If you are an Austin resident and have not yet headed to the polls, you can expect to see this language once you get near the end of your ballot with an option to vote for or against:
Approving the ad valorem tax rate of $0.5335 per $ 100 valuation in the City of Austin for the current year, a rate that is $0.0875 higher per $100 valuation than the voter-approval tax rate of the City of Austin, for the purpose of providing funds for a citywide traffic-easing rapid transit system known as Project Connect, to address traffic congestion, expand service for essential workers, reduce climate change emissions, decrease traffic fatalities, create jobs, and provide access to schools, health care, jobs and the airport; to include neighborhood supportive affordable housing investments along transit corridors and a fixed rail and bus rapid transit system, including associated road, sidewalk, bike, and street lighting improvements, park and ride hubs, on-demand neighborhood circulator shuttles, and improved access for seniors and persons with disabilities; to be operated by the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority, expending its funds to build, operate and maintain the fixed rail and bus rapid transit system; the additional revenue raised by the tax rate is to be dedicated by the City to an independent board to oversee and finance the acquisition, construction, equipping, and operations and maintenance of the rapid transit system by providing funds for loans and grants to develop or expand transportation within the City, and to finance the transit-supportive antidisplacement strategies related to Project Connect. Last year, the ad valorem tax rate in the City of Austin was $0.4431 per $100 valuation.
That is a long, dense block of text that may be hard for voters to parse. In simpler terms, Austin residents will be deciding whether to approve Project Connect, Capital Metro's vision to expand its public transportation with three new rail lines, an underground station, an expanded network of bus routes and more.
The total plan would cost around $7.1 billion—about 45% of which Capital Metro officials said it expects to be paid for by the federal government—and it would be funded through a tax rate increase in the city of Austin of $0.875 per $100 of valuation for a total city tax rate of $0.5335.
More than half of the cost of the project would come from two new light rail lines—one, the Orange Line, running north to south from the North Lamar Boulevard area to South Congress Avenue, and the other, the Blue Line, running from the airport through downtown and up North Lamar, alongside the Orange Line.
If voters approve, the first step for Capital Metro would be securing funding from the Federal Transit Administration and completing the environmental review process. After that, according to the timeline Capital Metro has laid out, construction of both the Orange Line and Blue Line would start in four years and would be completed after nine years.
In a meeting of the Capital Metro board of directors Oct. 26, Dottie Watkins, Capital Metro chief customer officer and chief operating officer, said the agency is in the midst of putting together a procurement plan for buying electric buses over five years—both replacement vehicles for its current fleet and, should Project Connect pass, new buses to run on the lines added.
Community Impact Newspaper has broken down the tax implications of the decision so Austin homeowners can see exactly what their tax bills will look like for the upcoming year with the new—and permanent—addition for Project Connect.
The breakdown includes the tax rates for Travis County and Austin ISD, but as some readers rightly pointed out, not all residents in the city of Austin pay taxes to those two jurisdictions. Here are the fiscal year 2020-21 rates for other entities Austin residents may pay and the tax bills for the median homeowner of a $362,000 home in the city.
- Hays County: $0.4212 per $100 of valuation ($1,525)
- Williamson County: $0.458719 per $100 of valuation ($1,660)
- Eanes ISD: $1.1164 per $100 of valuation ($4,041)
- Del Valle ISD: $1.257 per $100 of valuation ($4,550)
- Leander ISD: $1.4184 per $100 of valuation ($5,135)
- Manor ISD: $1.445 per $100 of valuation ($5,231)
- Pflugerville ISD: $1.4223 per $100 of valuation ($5,149)
- Round Rock ISD: $1.2212 per $100 of valuation ($4,416)
Community Impact Newspaper's three editions covering the city of Austin have detailed the plan and its effects on different areas of town. You can read more about the impacts in Northwest Austin, Southwest Austin and Central Austin here.
Editor's Note: A clarification has been added to show that the Project Connect tax increase would be $0.0875 per $100 of valuation, bringing the total city tax rate to $0.5335 per $100.