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Council backs new social service contract metric

Tuesday, December 16, 2014 by Michael Kanin

Austin City Council members Thursday approved a resolution from Council members Mike Martinez, Laura Morrison and Chris Riley that instructs City Manager Marc Ott to tie the city’s social service contract spending to the Consumer Price Index.

The action, approved by a 5-2 vote, also calls on Ott to increase the budget of Austin’s Health and Human Services Department “in an amount equal to, or greater than, the annual percent increase of population growth,” a stipulation that calls for that increase to come on top of any “proposed budget increases for cost of living salary adjustments, health care costs, or fuel costs.”

In addition to all that, Council members established as a “formal policy goal,” a call to find more than $15.7 million of “additional funding” for social service contracts handed out by the city and just over $12.8 million for the Health and Human Services Department in a three-to-five-year time frame.

Council Member Bill Spelman — who compared the operative portions of the resolution to a metric that had, until recently, left the city with a virtual mandate of 2.0 officers per thousand city residents — expressed concerns about the proposal.

“If we’re going to be tying the amount of money spent of Health and Human Services generally to [an] index based in this case on population, then something similar may happen to what happened to the police department … and that is when we tied the police department’s budget to two officers per thousand population, not only did they automatically get that two officers per thousand population … they got no more officers,” he said. “If the intent of the resolution is to catch up … we will never be able to catch up under those circumstances. The only way to catch up is if you actually spend more than the index.”

Spelman later pivoted to a neat summation: “It may be too much, it may also be too little, and this is something that future Councils can figure out for themselves.”

Mayor Lee Leffingwell agreed. He and Spelman represented the two “no” votes against the idea.

Council members approved the city’s set of FY 2016 social service contracts in late November. They did so after finding just over half — $16 million — of the $30 million total amount requested by agencies who contract with the city to carry out various social programs.

For FY 2016, these programs include efforts from Workforce Solutions, SafePlace, Meals on Wheels and More, as well as 30 other community projects. (A complete list can be found here.) Though the item approved by Council in November includes the potential of three 12-month extensions for each program — extensions that would be voted on by future versions of the Council — Morrison still worried about the resources available.

At the time, Morrison said: “We need millions more (dollars) to serve the folks that are in need here. But in terms of finding a workable strategy for how we can allocate our funds this time around? I think we came up with something that we can live with.”

Thursday, she added that it “was good to put something in place to encourage” Council’s successive bodies to keep up with social service spending in the community.


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