DALLAS — An Austin bond committee that has recommended $575 million for the November ballot is providing an alternative that will leave room for an urban rail project long championed by re-elected Mayor Lee Leffingwell.
The volunteer bond committee began considering $1.5 billion in possible bond projects requested by city departments earlier this year.
The wish list was more than halved to $659 million before reaching the final recommendation of $575 million on Monday.
In the event that Leffingwell and the City Council decide to include up to $250 million for urban rail, the proposal for other city bond projects could be reduced to $400 million, according to an alternate plan.
The council is expected to decide this summer whether to propose the 16.5-mile light-rail project to voters in November. If approved, the first phase of the rail line would be financed by $200 million to $250 million of general obligation bonds.
A revived plan for urban rail has been under consideration since 2007 after voters narrowly defeated a $1.9 billion proposal in 2000. Leffingwell campaigned in 2009 with the pledge to get the light-rail system on the November 2010 ballot. Amid an uncertain economy, the date was shifted to 2011 and is now under consideration for next November.
While a transit agency known as Capital Metro operates a bus system around Austin, it is not a large issuer of debt and cannot match the city’s resources. Capital Metro does operate a commuter rail line from the Williamson County suburb of Leander to downtown Austin. That line was approved by voters in 2004.
With triple-A ratings from all three credit agencies, Austin is in a strong position to finance an urban rail line in the congested city, officials say.
Federal funds would contribute the lion’s share of the financing, according to planners.
In his first bid for re-election, Leffingwell won more than 52% of the vote against two opponents, thus avoiding a runoff.
Three other City Council incumbents — Mike Martinez, Bill Spelman and Sheryl Cole — also won re-election.
The November bond election would be the first since 2006, when voters approved $567 million in park, library, housing, drainage, road and cultural arts projects.
The current bond proposal includes money for affordable housing and traditional city services such as roads, sidewalks and drainage.
City budget staffers say that $385 million in bond projects would require no tax increase.
Approval of $500 million would require 1-cent property tax hike per $100, and $625 million would need an increase of 2 cents per $100 of value.
With an employment base stabilized by government and the University of Texas, Austin was barely affected by the recession that began in December 2007 and forced major budget adjustments in other cities, school districts and counties.