City Council
9:56 am
Thu December 6, 2012

Council Preview: Visa Deal, City Ponders Partnership with State, Water Treatment Plant 4 & More

The Austin City Council dusts off the cobwebs for its first full meeting in nearly a month. And it’s let quite a backlog pile up: today’s 120 item agenda is stuffed with items sure to inspire discussion. Here’s a look:

  • The main event: a $1.5 million economic incentives deal with credit card giant Visa.

The company plans to expand its operations in Austin and promises almost 800 new jobs. The city is offering $1.5 million in tax incentives; the state is offering some $8 million more.

Visa’s project description in this City of Austin Business Information Form provides an overview of Visa’s proposal:

VISA, U.S.A. is considering the Austin, Texas region for development of a new global IT center, which would house approximately 1,041 financial services, IT worker, and contingent staff by 2017.  Average first year wages for these employees is estimated at $96,469 exclusive of benefits and bonuses.

The description adds that Visa is also considering locating the center in Colorado or Virginia, which the Statesman quotes the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce as confirming. However, a Lexis Nexis search on the proposal reveals no reports of discussion in those states.

But on the heels of a  New York Times series investigating state incentives – which revealed Texas leads the nation with some $19 billion in incentives a yearsome are questioning yet another incentives deal.

Public comment and possible approval of the deal will begin no earlier than 4 p.m.

  • The council will also consider partnering with a controversial state agency, to potentially redevelop 500 acres of state land.

The measure would bring the city into discussions with the Texas Facilities Commission about what to do with the land, which includes the Capitol Complex.

But at the council’s work session this Tuesday, council member Laura Morrison said she’d rather wait until after next year’s legislative session to get involved.

“That way we can go into this with at least some kind of concept of what our share is going to be,” Morrison said. “Not knowing exactly, moneywise, how much we’re thinking about jumping into, makes me very uncomfortable.”

Aside from outstanding questions regarding the city’s role and the resources it would be expected to bear, Morrison also pointed to a critical Sunset Advisory Commission report on the commission, which might foretell diminishment of the TFC’s powers next legislative session. Read the Austin Chronicle’s breakdown of the issue here.

  • Also up today: a measure allotting $15 million more to construction of Water Treatment Plant 4.

The $360 million project was designed to provide Austin’s growing population with more drinking water. But cost overruns are forcing the water utility to ask for more money to finish the plant. Several environmental groups have opposed its construction.

Rounding out the agenda: a proposal from council member Chris Riley to open some city trails overnight, in response to what the Statesman calls “a recent spike in pedestrian and cyclist deaths caused by auto collisions.” That, plus a call for the City Manager to address a backlog of residential permit applications, and proposed tweaks to the “Redevelopment Exception in the Barton Springs Zone,” crafted to allow environmentally-responsible redevelopment of properties in areas covered by the Save Our Springs Ordinance, but since little-used.  You can also consult council round-ups from the Chronicle and the Austin Business Journal.

The meeting starts at 10 a.m. As always, you can watch online