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Budget battle developing over amount of pay raise for city employees

Tuesday, July 23, 2013 by Michael Kanin

In the wake of an April budget meeting that revealed that the City of Austin could not afford 3 percent wage increases for civilian staff – even at the rollback tax rate – city officials are considering a range of pay raise options. Though no decision has yet been formalized – let alone approved by Council members – In Fact Daily has learned that budget staff is examining the possibility of a 1.5 percent wage increase for at least the next fiscal year.


Nonetheless, Jack Kirfman, political action coordinator with the local chapter of American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), told In Fact Daily that his organization would press Council members for a 3 percent salary increase for Austin civilian employees. “It costs more to live here, it costs more to buy your food; everything costs more,” Kirfman said, noting that the cost of living in Austin had increased by 10 percent over the past five years.


No city employees received pay raises in FY2010. Since, civil service members of the city’s Police, Fire, and EMS departments have seen 3 percent annual wage hikes. Their civilian counterparts saw wage increases at an average of between 2 and 3 percent from FY2011 through FY2013.


Contract negotiations with the city’s police union recently granted APD rank and file a 1.5 percent raise for 2014, a one percent raise in 2015 and 2016, and a two percent hike in 2017. The 1.5 percent increase for police jibes with the potential figure for city employee raises.


However, Kirfman said that he would push for more. “We’re going after more than one-and-a-half percent,” he told In Fact Daily, noting that he and his colleagues would “help them find the money” if need be.


Kirfman noted that he had and would continue to visit Council offices to press his case. With many Council members on vacation during their annual July break, Kirfman said he had yet to discuss the matter with every office.


He would not comment on those conversations he had already conducted.


Council members learned of the raise issue as part of an April five-year budget forecast presentation. There, Deputy Chief Financial Officer Ed Van Eenoo provided the bad news. “Even at the rollback tax rate we would be projecting a $5.1 million gap at a three percent wage increase,” he told Council members.


Van Eenoo further noted that the number would increase to $8.1 million in FY2015, and then $8.5 million in FY2016. The gap would decrease to $3.3 million in FY2017, but still be present. Van Eenoo said that the budget wouldn’t balance – even at the rollback tax rate – until FY2018. “In other words, a 3 percent wage increase…would simply not be affordable, even at the rollback tax rate without making cuts in other areas,” he said.


The rollback tax rate is the highest rate that Council members can set without facing the possibility of a tax election.


During the April tax discussion, Council Member Mike Martinez turned to the issue. “I think the assumption is pretty clear,” he said at the time, “we shouldn’t be negotiating at 3 percent – if that’s what we know now – that shouldn’t be our starting point. It seems to project that as if this is a starting point, and we’re already saying that we’re going to be millions of dollars short.”


Martinez continued: “That was, to me, eye-opening. I’ll just leave it at that, it was eye-opening. How can we possibly even put something up there like 3 percent when we already know that at rollback rate we won’t even meet those cost projections? I certainly recognize the work force, and I want to treat them fairly – negotiate fairly with them – (but) they see this…just as we do, and I hope they take that in to consideration.”

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