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Panel hears list of needs from city’s public safety agencies

Tuesday, May 3, 2011 by Michael Kanin

Austin’s police, fire and emergency medical services departments all say they have critical unmet needs in the upcoming city budget at the same time city management says they have to make budget cuts. That was the dilemma before the Public Safety Commission at its monthly meeting on Monday afternoon.


Each of the departments has been asked by the City Manager’s office to offer specific cuts in expenditures. The figure the police department is working with is $3.2 million. Its colleagues in the fire department were told to look for just under $1 million in savings. Emergency Medical Services is searching for about $450,000 in cuts.


Commission Chair Michael Lauderdale said the gap between what the city’s public safety departments have and what they need was a matter of concern.


“What is coming clear to my mind in EMS, but particularly in fire and policing we have very large orders of unmet needs,” Lauderdale told In Fact Daily. “I think citizens are going to say taxes are high, the economy is weak. So there are going to be real concerns with regard to where do we get the revenues.”


At the hearing, Austin-Travis County EMS Assistant Director for Administration and Finance John Ralston told the commissioners that his department’s needs centered on new hires. He read from a list: “Staffing and equipment for a new command district; staffing to address areas related to special events; staffing to expand the community health program.” Ralston continued on for roughly a minute. 


Austin Fire Department Chief of Staff Harry Evans also gave the commission a laundry list of unmet needs. He told the commission that his department needed more fire inspectors, a larger corps of civilian support staff, and a better professional development program.


But the largest selection of unfunded wants was offered by the Assistant Director of the Austin Police Department’s Administrative Bureau, Alice Suter. “We have pages of unmet needs in our department,” she told the commission.


Suter’s list included new detective positions that would assist with organized crime and property crime. The latter of these would help address the widely-covered difficulties of the police department’s burglary unit.


Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo told the commission that his department is “in a pretty good position when you see that we’re still reducing violent crime and property crime with the resources that they are giving us, to deal with the emerging threats at an adequate level.”


He added that “the challenge that we have is obviously at the lower-level priority calls.”


The discussion was cut short by the commission’s 6 pm stop time. It will be back on the agenda at the June meeting.

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