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Council finishes budget adoption Day One

Wednesday, September 9, 2015 by Tyler Whitson

City Council dove into the Fiscal Year 2015-16 city budget reading process on Tuesday, making some progress toward its goal of adopting the budget by the end of Thursday.

Though there is still a long way to go before Council reaches a final draft, it made some headway on a working budget that consists of city staff’s proposed budget with amendments, along with a slew of Council amendments that alternatively cut or increase spending.

Staff’s amendments to its proposed budget had the effect of cutting $3.18 million in General Fund expenditures and increasing General Fund revenue by $3.14 million.

Although Council voted on and incorporated several amendments into its working budget, the changes will not be set in stone until Council adopts the final budget, as it may go back and rework adopted amendments throughout the process.

One of the more substantial, specific amendments Council made involves allocating $600,000 in General Fund revenue toward permanent supportive housing, an element of a city initiative that helps provide homeless individuals with housing.

That measure, proposed by Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, passed 9-1-1, with Council Member Don Zimmerman dissenting and Council Member Ellen Troxclair abstaining.

Council Member Ann Kitchen added that she voted for the item “in anticipation of identification of additional cuts” that Tovo said she planned to propose. “We may need to revisit this at the end of the day,” she said.

Two of Tovo’s proposed budget cuts that made it into the working budget were the elimination of a $50,000 one-time contract in city staff’s budget that would have gone to a consultant to design a new logo for the Development Services Department and the elimination of nine months of funding for a proposed public information specialist in that department.

Tovo’s motion to cut nine months of funding for a proposed customer service representative in Development Services did not pass.

“These are useful expenditures, but I don’t see them as critical expenditures,” Tovo said of the items she proposed to cut.

Council also voted in favor of a motion, also proposed by Tovo, to allocate $100,000 to the General Fund to “advance progress for establishing a sobriety center.” That effort, which would be a partnership between the city and Travis County, has been under consideration by both parties for several years.

Tovo said that, though the funds would be “more or less a placeholder” so that the city has some funding available next year, the most likely first expense would be to search for an executive director to head up the effort.

Zimmerman cast the only dissenting vote, stating his belief that, by using the funds to search for an executive director, the city would be hiring a “full-time lobbyist” to advocate for moving forward on the sobriety center.

Prior to considering any of its specific amendments, Council voted on a broader motion from Zimmerman to limit any increase over the current budget to a level that would reflect the combined monetary inflation and city population growth that has occurred in the past year.

Deputy Chief Financial Officer Ed Van Eenoo said this would equate to an approximately 4.1 percent increase and noted that city staff’s amended proposal reflects a 6.2 percent increase.

In the end, the majority of Council voted against the measure, with Zimmerman, Troxclair and Council Member Sheri Gallo voting in favor.

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