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Mike Kanin is the Publisher of the Austin Monitor. As such, he doesn't report on much--aside from the workings of the Monitor--any more. In his previous life as a freelance journalist, Kanin has written for the Washington City Paper, the Washington Post's Express, the Boston Herald, Boston's Weekly Dig, the Austin Chronicle, and the Texas Observer.
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Slimmed-down 2012 Travis County budget could include layoffs
The Travis County Commissioners’ Court has adopted a set of fiscal year 2012 budget guidelines that, in part, call for 5 percent budget reductions from all county departments. Cuts could also lead to layoffs of county employees.
Early estimates put the total dollar figure for the cutbacks at almost $21 million. Roughly one-third of that number – about $7 million – can be directly attributable to budget cuts at the state level.
On Tuesday, Travis County planning staff did not rule out the possibility of layoffs. When Pct. 1 Commissioner Ron Davis asked about that possibility, Planning and Budget County Executive Rodney Rhoades was non-committal. “As the process continues to unfold, we’ll continue to monitor and continue to report back to you if things start shifting on us,” he said.
He then referred back to a program sorting process that his staff had proposed to look at county priorities. “That’s kind of the process that we see that would make the most sense – that way the Commissioners’ Court has a full picture of the programs within the departments, the programs at the state level, and you will begin to have a better picture of how you want to prioritize should we have to start making cuts.”
After the hearing, Rhoades told In Fact Daily that he and his colleagues would do everything possible to avoid that eventuality. “The very first thing that I’ve told my staff, and we’ve tried to convey as we’ve gone through the last few years is that protecting the workforce is paramount for us, and for me personally … Obviously, the fallout from what’s going on over at the state is going to be something that will have a tremendous impact on our ability to do that,” he said.
The sorting process that Rhoades referred to is something of a ranking exercise. As they prepare for what looks to be a difficult tax cycle, planning staff will ask each Travis department to prioritize its programs and their respective suggestions for cuts. County sections will also rank state programs in their order of importance. Planning staff will collect all of this and examine statutes to make sure that no cuts are made to mandated programs.
The county could elect to raise its property tax rate as a measure to close its budget gap. The guidelines allow officials to bump that number up or down by up to three percent over the effective rate – the tax percentage that would allow the county to collect the same amount of tax dollars as they did for fiscal year 2011.
According to county Budget Manager Leroy Nellis, home values are expected to decline again. “(It’s) projected to drop about two-and-a-half percent, at least at this point,” he said. That figure would take the average county home value to $266,000.
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