Bomber’s confession should be released as transcript

Chas Moore, Austin Justice Coalition; Brian Manley, interim Austin Police Chief; Emlyn Lee founder and chief Collaborator of Brave and Gilbert Rivera speak on a KUT radio panel at Carver Museum in East Austin about the deadly Austin bombings and the response by police, the media and the community. Thursday, March 29, 2018. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

 

Nearly a month after Austin’s serial bomber took his own life by blowing himself up in his vehicle as police closed in, Austin still is in the dark about the words he spoke on a 28-minute recording he left behind.

Revelations about the Pflugerville resident’s reign of terror on Austin won’t come anytime soon because his confession is being kept secret from the public by the Austin Police Department.

That doesn’t bode well for transparency on issues that pit the public’s right to know against law enforcement’s right to withhold information. And it signals a shift in the way things were handled at the police department when Art Acevedo was chief.

On a visit to Houston last week, Acevedo, who now is chief of that city’s 5,200-officer department, told me he would release a transcript of the recording with any sensitive information redacted in an effort “to balance public safety with the public’s right to know.”

That would allow people to make their own judgments about the bomber’s confession without the filter of law enforcement, Acevedo said.

Interim Police Chief Brian Manley has said the 28-minute recording won’t be released because it is part of an ongoing investigation.

“We will revisit the decision on releasing the audio once the case is closed,” Manley told me.

Texas law permits that; I respect that. But at what point does “an ongoing investigation” become an excuse to keep the recording secret?

Manley also has said that releasing it might inspire copycats or glorify a bomber who terrorized and killed without regrets. For proof, he sent me research that backs up that point, including an article that references the “contagion effect.”

As described in a March 8, 2016 Washington Post article, the “contagion effect refers to the tendency of some people to model or copy behavior or activity portrayed by news or entertainment media.”

In other words, fame, or notoriety, is a powerful incentive for would-be mass killers. And some have studied the habits of others in plotting their killing sprees, such as reported by the New York Daily News this month.

According to the article, “Nikolas Cruz studied the Columbine High School massacre ahead of his own deadly rampage in Parkland, Fla. earlier this year.”

On the social media front, ABC news reported on findings by researchers Jennifer Johnston and Andrew Joy in 2016, which examined studies on when gun massacres occur and profiles of the perpetrators. The pair looked at a 2015 study that examined 57 billion tweets. Of those 72 million used the word “shooting” and 2 million the words “mass murder” or “school shooting.”

The news report stated: “One of the most startling of Johnston and Joy’s findings is that the more tweets that occur about a mass shooting, the higher the chance of another gun massacre occurring soon after. If, after a school shooting, at least 10 out of every million tweets mentions the incident, the likelihood that there will be another school shooting increases to 50 percent within eight days after the initial violence and to 100 percent within 35 days afterward, according to the paper.”

Reading the research opened my eyes to some things journalists could do better, such as not publicizing the names of mass shooters or killers and avoid showing pictures and videos of their faces. I get that.

But researchers also noted that beyond taking steps to avoid naming serial or mass criminals or showing their images, journalists should report “every other detail so the public gains a better understanding about these tragedies.”

We can’t do that without the bomber’s confession. Give us a transcript.

Was Jeff Davis Avenue named after a different Jefferson Davis?

Pop quiz: Jeff Davis was ________________________.

(a) A populist governor and U.S. Senator from Arkansas in the early 1900s.

(b) A comedian on the TV show “Whose line is it anyway?”

(c) The first and only president of the Confederacy.

(d) An artist who creates mementos out of old vinyl records.

OK, technically all four of those men were named Jeff Davis. But when you hear the name, which figure comes to mind first?

That will be a central question when the Austin City Council holds a public hearing Thursday over a proposal to rename Jeff Davis Avenue in Brentwood to something, well, less War-Between-the-States sounding.

As part of our community’s reexamination of statues and place names commemorating Confederate leaders, the council is considering proposals to rename Robert E. Lee Road after Azie Taylor Morton, the first African-American to serve as U.S. treasurer, and rename Jeff Davis Avenue to honor William Holland, who served in various elected posts and championed educational opportunities for black students. (Update: The council approved the renaming of both streets Thursday evening.)

RELATED: After Charlottesville, Austin’s Confederate monuments get a second look

Residents along both streets oppose the name changes by a roughly 2-to-1 ratio, at least among the fraction of property owners who sent a written response to the city. For the most part, the opponents point to the cost and hassle of updating their driver’s licenses, checks and mailing addresses with various institutions. Some question more broadly whether history is being painted over in the name of political correctness.

But at least six residents raised a curious argument: Jeff Davis Avenue isn’t named for that Jefferson Davis.

You see, there was a Jeff Davis who served three terms as Arkansas governor before a stint as U.S. Senator.

“Jeff Davis is not the same as Jefferson Davis, the person associated with the Confederacy/Racism,” one resident wrote to the city.

“Two separate old timers in the neighborhood swear this street was named after the Governor of Arkansas from 1901-1907,” another resident wrote to the city. “The next two streets are also named for governors of the same period.”

That last part is true. Next street over is Jim Hogg Avenue, named for the Texas governor from 1891-1895, followed by Joe Sayers Avenue, who occupied the governor’s mansion from 1899-1903.

Why round out the trio with a governor from Arkansas, though?

No one can say for sure. Nothing in the public record indicates where the Jeff Davis name came from, apart from the fact the developer included that street name on the plot for the neighborhood in 1927, Rusty Heckaman, a reference archivist with the Austin History Center, told me. While there’s no definitive proof, Heckaman said he wouldn’t be surprised if the street was named for the Confederate leader, given the resurgence in the 1920s of the “Lost Cause” framing of the Civil War as an honorable battle over states’ rights, not a desperate fight over slavery.

But he can’t say for sure: “I wish we had a smoking gun, but we don’t,” Heckaman said.

RELATED: Austin City Council could rename Robert E. Lee Road, Jeff Davis Avenue

For some in the Brentwood neighborhood, however, the Arkansas governor theory persists. Maybe it’s the truncated name. “I do not recall in my history classes Jefferson Davis ever being referred to as ‘Jeff,’” one resident wrote.

Fair enough. But Texas also has a Jeff Davis County, and historians say that one is named for the Confederate president. And it’s worth noting the younger Jeff Davis, born a year into the Civil War, was himself named after the figurehead of the Confederacy.

But let’s assume for a moment the street in Brentwood is named for Arkansas Gov. Jeff Davis. Why are we honoring him?

In the early 1900s, the Arkansas governor railed against the right of African-Americans to vote and called for the segregation of property taxes so that white people could ensure their tax dollars went to whites-only schools. Davis’ speeches often extolled the virtues of lynching with shameful language I won’t repeat here. Historian Fon Louise Gordon, quoted in Bullets and Fire: Lynching and Authority in Arkansas, 1840-1950, argued the governor was responsible for “the injection of racial hatred, not merely exclusion, into political rhetoric” of the time.

Is this Jeff Davis somehow better than the other Jefferson Davis?

Let me tell you instead about William Holland.

An ex-slave who served in the Union Army, Holland went on to become a Travis County teacher, county commissioner and state representative. As a lawmaker in 1876, he authored legislation establishing Prairie View A&M University to provide educational opportunities for African Americans. In 1887 he lobbied for the creation in Austin of the Deaf, Dumb, and Blind Institute for Colored Youth — one of the precursors to the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. He was serving as the institute’s superintendent when he died.

In their own ways, in their own times, Jeff Davis and Will Holland made it clear who they would welcome on their streets. I know who I would welcome on mine.

Why Austin isn’t getting as much affordable housing money as you might think

Facing an urgent need to fund more affordable housing in Austin, the City Council set its sights on some tax dollars it figured no one would miss.

New tax dollars.

Specifically, the shiny new tax revenue that materializes when government-owned land, which doesn’t pay property taxes, becomes private housing, commercial or mixed-use developments that do.

The City Council decided in 2000 that as city lands were sold for development, 40 percent of the city tax revenue from those sites should go into Austin’s housing trust fund.

A different council doubled down in December 2015, saying 100 percent of the city tax revenue on former city lands should go to various housing programs.

By June 2016, the council widened the net to capture all city tax revenue from the redevelopment of all government-owned sites — lands owned by state agencies, Travis County, Capital Metro, Central Health, you name it. All of those city tax dollars, the council decided, should go toward affordable housing.

“We have such a need for affordable housing in this community, and this is a very appropriate remedy,” Council Member Kathie Tovo, who championed that 2016 measure, told me this week. (In fact, she said, her 2016 measure spelled out the full extent of the policy that her council predecessors had intended in 2000.)

I recently wondered how much money these mandates are channeling toward Austin’s housing efforts. I was surprised to learn the answer was: Not all of it.

VIEWPOINTS: More study needed before Austin uses this tool for affordable housing

This year, $3.7 million in city taxes are being paid on redeveloped, ex-government lands assessed at $923.8 million. But only $2 million of that revenue went into the housing fund, city finance staff told me.

Next year, redeveloped, ex-government lands worth $1.1 billion will spin off an estimated $4.6 million in city taxes. How much will go to affordable housing? Who knows.

The City Council makes the real spending decisions each year during budget season. The resolutions that called dibs on these redevelopment dollars reflect a goal, but they’re not legally binding. And when council members are facing the city’s many budget needs, they sometimes decide they can’t put as much money as they’d hoped toward affordable housing.

“A couple of us expressed a strong desire (during last budget season) that we would be able to identify enough additional money” to put the full $3.7 million toward the housing fund, Tovo said. “In the end, we had so many needs.”

I appreciate the council’s efforts to look for affordable housing money under every couch cushion, and I don’t doubt their sincerity in wanting to see all of these new tax dollars put toward the cause. But think for a moment about some of the big-ticket developments in the works on old government lands. Is it realistic for Austin to absorb all of these residents and workers without putting at least some of their property tax revenue toward the city services they will need?

VIEWPOINTS: Are developer incentives for affordable housing working?

It’s tempting to put all of the property tax revenue from those developments toward the affordable housing Austin desperately needs. But the reality is, even if these are new tax dollars, other parts of the city budget may need them. They come from residents and commercial projects that add to the demand for city services.

Tovo remains hopeful the city could somehow set aside all of this tax revenue for the housing fund. I’m less optimistic, but I see the value in these resolutions. They set an ambitious funding goal for the council and ensure an annual reckoning at City Hall over housing needs.

“This resolution forces us to acknowledge each year what the amount (for affordable housing) should be,” Tovo said. “I hope we get to the point where it is all flowing to the affordable housing fund because it is so necessary for our city.”

 

First step in fixing Austin Energy’s customer service: ‘We have to really revisit empathy’

I once covered a Florida sheriff who told voters: “When you call 911, I want good things to happen.”

OK, set aside for a moment the fact that if you’re calling 911, something terrible is happening. His point was that once you’re talking to a dispatcher, you should get a response that inspires confidence and produces results, preferably as quickly as possible.

As taxpayers, that’s what we want from any agency we dial up. But as events over the past few months at Austin Energy illustrate, that’s not always what we get.

American-Statesman reporter Elizabeth Findell recently chronicled the case of a man who received a $12,000 water bill that was clearly in error — and spun his wheels for two months with Austin Energy’s customer service reps until his wife took the issue to an advisory board. That, finally, sparked a serious review of the bill.

Executives with Austin Energy, which handles the billing for all city utilities, acknowledged a string of failures in that case. After initially insisting the man’s vacant lot must have used enough water to supply a typical household for eight years, investigators determined a water main break had caused the meter to malfunction. They fixed the bill and described the case as an anomaly.

While the dollar amount was unusual, though, the customer service response echoed what hundreds of customers heard when their water bills inexplicably spiked last fall or suddenly soared in the summer of 2015: The bill is right because the meter is right. Somehow you used all of that water, so please pay up.

We now know that two ex-meter readers made up the water use numbers for thousands of homes last fall, prompting refunds for more than 7,000 customers. And after Austin Energy couldn’t explain the 2015 spikes to everyone’s satisfaction, the City Council created a one-time bill reduction program for any future bills that might be out of whack.

HOW IT BEGAN: Austin Water fields complaints of big water bills in Circle C

If you’ve ever called Austin Energy about a high water bill, you know that the customer service rep starts with the assumption that the meter is right, and then asks questions suggesting the problem is on your end. Do you have a swimming pool? A leaky toilet? Broken sprinklers, or too-frequent lawn watering?

But in light of last fall’s billing woes, Austin Energy has been revisiting its customer service policies, and I caught up this week with deputy general manager Kerry Overton to find out what that looks like.

For starters, he said, “one of the things we found through this experience, we have to really revisit empathy.” In some cases, he said, call-takers were so focused on solving the problem — going through that checklist of questions on water use — that they weren’t relating to what customers were actually telling them.

“We had to really slow that process down, show that we’re listening to what the customer is saying,” Overton said. Call-takers are in the midst of training to better empathize with customers up-front, understand the emotions involved, then transition to an explanation of next steps. “We need to help (customers) instead of just taking care of the city’s business,” he said.

Austin Energy used to automatically flag some bills for review, including ones where water use had tripled compared to the same month a year ago. In reality, Overton said, some of those cases were still falling through the cracks and not getting reviewed.

Now Austin Energy is casting an even wider net, automatically flagging bills where water use has at least doubled. And a list of all of the flagged cases, including ones arising from customer complaints, is provided to a supervisor each day, so the supervisor can follow up with investigators on the status of each one.

ALSO READ: How to get $85 if you’re an Austin Energy customer

Meter readers are also taking photos of each meter they read, providing extra documentation for investigators to check if a bill looks askew. Austin Energy and Austin Water are also starting random checks of bills each month, providing more layers of quality control.

Those are good efforts, and we should all be rooting for Austin Energy to get things right. But it’s also in the utility’s best interest to provide top-shelf customer service, Rick Parrish, a customer experience analyst with the Forrester consulting firm, told me. He suggested several reasons:

Customers can become allies. Austin’s utilities need residents’ buy-in on all kinds of initiatives, from conserving water and energy use to increasing recycling efforts to meet the city’s ambitious Zero Waste goal (remember, trash service is on your utility bill, too). Treat us fairly, and we’re more receptive when Austin Energy calls for people to join its GreenChoice program, in which customers pay a little more to support renewable energy, or when the Resource Recovery folks show up with those new organic composting bins (which isn’t all that far away).

Customers can become advocates. Austin’s utilities live in a particularly political environment. Any rate changes need the approval of the City Council. And every few years, it seems, some lawmaker floats the idea of deregulating Austin Energy, a move that would undoubtedly hurt the city and its residents. Customers who are happy with their service will be in the utility’s corner when those moments arrive.

Everyone can use an insurance policy. At some point, something will go wrong, Parrish noted. But utilities, and companies generally, can blunt the backlash if they have a good track record with the public.

And think of the time you’ll save. It’s a drain on everyone’s time when customers keep calling back because the issue wasn’t handled right the first time.

FOLLOW US ON TWITTER: Viewpoints delivers the latest perspectives on current events.

Customer service consultant and Forbes contributor Micah Solomon said great customer service organizations start with the premise that “the answer is yes, now what is the question?” True, Austin Energy can’t automatically forgive every customer’s bill, but it can welcome the request for a review and provide it in good faith.

Not only should such cases be reviewed immediately, Solomon told me, but investigators should not start with the premise that the customer is wrong and the meter is infallible.

“It’s not a legitimate review if it starts with such an assumption,” he said. “And even if the utility is proven, ultimately, to be correct, it’s a bad recipe for feelings all around.”

Why the ‘hyphenated Americanism’ comment triggered outrage

People rally in front of the State Board of Education building last week before a preliminary vote on whether to create a statewide Mexican American studies course. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The decision by the State Board of Education to approve an elective course for Mexican-American studies in Texas high schools should have triggered triumphant celebrations among the scholars and advocates who worked for years to make the curriculum a reality. Instead, many came away feeling like they were history’s losers once more.

“Discrimination!” Marisa Perez-Diaz, a member of the board, said in a blistering statement that captured the outrage of critics.

Perez-Diaz, a Democrat from Converse who is Mexican-American, was angry that the course will not be called Mexican-American Studies, as scholars and activists had advocated. Instead, after the objections of one member, the Republican-dominated board voted to strip the name and call the course “Ethnic Studies: An Overview of Americans of Mexican Descent.”

The board member who proposed the new name, Beaumont Republican David Bradley, offered this explanation: “I find hyphenated Americanism to be divisive.”

To understand why some Texans consider that statement and the name change a slap in the face is to understand the history of Texas and how it has treated Mexican-Americans as something less than American – not as equals. It is a painful and shameful history that includes loss of rightful lands after the Mexican-American War, Jim Crow laws and systematic discrimination, separate and unequal schools, lynchings, deportations of Mexican-American citizens without due process, bigotry and signs at restaurants, parks, swimming pools and public places that told Mexican Americans they most certainly were not welcome there.

“No dogs, No Negros, No Mexicans,” the signs of Jim Crow-era segregation said.

Even in death, Mexican-Americans were not equals. In some Texas towns they were buried in separate cemeteries, as were African Americans.

But you won’t read much of that sordid history in high school classrooms in Texas, if at all. The historical Mexican-American experience is whitewashed and airbrushed out of textbooks and out of young Texans’ minds.

“To say that one does not believe in hyphenated Americans is one of the reasons we need this course,” Richard Flores, a Mexican-American studies scholar at the University of Texas, told me. “Because this entire Mexican-American community was not accepted into the American way of life.”

Flores wrote the book, “Remembering the Alamo: Memory, Modernity, and the Master Symbol,” which tells a history of the famous battle that is different from the conventional narrative taught in Texas classrooms – that brave Anglos defeated savage Mexicans there. But as Flores’ book conveys, they were not alone — Tejanos, or Mexican-Americans, fought alongside those Anglos.

Throughout history, Mexican-Americans have been called all kinds of hateful epithets. Wetbacks, greasers, beaners, cockroaches, spics – these are some. The word “Mexican” also has historically been used as a slur — President Trump did in 2016 against a U.S. district judge.

To some, stripping the Mexican-American name from the high school course is another attempt to put Mexican-Americans in their place and to dictate their identity, a throwback – setback — to the 1940s and 1950s in Texas.

Angela Valenzuela, another Mexican-American studies scholar at UT who championed the new curriculum, said she would not want her name associated with it under its new name. Her mother would never forgive her, she said, because it harkens back to Jim Crow and the scars it left.

“My mother told us (an American of Mexican descent) is what I was,” she told me. “That was all we were allowed to be then because it was Americanization full throttle.”

Noting that Latinos make up 52 percent of school-age children in Texas – the vast majority Mexican American — Valenzuela said the education board sees Mexican Americans and other Latinos as a threat.

We don’t need a Mexican-American studies course only for its value in setting the historical record straight. We need it because it can highlight Mexican-American historical contributions too and affirm Mexican-Americans’ place as valued contributors to society.

“Without our stories, the message to young people is ‘We weren’t here, we weren’t important and we are not important,” said Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez, director of the Voces Oral History Project at UT, which highlights the WWII contributions of Mexican-Americans who served their country, despite facing rampant discrimination at home.

Bradley, meanwhile, was not in a conciliatory mood. He reportedly said Perez-Diaz was taking the name change personally and that opponents were “antagonizing the board,” actions that could have repercussions on the viability of the course.

Given Texas’ history, it’s easy to see how some might view that as threatening.

“We’re all Americans,” Bradley told the Houston Chronicle. “It’s a melting pot and most of the board agreed with that.”

The irony of Bradley’s statement is that in the land that was Mexico long before Texas became a state, in the face of historical bigotry and discrimination, Mexican-Americans have wanted nothing more than to stake their full and rightful claim as Americans. As equals. Though we might not see it reflected in our textbooks, history teaches us this.

 

 

 

Billy Harden (1953-2018) opened doors and shaped minds

Teacher Don Webb greets Dr. Billy Harden (center) then-head of Goodwill industries’ charter school, and Traci Berry, senior vice president of community engagement. Goodwill launched a pilot program with funds from the Texas Legislature to help students 19-50 receive their high school diplomas.
RALPH BARRERA/ AMERICAN-STATESMAN

 

Billy Harden’s imprint on Austin was indelible.

Not just because he was a towering figure in the African American community. But because Billy (whom I’ve known for over 25 years) was a mover and shaker in Austin’s arts and education community.

Billy died this week of colon cancer. He was 64.

Certainly, Billy was an accomplished educator, actor, musician, producer – and loving son to his mother, Ada, and siblings; Roosevelt Harden Jr., Marilyn Harden and Anita Davis.

His reach was long, from Metropolitan AME Church in Austin where he served over the years as choir and music director, to Hollywood through his life-long friendship with actor Julius Tennon and in recent years, Tennon’s wife and partner, Academy-award winning actor Viola Davis.

Billy, Roosevelt and Tennon attended junior high together and graduated from then-Johnston High School. Last year, Billy, Roosevelt and Austin friends Winston Williams and Roy Henry joined Tennon and Davis in Los Angeles to witness Davis getting her star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.

With many accolades in theater, a career in education and demand for his talents, Billy was financially and professionally set. That wasn’t enough. Grabbing the baton from the late Boyd Vance, Billy opened doors for so many African American actors, dancers and singers to a local theater community that wasn’t always welcoming to black performers.

He didn’t throw bombs or call folks out. He worked behind the scenes, building relationships and partnerships that moved African Americans from their near-invisibility in Austin stage performances to pivotal roles.

Aside from knocking down barriers and stereotypes of what a lead in theater performances needed to look like, sound like, or be shaped like, Billy’s efforts went a long way in helping black performers land paying jobs in mainstream performances, so they could carve out a living locally.

“He did that in a quiet, nonconfrontational way,” Roosevelt told me. “He did it relentlessly.”

“My brother had a knack—in a nonintimidating way — of getting people to look at themselves and when they did, they saw gaps in the community that needed to be filled. Billy did everything he could do to fill them.”

In 2013, continuing to build on Vance’s legacy, Billy co-founded Spectrum, Austin’s leading African American theater company, with stage veterans Jacqui Cross, Janis Stinson and Carla Nickerson. Tennon and Davis – members of Spectrum’s advisory board — helped get it off the ground.

As a member of the group’s governing board, I worked with Billy, who was executive director. But my history with him goes back to the days when I was a single mom earning wages as a journalist that qualified my family for food stamps.

As I recalled to Roosevelt, “We were poor. I needed affordable after school childcare,” which I was fortunate to find at an Extend-A-Care program Billy ran in East Austin.

That was the other side of Billy: The caring educator who could with a look both discipline and encourage kids, including my boys. Always emphasizing academic achievement, Billy opened children’s minds to a world of art and music, believing the two – education and the arts – could transport any child to success.

The homework and studying got done under Billy’s watch. Hungry kids were fed. Perhaps the most exciting for the kids was the story-writing and telling Billy did with our children, using several literary genres. But there was something more: Children were shaped, meaning they came out of Billy’s program better than they went in.

With too many accomplishments to list in this space, I will mention just some: He earned a doctorate in educational leadership from Mary Hardin-Baylor University; served as a former head of school at Goodwill Industries’ charter school and assistant principal at the Austin school district’s Alternative Learning Center.

The American-Statesman’s Michael Barnes noted that Billy had attracted notice on the stage by the 1980s, often playing gruff but kindly characters. Among his most memorable performances were in multiple stagings of “I’m Not Rappaport” with fellow actor Tom Parker. Other standouts included roles in “Porgy and Bess,” “Purlie,” “Spunk,” “Our Town,” “The Gospel at Colonus,” “Death of a Salesman,” “Two Trains Running,” “The Exonerated,” “Five Guys Named Moe” and many more.

I was lucky to have seen so many of those shows. I will never forget.

No doubt some of Billy rubbed off on my sons: Billy Brooks is featured in Austin’s long-running stage performance, “Esther’s Follies.” Mehcad Brooks co-stars in the television series “Supergirl.”

I’m glad Billy’s legacy will continue through the Dr. Billy F. Harden Legacy Fund that that aims to inspire and nurture another generation of talent and support today’s local actors who strive to enlighten, entertain and challenge the Austin community through the arts. You can help. Contribute at  https://www.austincreativealliance.org/BillyHarden/#!form/BillyHarden.

 

Yes, Austin, your taxes are rising (and more to come)

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Lately I’ve been feeling like a grad student at III Forks. The menu looks great. I’m just not sure I can afford it.

Officials have recently unveiled several ambitious proposals befitting Austin’s progressive reputation. A modern transit system, possibly with light rail lines, that could cost upwards of $10.5 billion to build. A $250 million to $300 million investment in much-needed affordable housing. At least $33 million to fix up some city pools — or make that $60 million if you want to cover all the needed repairs to prevent any pools from closing.

And maybe it’s just bad timing, but all of these proposals bubbled up the same week we got our new property value assessments. Let me guess: Yours went up, too.

So you can bet, despite the drumbeat on affordability over the past few years, that higher tax bills are coming. Not because there’s no other way: Officials could lower the tax rate to offset the rising values, such that homeowners would pay the same amount as last year. But that rarely happens. The government’s need for your tax dollars is too great. More often than not, officials get the best of both worlds: They enjoy political cover by touting no increase in tax rate, while raking in the extra dollars from applying that same old tax rate to your increasingly valuable home.

You may remember last year’s sobering analysis by American-Statesman reporters Melissa B. Taboada, Mary Huber and Claire Osborn, which found the average Austin homeowner was paying $7,607 in property taxes, an increase of $517 over the previous year and a $1,342 spike from five years earlier. Those rising bills get folded into rents, too, and not surprisingly, a study last year found nearly half of Austin renters were “burdened,” or spending more than 30 percent of their income just to keep the roof over their head.

We’re hurting. But instead of relief, we’re getting new proposals to spend even more money.

City and county officials are quick to note — and rightly so — that the largest and fastest growing piece of your property tax bill comes from the state’s dysfunctional system for raising public school revenue. True. And state lawmakers need to fix that, urgently.

But local officials don’t get a pass. They’re adding to the pricey menu, too.

Capital Metro officials are months away from finalizing their Project Connect plan, which includes rapid bus or light rail lines up North Lamar/Guadalupe, down South Congress and out to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, among other routes. Early estimates suggest the system would see 121,900 boardings per day across nine new routes, easily taking tens of thousands of cars off the road and providing better service to many who need it — all laudable goals.

The price tag could come in considerably lower than $10.5 billion, if officials opt for buses instead of rail, among other things. But this system would take new tax dollars nonetheless. As early as 2020, Cap Metro could ask voters to open their wallets for the first phase.

By then, taxpayers will notice their bills rising from the $720 million “go big” transportation bond approved in 2016 (a tax increase of $56 to $108 a year, depending on various factors), as well as the $1 billion Austin schools bond (officials never gave a clear number on the cost to homeowners) and the $185 million Travis County road, parks and drainage bonds passed last year (costing up to $24 a year for the typical homeowner). Again, all worthy projects. All adding to your tax bill.

Meanwhile, the city of Austin is crafting its big ask of voters for this fall. Council Members Greg Casar, Delia Garza and Sabino “Pio” Renteria, whose districts are home to many of Austin’s poorest residents, are calling for a $250 million to $300 million affordable housing bond. All three have touted the plan as one that won’t raise taxes — meaning, the tax rate. But remember your rising home values? For the owner of the median value home, keeping the same debt service tax rate could add roughly $24 to the tax bill, city officials told me.

Yes, I could absorb that $2 a month, especially to help my neighbors. But the ask will likely be more than that.

Garza, whose District 2 in southeast Austin has some of the city’s worst flooding issues, wants another bond to support flood buyouts, drainage improvements and land buys of open space to prevent future flooding problems. She hasn’t settled on a number yet.

And the numbers could get bigger still. Working groups with the city’s bond advisory task force have drawn up proposals totaling $851 million in bond funding, to cover everything from parkland and some pool repairs to new fire stations and about half of the affordable housing that Casar, Garza and Renteria are pushing for. The task force may revise its numbers before making its formal pitch to City Council members next week. The council will hammer out a package to its liking over the next few months before asking voters to decide in November.

It’s not a simple calculation at this point to determine what an $851 million bond, for the sake of discussion, might cost the typical homeowner. The city does the borrowing in pieces over several years, while at the same time earlier bonds are getting paid off, making a bottom line calculation challenging.

But you can bet it’s more money than what you’re paying today, and that’s not even counting the main tax rate you pay to support day-to-day operations at the city,  including salaries for police officers, firefighters and other city staffers. Those taxes have also climbed in recent years, and at a budget forecast presentation to council members this week, the question wasn’t whether to raise taxes even more, but by how much.

I tugged on Garza’s elbow at this week’s Fair Housing Summit, not only about the proposed affordable housing bond, but about the big picture. A few years ago she championed the creation of a regional affordability committee, made up of representatives from various taxing entities, after recognizing the cumulative effect on taxpayers when $50 is added here, $75 there, another $100 over there. She told me the coordination among taxing entities isn’t as far along as she’d hoped — “it’s still very siloed,” she said — but added the discussions have been worthwhile.

She acknowledged “it is a delicate balancing act” between raising taxes to provide more affordable housing and adding to the tax burden that’s making Austin increasingly unaffordable. “Even if this bond were approved,” she said, “the impact on your average homeowner would not be significant.”

It’s just one bite. Voters will decide in November if they have the appetite for it.