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Austin budget: More police, 2 percent employee pay raise proposed

Wednesday, July 27, 2011 by Josh Rosenblatt

The city’s Budget Office and City Manager Marc Ott presented their proposed FY2012 budget to City Council this morning, and it shows once again that Austin has one of the strongest economies in the country.


While many local governments are faced with cutting public safety budgets and laying off civilian employees, Austin will be able to offer its sworn fire, police and EMS employees a 3 percent raise, as required by their contracts. Other employees will receive a 2 percent raise.   


All told, the proposed budget for the year will total $2.8 billion, including $690.2 million for the General Fund. That includes adding 49 new police officers, the number required to keep the city at its stated goal of two officers per 1000 citizens. The budget also calls for 18 new paramedics.


The General Fund revenues include a $103 million transfer from Austin Energy and a more than $31 million transfer from the Austin Water Utility.


If Council adopts the proposal, the Austin Police Department’s net budget will jump $16.5 million. While citizens consistently put public safety as their highest priority, there have been questions about whether the large number of officers is the best way to achieve public safety. Council Member Bill Spelman has been particularly critical of the policy. Mayor Lee Leffingwell reiterated this morning that he would be very reluctant to revisit the two officers per 1000 policy.


The Health and Human Services Department, meanwhile, will be able to maintain funding at FY2011 levels for all contracts with local social service agencies but Budget Department Director Ed van Eenoo and his staff are recommending a $200,000 reduction in unallocated social service funds.


And the Animal Services Department will have about $1 million more with which to continue implementing its no-kill policy.


The budget includes $6.9 million in cuts across all departments. The recommended budget calls for a reduction in library hours at the downtown Faulk Library from 66 to 58 per week, at a savings of $102,000. The Parks and Recreation Department will reduce the number of supervised playground sites from 27 to 10, which will save $184,000. The Planning and Development Review Department will eliminate 10 positions, totaling $484,000.


In order to save money, budget writers are recommending that APD pushing its cadet class start date from October 1 to April 1, 2012, a delay that will save the city $1.8 million. However, a class scheduled to start in August will go ahead as planned.


Citywide, the proposed budget will eliminate 23 vacant positions citywide.


On the revenue side, CFO Leslie Browder is projecting a 3 percent increase in sales tax revenue. It was only three years ago that the city was facing a 9.5 percent decline in sales tax revenue.


Council will be asked to raise property taxes by 2.5 cents, from $0.4571 to $0.4823 per $100 valuation. The Budget Office had been anticipating a 3-cent increase, but staff was able to decrease the rate after higher-than-expected tax revenue this year. That 2.5-cent increase means owners of homes at the median city value of $182,228 can expect a $2.97 increase in their monthly property tax bills, van Eenoo said.


That increase in the property tax is only one of several major rate and fee changes the Budget Office is anticipating. The Austin Water Utility is projecting an $8.33 increase in monthly bills, and Austin Energy is expected to administer its first rate increase since 1994, meaning about $11 more in charges a month for an average home.  Council will need to approve any Austin Energy rate increase, however, and van Eenoo doesn’t anticipate a rate increase before the early part of 2012, months after the budget is finalized.

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