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Citizens say no to Formula 1 funding, police overtime in online budget survey

Friday, July 16, 2010 by Michael Kanin

Austinites suggestions’ for how to cut the city budget, made in recent weeks in an online survey, range from the practical to the radical. Some of the top suggestions call for cuts in funding festivals and Formula 1 racetracks, while other suggestions were hard-core cuts aimed at capping police overtime and putting a lid on some city employees’ salaries. 


With the city’s first budget work session fast approaching, Council members and city staff are getting a look at the final tally from an online citizen input survey. That effort was designed to quantify opinion about what cuts and additions the general public would like to have applied to Austin city services.


City Manager Marc Ott has promised to take the results into account when he puts together his final draft of Austin’s 2011 budget. The Council is currently scheduled to receive that document on July 28.


The survey’s Top 10 proposed service reductions featured six suggestions from the city and four submitted by other interested parties. Of the city’s ideas, the elimination of free co-sponsorships of community special events was the top vote getter. With 1,924 total votes, it was also the category’s overall leader. The other staff-originated high-vote getters were: The suspension of the Trail of Lights Festival, the elimination of pay for those potential jurors who aren’t selected for trial, a proposed reduction in police overtime by $1.2 million, the shuttering of the LBJ Fire Academy, and a two-hour per day reduction in pool hours that also calls for the closing of two such facilities altogether.


As for suggestions generated by the public, the elimination of any city funding for a 2012 Formula 1 race was the top vote-getter. With 1,617 votes, it finished second in the proposed cuts section of the survey. The other top-scoring lay-submitted ideas were: A call for a reduction in salary for all city employees making over $100,000 a year, the end of a stipend for Spanish-speaking city employees, and a limit that would cap patrol officer pay, with overtime, at $80,000 a year.


None of this came without online controversy. In the space allotted for feedback on the proposed closing of the LBJ Fire Academy, for example, each one of the 26 comments expressed some level of reservation about the idea. User Amy Collins’ was typical:


“As one who has seen the effects of this program over the years, I must say the LBJ Fire Academy is a crucial component to LBJ’s educational system,” she wrote. “The skills these young men and women learn will provide them many job opportunities besides firefighting in future, such as in the military, medical field, and law enforcement.”


The service addition portion of the survey reveals some level of conflict in how the general public would like to see the city spend its money. Here, contrary to what the results of the suggested cuts voting might imply, online input called for two different increases in the police force and more funding for parks and pools facilities maintenance. Collectively, those ideas represent the top three suggestions in that section.


The rest of the Top 10 service additions are: Funding for two family advocate positions at the Center for Child Protection, more money for the downtown parks maintenance crew, an increase in the library materials budget, the re-establishment of a set-aside budget line for temporary library workers, more funds for the maintenance of various specific city parks, two new library delivery units, and an increase in the range and efficiency of mass transit.


City staff declined specific comment on any of the individual suggestions.

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