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Austin eyes accepting cryptocurrencies for city fees or services

Austin City Council approved a measure Thursday that would launch a study on accepting Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies for city taxes, fees or penalties.

AUSTIN, Texas — People living in Austin could someday use cryptocurrency to pay for various city fees or services depending on the results of a study the city council approved launching on Thursday.

Council Member Mackenzie Kelly presented the resolution to the Austin City Council that calls for a fact-finding study about the City adopting potential Bitcoin or other cryptocurrency policies.

“I really wanted to make Austin be the leader,” Kelly said. “I'd like to know if it's even feasible for us as a city to accept cryptocurrency or to even hold it on our accounting books.”

Now that the resolution has been approved, City staff would look into issues like financial stability, security, equity and inclusion and consumer benefits or risks.

“There are people that I've met with and spoken to who don't have bank accounts and they utilize this as their primary form of payment. And so by the city offering some flexibility in that space, we first have to see if we can be flexible,” Kelly said.

The results are due by mid-June.

“In my view, there is very little risk for the city to actually attempt to do something like this,” said Cesare Fracassi, an associate professor of finance at the University of Texas at Austin.

Cryptocurrency is incredibly volatile but despite that, Fracassi said that may not pose a major threat.

“The city can receive payment in cryptos, but they can immediately convert them into fiat cash, so they don't have any risk involved in holding cryptocurrencies,” he said. “There are established payment processors that basically accept crypto payments from the users and then they give the dollars to the City of Austin for a small fee, which is actually very comparable to using credit cards or debit card transactions.”

The resolution came up for discussion during Tuesday’s work session meeting and drew criticism from Council Member Leslie Pool.

“It’s the lack of oversight and accountability for these currencies that I see that as very troubling and I don’t see that changing anytime soon,” Pool told the council.

It’s not clear how soon after the study is done the City could move forward with accepting cryptocurrencies.

The adoption of cryptocurrencies has started gaining momentum in cities across the country. In Miami, the mayor is working on expanding use of it and said some city employees will even collect their salaries in digital currency, according to Bloomberg.

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