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Public Safety Commission recommends budget requests – with one exception

Tuesday, April 6, 2021 by Jonathan Lee

The Public Safety Commission “wholeheartedly” recommended City Council adopt all budget items requested by Austin’s police, fire and EMS departments for Fiscal Year 2022 – with the exception of money for a new police helicopter. The budgets await review by City Manager Spencer Cronk and approval from Council in August.

APD forecasts a $302.7 million budget for FY 2022 – an increase of 3 percent from the FY 2021 budget. The total does not include Reimagining Public Safety funds, which are tallied separately. The AFD and EMS budgets are set to increase modestly.

The Reimagining Public Safety initiative influenced APD’s budget requests. APD hopes to hire two new civilian staffers to help with its diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in FY 2022. The two positions, according to Chief Administrative Officer Michelle Schmidt, will support these efforts.

The department also plans to retain Dr. Sara Villanueva, who has helped with cadet academy curriculum and will teach DEI-centered academy courses. Council voted on changes to the academy last week with the hopes of restarting it by June 7 after a yearlong moratorium on new classes. The three positions total $328,000.

APD requests $2.8 million for extra overtime pay due to staffing shortages, as well as an additional $3.4 million for terminal pay from an increase in retirements.

The commission excluded one APD item from its recommendation: $1.6 million to replace an aging APD helicopter. Council chose not to fund a replacement for the same helicopter last year.

“I have an opinion about not spending money on a helicopter when we’re in the middle of a plague,” Commissioner Rebecca Webber said. 

The biggest Fire Department item up for review is a new ladder unit in Del Valle, which will cost $1.6 million for 16 firefighters plus the rig. “We have not had a new ladder in the Austin Fire Department in over a quarter of a century,” Chief Bob Nicks said. “We have deficiencies in the southeast side of the city and in our ladder response times.” The new unit is part of a Council resolution to add five new fire stations. 

The Fire Department also hopes to receive money for mental health support and conversion of temporary workers to full-time status.

EMS hopes for funds to add staff in order to have a standard number at all stations, among other personnel matters.

The commission, with one abstention, voted to approve the budget recommendation. 

“I’d like to state my wholehearted support for these items,” Webber said. Commissioner Rocky Lane said, “I also state my wholehearted support for these items, and note that the ladder is possibly a better thing than a helicopter.”

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