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Proposed city budget includes tax, fee hikes

Thursday, July 30, 2015 by Tyler Whitson

City management is proposing a budget for fiscal year 2015-16 that includes 85 additional police officers, 12 new paramedics, 19 new 911 call takers and 27 new employees for the beleaguered Development Services Department.

Under a proposal presented this morning to City Council, the owner of a median-priced home will see taxes, fees and utility bills increase by a total of approximately $11.30 a month, according to Elaine Hart and Ed Van Eenoo, chief financial officer and deputy chief financial officer, respectively.

Of that amount, $3.32 can be attributed to a slight increase in the tax rate from 48.09 to 48.14 cents per hundred dollars of valuation.

A median-priced home is pegged at $232,272.

Hart and Van Eenoo provided the Austin Monitor and other members of the media with a budget preview on Wednesday.

The proposed budget features a 6 percent homestead exemption and $740,000 in rental assistance. It also includes 347 new staff positions, a 3 percent civilian wage increase with midyear implementation of market adjustments and pay increases for sworn personnel as outlined in labor contracts.

The projected tax rate will likely change when the Travis Central Appraisal District finishes certifying the tax roll, which Van Eenoo said will likely occur on Aug. 28. “The 48.14 (cent tax rate) is an estimate based upon our noncertified tax roll,” Van Eenoo explained.

Under normal circumstances, Van Eenoo said, the Budget Office would likely have the certified tax roll by now and would have used it to propose the tax rate, but the city’s challenge to TCAD’s commercial property valuations has delayed its tax roll certification by about a month.

Although the certified tax roll should be available by the time Council begins budget adoption on Sept. 8, Van Eenoo said, state “truth-in-taxation” procedural requirements will likely keep it from adopting the tax rate until about two weeks later.

“I don’t think that’s going to be awkward or problematic,” Van Eenoo said, basing his expectations on what he has heard from TCAD. “I’ll be able to tell Council on Sept. 8 what the tax rate will need to be in order to support the budget that they adopt. They just won’t be able to adopt that rate until we go through a few more truth-in-taxation steps.”

Under the proposed budget, the Austin Energy bill for a residential customer using 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per month would decrease by $2.22 per month to $105.68, and the Austin Water bill for a residential customer using 5,700 gallons of water and 4,000 gallons of wastewater per month would increase by $4.94 per month to $78.72.

Austin Resource Recovery costs for residential customers with 64-gallon carts would increase by $1.70 per month to $23.30.

The drainage fee for a homeowner with a 3,100-square-foot lot with 37 percent impervious cover would increase by $1.79 per month to $11.59. In general, apartment residents will see a decrease in these fees.

The “clean community fee,” which pays for code compliance activities, anti-litter programs and street-sweeping services, would go up by 25 cents, and the “transportation user fee,” which predominantly pays for activities of the Transportation and Public Works departments, would go up by $1.52.

The largest staffing increases in the proposed budget are for the Austin Police Department, Austin Public Libraries, the Development Services Department, the Aviation Department, the Transportation Department, the Austin Convention Center and Austin Resource Recovery.

The budget would create 48 new positions to operate the new central library – which is scheduled to open in November 2016 – and fund eight new code compliance officers. It includes $1.1 million for the 13 mayoral and Council staff positions that Council created earlier this year.

The budget would also allow Austin Energy to transfer $36 million to its Strategic Reserve Fund – with the goal of filling its reserve funds by fiscal year 2018-19 – as well as allow Austin Water to transfer $9.2 million to its Stability Reserve Fund.

Prior to the presentation Thursday, Mayor Steve Adler noted, ” A budget is an expression of values and priorities…at the end of this process, the budget will be a collective expression of our values. It is important to note that this is the first City of Austin budget that is going to be crafted by a 10-1 Council.” He expressed the hope that the Council could look out not only for their districts but also for the city as a whole.

The new fiscal year will begin on Oct. 1.

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