% of the remaining authorized bond funds from the 1998, 2000, 2006 and 2010 bond programs would be spent by the end of FY 14 and about 95% by the end of FY 16.

A seven-member citizen Bond Oversight Committee has been appointed by City Council to review the annual allocation of funds and spending plans for the 2006 and 2010 bond programs as well as future bond programs, including the 2012 Bond Program. The Committee is responsible for helping ensure efficiency, equity, timeliness and accountability in the implementation of voter-approved bond programs.

The interest rate that the City pays on General Obligation bond debt depends on when the debt is issued, but right now interest rates are historically low. The interest rate on the most recent sale of voter-approved debt, in August 2012, was less than 3%. The City has the highest credit rating given by the three major credit rating agencies. The combination of the current market as well as the City’s credit rating results in this low interest rate.

A capital improvement project is any major improvement to City facilities and infrastructure. Projects may include construction and renovation of recreation centers and libraries, acquisition of parkland, repaving of streets, replacement of water and wastewater lines, provision of power for residents and the purchase of new fleet vehicles and IT networks. Collectively, these projects are referred to as the Capital Improvements Program. Capital improvement projects are varied, so some may require years of planning and construction while others may be completed in a shorter timeframe.

The Capital Improvements Program (CIP) Plan is a document that guides the City’s investments in public facilities and infrastructure. Produced annually, the CIP Plan outlines the City’s projected major capital improvements and estimated capital spending during the next five years based on reasonably anticipated revenues. The CIP Plan includes CIP information about each of the City’s General Government and Enterprise departments as well as a section that describes the City’s debt position.

The CIP Plan functions as a planning and budgeting tool, and serves as the basis for the City’s annual Capital Budget.

The Capital Planning Office and the Budget Office of the Financial and Administrative Services Department develop the CIP Plan with input from departments involved in capital improvement planning and project implementation. The CIP Committee of the Planning Commission regularly reviews the CIP Plan during its development, at which time citizens have the opportunity to provide comments and feedback. The full Planning Commission gives the CIP Plan final approval.

The Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan, which was adopted by City Council in June 2012, is closely tied to the Capital Improvements Program (CIP) Plan. Imagine Austin provides high-level guidance on how Austin should grow and develop in the following decades. The CIP Plan uses that guidance to plan and identify funding for capital projects during the next five years that will further the vision of Imagine Austin.

The Capital Planning Office provides quarterly updates on the 2006 and 2010 bond programs, and will begin providing updates on the 2012 Bond Program. Those materials may be found by visiting the City’s Bond Oversight Committee webpage.

The City is addressing ways to improve its reporting on the Capital Improvements Program and bond spending.

The City funds its Capital Improvements Program in several ways. One way is through voter-approved General Obligation (GO) bonds. GO bonds give cities a tool to raise funds for capital improvement projects that are otherwise not funded by City revenue, such as roads, bridges, bikeways and urban trails and parks. As a result, GO bonds are typically used to fund capital improvement projects that will serve the community. If voters approve a bond proposition on an election ballot, the City is authorized to sell bonds up to the amount indicated in the proposition language to fund capital improvement projects that meet the public purpose of that bond proposition. For example, in November 2012, voters approved City of Austin Proposition 14, allowing the City to borrow up to $77,680,000 to fund parks and recreation projects.

GO Bonds are backed by the full faith and credit of the City of Austin. This means the City is obligated to pay back the bonds by pledging its ad valorem taxing power, or in other words its ability to collect property taxes, to repay the debt.  

The property tax rate is composed of two parts: the Operations and Maintenance rate (O&M) and the debt service rate. The debt service rate is set in order to generate the revenue necessary to make the City’s payments for tax-supported debt. The 2014 fiscal year debt service rate is 11.71 cents for every $100 of assessed property value.

Bond debt can be compared to a home mortgage that is repaid over time, while O&M expenses are like the daily household expenditures that are paid for immediately, such as groceries. Like buying a house, major capital improvement projects, such as park or library improvements, have a long useful life, so their cost is spread out over many years and paid for by current and future citizens who use them. The debt is typically financed over a 20-year period.  

When voters approve bond propositions, the City does not issue all of the debt immediately. Instead, debt issuances are spread out over several years according to the annual spending needs of the bond program. By monitoring the annual spending needs and not issuing all the debt at one time, the City can keep the debt service tax rate more stable from year to year.

Capital improvement projects vary widely, so some may require years of planning prior to construction, and others may be completed in a shorter timeframe. Prior to construction, some projects may entail acquisition of land, which may involve complex negotiations.

In some cases, voter-approved bonds are intended to pay only for initial phases of a project, such as preliminary engineering or design, rather than the entire project from start to finish. By allocating funding to the early phases of a project, it enables the project to be eligible for future funding opportunities including federal grants, state grants, or other grants or partnerships while freeing up resources for other projects to move forward as well.

Voter-approved General Obligation bond programs typically overlap because capital improvement projects may take several years to complete from planning to design and construction. As a result, spending may resemble a bell curve, with the largest amount of authorized funding being spent a few years after the bonds are approved by voters and then tapering toward the end of the bond program.

If a bond election is held after all of the previous bonds are spent, the result could be a lull in delivery of capital improvement projects.