Oh hey, guess what? In its haste to approve a $100 million tax exemption for a new stadium for the soon-to-be-erstwhile Columbus Crew, the Austin city council neglected to consult Travis County, which would also be giving up a cut of taxes under the proposed deal. And Travis County commissioners are having none of it, threatening to sue to force the MLS team to pay taxes on its stadium if necessary:
On Tuesday, Travis County commissioners unanimously voted to “authorize the county attorney to preserve the county’s right to challenge the tax-exempt status of the stadium company’s use of city property.”
They also voted to “pursue negotiations with the city and other local taxing entities on expectations for preserving taxable value in the redevelopment of publicly owned real estate.”
The city’s proposed agreement with Crew owner Anthony Precourt doesn’t actually say that the land would be tax-free — it just says the city would own the land and stadium and lease it to Precourt, which usually works as a get-out-of-property-taxes-free dodge. Usually, but not always: A New Jersey court ruled in 2014 that Red Bull New York had to pay property taxes on its team-run, city-owned stadium in Harrison, on the grounds that a pro soccer stadium isn’t an “essential public purpose.” (The Red Bulls and Harrison later settled out of court on a deal where the team basically makes payments in lieu of property taxes.)
In Austin’s case, the tax-exempt status is up to the Travis Central Appraisal District, which is a county-run (I think — this information is not included among the CAD’s many, many frequently asked questions) agency that is in charge of appraisals. If the appraisal district grants an exemption, the county can, and it looks like probably will, appeal the ruling.
So what happens now, with a giant tax bill for Precourt on the line? The Austin American-Statesman asked Mayor Steve Adler, who replied, “I don’t know that, but I do know that the agreement says the team is responsible for any such taxes, not the city.” Ducking out of the way and letting your partner take the bullets — a time-honored tradition, but not one I expect Precourt is likely to appreciate. Can’t wait to hear what he’ll have to say about all this once he’s done admiring his new logo!