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Outline of public safety budget includes $241 million for police

Thursday, August 28, 2008 by Mark Richardson

The Austin City Council took advantage of a special called session Wednesday to hear budget presentations by several departments postponed from Aug. 21. Assistant City Manager Bert Lumbreras presented the budget proposals for the city’s public safety agencies.


That includes the Austin Fire Department, Emergency Medical Services, Police Department, the Office of Emergency Management and the Municipal Court. Public safety agencies account for almost 70 percent of the city’s General Fund expenditures, an amount that some Council members have questioned as excessive.


The Austin Fire Department’s proposed budget is $127 million for 2008-09, with the bulk of it going for the department’s 1,206 employees. Highlights of the budget include $78,800 in capital equipment purchases, $1 million to improve women’s facilities in fire stations, and to purchase five new pumpers for the department.


Lumbreras said the department is proposing savings of $650,000 — $350,000 in cadet class savings, $200,000 in vacancy savings, and $100,000 in the cadet hiring process. The department is also bringing in more the $250,000 in site inspection and hazardous materials inspections fees.


He said the fire department faces a number of challenges, including dealing with new downtown high-rises, completing a conversion for four-person staffing on all vehicles, converting old, outdated facilities, and dealing with rising fuel costs.


The Austin/Travis County Emergency Medical Services’ proposed budget calls for $23 million from the city’s General Fund, $10.8 million from Travis County and an $11.8 million is patient billings in order to cover projected expenses of $44 million.


Lumbreras noted that the A/TC EMS is considered one of the top agencies of its kind in the country, having earned several leadership and best practices awards. He said that EMS expected to respond to more than 123,000 calls next year.


He said the agency has found $950,000 in savings for 2008-09 by postponing 10 EMS cadet positions, seven field paramedics and two communications medics positions without diluting the departments’ ability to respond at a high level.


Lumbreras noted that the department faces a growing call volume, complex fleet assets, changing medical assets, and a need for additional training resources.


APD is proposing a $241 million budget for 2008-09, while seeking to add 24 new officers and a staff attorney to bring the department up to a staffing level of 2,150. The department is seeking $750,000 in one-time capital expenditures during this budget cycle.


Lumbreras said the department is saving more then $1.5 million by cutting a vacant Commander position, reducing overtime by almost $900,000 and other management techniques.


He said the department has a critical need for new equipment and faces a huge increase in the cost of fuel. The department is also dealing with a loss of support staff and an increase in call loads.


The city’s Office of Emergency Management is proposing an $11 million budget, but only $585,000 will come from the city’s General Fund. The balance, more than $10 million, will come from federal grants. The office will employ eight fulltime employees from city funds and five from grants.


The city Municipal Court proposes a budget of $12 million, with revenues projected to be $18.2 million. The court is projecting $340,000 in savings, mainly through service collection costs. The court is projecting significant increases in its workload in 2009.

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