Friday, April 3, 2015 by Tyler Whitson

Council votes for extra staff through September

Following weeks of deliberation, the mayor and City Council offices are receiving a boost in staffing — at least for the next few months.

Council voted 9-2 Thursday to approve a resolution that will effectively add three full-time staff members to Mayor Steve Adler’s office and one full-time staff member to each Council office for the remainder of the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 1. This will raise the number of staff members in Adler’s office from five to eight, and in each Council office from three to four.

Council Members Delia Garza and Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo cast the dissenting votes.

Adler provided the Austin Monitor with his thoughts on the resolution as Council adopted it. “I think it went through a long, deliberative process, as many things that the Council is working on will,” he said. “I’m excited that the staff has gotten the additional support to do an even better job for our constituents.”

Adler added that he envisions his additional staff taking on the city’s “big challenges,” which include improving mobility and addressing congestion, tackling affordability and education issues, and working on long-term plans for Austin Energy and Austin Water. “There’s a lot of work for them to do, but we’re going to be focusing on the big, important issues,” he said.

Deputy Chief Financial Officer Ed Van Eenoo told the Monitor that the total cost for the resolution through the current fiscal year would be approximately $397,252.

The resolution sets the maximum amount allocated to Council offices at what the average current Council staff member would make in the remainder of the fiscal year, plus insurance and benefits.

The maximum amount allocated for each additional employee in the mayor’s office is set at what a sitting Council member would make in the remainder of the fiscal year, plus insurance and benefits.

The current average salary for Council staff is $53,692 per year, plus insurance and benefits, and the current salary for sitting Council members is $70,064 per year, plus insurance and benefits.

Van Eenoo told Council that staff would be able to find the funds in the current budget without having to amend it by utilizing current staff vacancies.

That is not a long-term solution, however. The Council Audit and Finance Committee will evaluate any permanent staffing proposals in the coming months, ahead of the budget adoption sessions for the coming fiscal year.

Garza was the most critical during the discussion leading up to the vote. “I’m concerned that we’re setting ourselves up for failure if we think that adding more staff and taking away resources from other departments is going to solve all of our very, very complex problems,” she said.

Though an outspoken advocate of the 10-1 system, Garza noted that the city added 16 Council staff members (including Council members) in the transition and raised fiscal concerns about adding more. As an alternative, she suggested that Council take fuller advantage of the city’s volunteer boards and commissions.

“The budget’s real simple,” Garza said. “If you want more money toward a certain department — in this case Council — we’re taking it away from another department.”

Council Member Ann Kitchen argued that making use of the resources does not affect city services. “These are dollars within our existing budget that are not going to be spent. They are not dollars that are keeping us from filling a position,” she asserted.

“I, too, support the most cost-effective use of our resources, and I do not support cutting services to people,” Kitchen said. “I think that these funds can be very effectively used, and I trust my fellow Council members to do that.”

In an interesting development, a disagreement over the allocation amount for the additional Council staff pitted the two Council members who advocate most often for fiscal conservatism against one another.

Council Member Don Zimmerman originally proposed that each Council office receive, at most, what a sitting Council member would make in the remainder of the fiscal year, plus health insurance and benefits.

Council Member Ellen Troxclair challenged the idea, however, and proposed lowering that amount to, at most, what the average Council staff member would make in the remainder of the fiscal year, plus health insurance and benefits.

“I’m already doing what I can to make sure that I’m using my money carefully and saving in some areas,” Troxclair said. “I can’t justify that I need an extra $17,000.”

Zimmerman resisted the change. “I appreciate the fiscal conservatism. I’m all over it, but … we don’t have to use all of that money,” he said. “The money could be allocated in a different way, or it could just not be spent at all. I’d be thrilled with a contest at the end of the fiscal year on who spent the least money.”

That contest will not be happening, however, as a majority of Council voted to adopt Troxclair’s amendment and limit the allocation.

 

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

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