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Public Safety Commission calls proposed APD budget inadequate

Tuesday, June 3, 2014 by Gene Davis

Public Safety Commissioners did not attempt to hide their displeasure Monday with the proposed FY 2015 Austin Police Department budget.


APD’s budget plan calls for $307.6 million, which is a $12.2 million increase from FY 2014 and adds funding for 59 additional officers. However, Public Safety Commission Chair Kim Rossmo said the increase would not go far enough to address APD needs and only allow the department to tread water.


“As you can gather, we are not very happy with the budget, and you are probably not either,” Vice Chair Mike Levy told APD Assistant Chief Brian Manley.


The proposed budget does not allocate any funds for additional civilian staff at the 911 Call Centers, a fact that drew the most ire from commissioners. Levy said the wait times for people calling 911 has increased to unacceptable levels.


Manley said the average APD response time to urgent calls – the amount of time it takes an urgent call connecting with 911 to an officer arriving on scene – increased from an average of six minutes and 45 seconds in 2010-11 to an average of seven minutes and 30 seconds in 2012-13. Manley said the slower response time was likely due in part to 911 call center staffing.


Given the increase in 911 call wait times, Levy said he couldn’t comprehend why the proposed budget crafted by City Manager Marc Ott and his staff wouldn’t include funding for additional 911 call takers and dispatchers.


“The (city) manager and his staff have chosen to not make this a priority even though more and more people are going into the (911) queue … even though that person may be calling to report a fire, someone trying to break into their house, or dying on the floor with a heart attack,” he said. “For four years we’ve been saying that and the manager and his budget staff have refused to recognize that. I think it’s outrageous, I think it’s unfair to the community, and I just think it’s plain nuts.”


For his part, Manley said this is the first year APD has listed an increase in the number of civilian employees as the top priority that is unmet by a proposed budget. In its list of unmet priorities, APD lists a need for 38 full-time employees in civilian support positions. Of those FTEs, nine are for 911 call takers and six are for police dispatchers.


Following the presentation, commissioners passed a resolution stating their belief that the FY 2015 budget should ensure the 911 call centers are adequately staffed. The resolution also stated the commission’s belief that special events should pay their own way in terms of needed public safety and emergency services.


The Public Safety Commission meeting followed a May City Council Budget Work Session, during which Council Member Bill Spelman questioned the APD budget’s size, noting that it is projected to consume more than 42 percent of the general fund next year. He said the APD miscellaneous expenditures are larger than the total increase for any other general fund department.


Council can ultimately take or disregard suggestions made by the Public Safety Commission regarding the budget, and Commissioner Michael Lauderdale was less than optimistic that the commission’s suggestions would be implemented. However, Rossmo said that voicing their opinions could not hurt.


“All we can do is comment from the sidelines, but at least we can comment,” he said.

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