Austin Council meeting tackles 'Downtown Puzzle', paid sick leave

Dozens of people are rallying outside Austin City Hall. They want the council to pass a resolution -- studying the possibility of requiring all businesses in the city to offer sick pay to their employees.

AUSTIN - The Austin City Council is tackling an agenda Thursday with more than 100 items. Here's a look at some of the issues that have people talking:

Downtown Puzzle

The Austin City Council is set to vote on an idea by Mayor Steve Adler to provide more resources to address homelessness through the Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT). He calls it the Downtown Puzzle.

Here's how it would work: If the city expands the Convention Center, the state will allow Austin to increase it's HOT by two percent. That tax increase would pay for the expansion.

The plan also creates a new taxing district, the Tourism Public Improvement District (TPID). According to the Mayor Adler's office, once the expansion is paid for, the tax increase on hotel rooms would be replaced with a tax from TPID and that money would be used to address homelessness.

The council is set to vote on a resolution directing the city manager to study the idea and bring information back to council.

Click here to read the Downtown Puzzle resolution

Paid Sick Leave

The Council could pass a resolution to explore the possibility of requiring all businesses in the city offer paid sick leave to their employees.

The idea is getting mixed reviews.

Some business owners worry about the costs of offering sick pay, saying it will make it more expensive to run a business in Austin. They also say the city shouldn't overregulate business. But supporters point out the city already regulates how businesses operate, and sick pay is a benefit everyone deserves.

The resolution council will vote on Thursday, which could direct the city manager to start a stakeholder process to look into offering sick pay.

Council Member Greg Casar (District 4), who is sponsoring the resolution, says studies show nearly one in three workers in Austin doesn't get sick pay, putting a strain on them.

"People get put in these very difficult situations where they have to choose between paying the rent and taking care of a sick family member," said Casar. "Between coming to work sick and potentially getting themselves sicker and getting their co-workers sicker and making sure that they can pay their utility bill, and nobody should have to make that choice."

Council Member Casar wants employees to be able to earn paid sick time based on how many hours they work. If the council approves the resolution, stakeholders will study the issue and make recommendations. Casar hopes to pass an ordinance requiring sick pay early next year.

Click here to read the sick pay resolution

Inmate Pet Foster Program

Austin Animal Services and Travis County are teaming up to extend two programs for inmates. Council approved agreements to make two pilot programs permanent. Kittens 101 allows inmates to foster kittens until they can be adopted. In Dogs 101, male inmates learn to train dogs. Leaders at the animal center say this provides safe homes for the animals and growth opportunities for inmates. 

"It really changes their morale. They come in, you know, quiet and they leave with a smile on their face," said Lauralei Combs, Program Manager for Austin Animal Services. "We've been teaching classes there for over a year so I can [attest] to that myself. I've seen the improvements. But it also teaches them a skill that they can take out into the real world."

The animal center and jail will try the program for a year, if all goes well the contract council approved can be extended for an additional two years.

Click here to read the interlocal agreement

Historic School Purchase

Council also approved a resolution to negotiate and purchase the historic Montopolis Negro School. A developer purchased the 1.8 acres the school is on with the intent of developing it. Neighbors heavily protested the idea, asking the city to preserve the piece of Black history in Austin. The resolution passed by council instructs the city manager to buy the property, restore the school and make it a museum and community center.

Click here to read the historic school purchase resolution

Affordable Child Care

The Austin Community College Highland campus could get a child care facility. Council approved a resolution directing the city manager to look into the need for an affordable child care facility and if it's feasible to build it on city property at the Highland campus. The city manager has until next February to prepare the report.

Click here to read the affordable child care resolution

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