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Price of Council changes still unknown

Tuesday, January 27, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

Though there are no hard numbers yet, Austin’s budget office has begun to review the potential fiscal impacts associated with proposed changes to City Council’s committee and meeting structures.

According to a Jan. 23 memo from Deputy Chief Financial Officer Ed Van Eenoo, the review has included consultation with the Office of the City Clerk, Communications and Technology Management, Communications and Public Information Office, and Building Services.

Council has not yet set in stone what changes it will make. The current proposition, however, is to increase the number of Council committees from seven to 13. The new Council also proposes to hold meetings more frequently — weekly instead of biweekly or monthly — and, potentially, hold executive sessions on another day entirely.

Though the financial impacts are still being evaluated, the memo identifies potential operational costs, as identified by those departments.

Those costs include increased streaming and closed-captioning, interpreting services, additional audio and visual equipment for off-site meetings and, potentially, additional security and custodial services, which the memo notes is dependent on when the meetings take place.

The budget office also anticipates costs associated with hiring additional staffing for the city clerk’s office, ATXN and the Communications and Public Information Office. The memo also notes that the city’s speaker sign-up system might need to be updated in order to accommodate multiple meetings.

In 2010, the Austin City Council held a number of off-site meetings in an attempt to get more residents involved and increase transparency in city government. But those came at a price: A meeting held at East Austin’s George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center, for instance, cost just over $6,600.

The memo closes: “Once additional details about the number and location of future committee meetings is known, as well as the level of staff support that will be required for each committee, staff will be able to provide a more detailed cost analysis. Pursuant to that more detailed analysis, staff will report back to Council regarding any additional resources that may be required to effectively support the new committee structure.”

Council is scheduled to consider its proposed changes at Thursday’s meeting.

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