Voters will decide Capital Metro's future in Leander on May 7 ballot

Leander is one of the remaining original members of the Central Texas Transit Authority, which was formed in 1985. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
Leander is one of the remaining original members of the Central Texas Transit Authority, which was formed in 1985. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)

Leander is one of the remaining original members of the Central Texas Transit Authority, which was formed in 1985. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)

The city of Leander’s continued involvement in Capital Metro will be up to voters May 7.

Leander City Council voted 5-2 on Jan. 25 to call an election for voters to decide whether the city will continue participation in Capital Metro. Council members Becki Ross and Esme Mattke Longoria voted in opposition.

Leander voters will say “yes” or “no” to the question: “Shall the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority be continued in the City of Leander?”

If a majority of voters say “yes,” Capital Metro service would continue, and the city would not be able to hold another Capital Metro election for five years. If a majority of voters say “no,” service would stop within 24 hours of canvassing votes but the 1% sales tax would continue to Capital Metro to pay down an outstanding balance estimated to be about $42 million, according to council discussions.

Council members also unanimously voted to direct staff to finalize negotiations for an interlocal agreement with Capital Metro. The agreement will allow the city to remain as a contract member in Capital Metro and receive funding based on the difference between their sales tax contributions and the total cost of services to Leander. This difference will provide a $1.9 million return to Leander, said Erika Mazza, the Capital Metro vice president of government affairs, at the Jan. 24 board meeting.

The cost of service will be based on operations and maintenance costs for transit service to Leander and 50% of the total capital depreciation of the commuter rail assets, according to Capital Metro. Operations and maintenance costs will be proportional to the number of service hours between the Lakeline and Leander stations.

In the agreement, Leander will also receive a portion of Capital Metro's new $10 million transit-supportive infrastructure fund. These funds will be shared by other small member cities and is proportional to sales tax contributions. Leander's portion of the $10 million is estimated to be $7.74 million, Mazza said. Capital Metro will also offer assistance to secure federal grants that support transit and assistive infrastructure, according to Capital Metro.

Ross, who also serves on the Capital Metro board, said the interlocal agreement makes sure the city is in a better financial position going forward. She added that she could have gone either way on the election vote. Ultimately, she voted against adding the Capital Metro proposition.

Council Member Na’Cole Thompson said that the council’s vote to add Capital Metro to the ballot does not represent their opinions on whether to stay or go because the decision should rest with the voters.

“But for today, I really do feel it’s important for us to take it to our citizens and for them to say ‘yes, we absolutely want to stay in Capital Metro’ or ‘no, at this time we need to get out of that situation,’” Thompson said.

Jason Shaw said one of his biggest regrets while on city council was not letting the voters decide in 2019. He said it should be up to the voters and not politicians.

“It’s not up to me,” Shaw said. “It’s up to the voters to decide.”

Sales tax allocation

The ballot will also ask voters for permission to reallocate the 1% sales tax that goes to Capital Metro. But this is dependent on a majority of voters saying “no” to continuing in the transit authority.

Council members discussed Jan. 20 which sales tax type to place on the ballot. In a 6-1 vote, council directed staff to create an ordinance for a 1% general sales tax revenue with Shaw voting in opposition. Council members could approve ballot language for the sales tax proposition as early as Feb. 3.

The city already receives a 1% general revenue sales tax, so voter approval to leave Capital Metro and reallocate the 1% sales tax to the city would create a total 2% general revenue sales tax in Leander. In 2021, the city of Leander received $9.8 million in its current 1% sales tax, according to the state comptroller.

Early voting for the May 7 election will run April 25 to May 3. The last day to register to vote will be April 7. Other Leander ballot items on the May 7 election will include city charter amendments and the place 1, 3 and 5 council seats.
By Taylor Girtman

Reporter, Cedar Park and Leander

Taylor Girtman became the reporter for the Cedar Park-Leander edition in February 2020. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Florida.