Tuesday, December 8, 2015 by Jo Clifton

APD estimates $1.5 million in spring festival costs

The Austin Police Department’s financial staff has estimated that the department will incur $1.5 million in overtime expenses during the 2016 spring festival season, March 10-20. Many, but not all, of these events are related to South by Southwest.

In a Dec. 3 memo to the mayor and City Council, Deputy Chief Financial Officer Ed Van Eenoo reported that APD reassigned more than 15,000 hours of on-duty law enforcement personnel last year to the downtown area “to meet the increased public safety demands” of the 2015 spring festival season.

Van Eenoo identified three potential funding sources from which Council can choose in order to pay for the overtime expenditures in 2016.

The three choices include the Business Retention and Enhancement Fund, the Budget Stabilization Reserve Fund and event fees and reimbursements. In the memo, Van Eenoo points out that SXSW has been designated as one of the city’s 13 co-sponsored events. Each year, Council has decided to waive the fees and costs associated with all city-sponsored events, including SXSW.

The business retention fund was established to attract new businesses and help existing businesses displaced by development on Congress Avenue and East Sixth Street through a loan program. According to Van Eenoo, the Fiscal Year 2016 approved budget for that fund is $1 million, and there is an additional $3.5 million in the fund’s ending balance. That additional money makes the fund an attractive possibility for police payments.

Chief Financial Officer Elaine Hart pointed out to the Austin Monitor that Council has had discussions about using fees recently returned to the city by developer White Lodging as a result of a lawsuit the city filed over worker pay. Council discussed directing the fees, which amount to nearly $2.2 million and are currently in the business retention fund, toward a purpose other than business retention. Hart said that because Council established the fund, it can decide how to use it.

Use of the General Fund reserve or stabilization fund is more difficult. Van Eenoo wrote, “Appropriations from this fund are limited by policy to one-third of the fund’s ending balance annually. Financial staff are in the process of closing out the Fiscal Year 2015 financial books. Unaudited results will not be available until mid-January but in recent years the General Fund has ended the year with significant surpluses.”

Van Eenoo also noted, “If Council were to elect to not waive fees and reimbursements for cosponsored events, then the resultant revenues could be used to offset the cost associated with supporting these events.”

Hart told the Monitor that Council decided to waive $950,000 in fees for SXSW 2015 on Dec. 11, 2014. But the only fee waivers on this week’s Council agenda relate to events that have already occurred, such as the ThunderCloud Subs Turkey Trot, which was held on Nov. 26.

According to city spokesman Bryce Bencivengo, $600,000 of waived expenses can be attributed to dumpster costs, fire inspections, roadway barricades and police services. The remaining $350,000 relates to fees not collected.

There is an item on this week’s agenda that will allow the city to hire law enforcement officers from outside Austin to provide public safety services for the city during the spring festival season. The Austin Police Association membership is currently voting on a contract amendment to allow the city to hire law enforcement officers from outside the city if APD officers are unavailable.

APA Vice President Andrew Romero said the voting will continue through Wednesday. He indicated that he believes the contract amendment will be approved.

Van Eenoo wrote in the memo that if Council approves the contract amendment, “Staff will bring forward a related budget amendment at a subsequent Council meeting. Delaying the timing of the budget amendment to late January or early February” would give Council more options, because staff would be able to make a recommendation regarding the Budget Stabilization Reserve Fund. In addition, he notes that Council’s decision about whether to waive certain fees and costs will have an impact on its decision about which fund to use.

However, what’s missing from this calculation is how much pressure Council members might feel if they were to fail to waive the fees and expenses. At this point, the next Council meeting is Dec. 17, and it will not meet again until Jan. 28 unless there is a special called meeting.

Sixth street during SXSW Austin” by Marlon GilesOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

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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.

SXSW: Organizers of the massive annual festival that takes over the City of Austin each March. SXSW has donated to the Capital of Texas Media Foundation.

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