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Let the budget wrangling begin

Monday, July 13, 2020 by Jo Clifton

Austin has had lean years and fat years and always manages to make it through. But this is the first pandemic year since 1918, and many of the things we thought we knew about the city’s fiscal future and budget are not what they seemed six months ago. City Manager Spencer Cronk is scheduled to lay out the proposed 2020-2021 budget during a teleconference meeting at 2 p.m. today. Sales tax revenues and Hotel Occupancy Taxes are down; according to a report from Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar, Austin’s sales tax revenues are down 10.81 percent so far this year. But the city’s financial planners have always kept a surplus to meet emergencies such as this one. The big question on city employees’ minds is whether Cronk will follow through on the promise he made to Council Member Leslie Pool last September that employees would get a 2.5 percent raise this year. On Sunday, Pool told the Austin Monitor, “I expect him to fulfill that promise. It may not be the full 2.5 percent, but I expect and hope city staff have some pay raise. They earned it.” She praised staffers for working hard during the pandemic so many city programs and operations can continue to deliver services, and “do it safely and protect the community …. They certainly deserve our appreciation.” The other important question for Council watchers is whether the manager will propose to bring in a budget at 3.5 percent higher than last year’s or whether it will be closer to the 8 percent hike allowed without voter approval because of the pandemic. If Cronk suggests a lower rate, several Council members can be expected to add on more spending and others may want to fight with them about it. Today is just the beginning of the budget process. The public can watch the televised meeting on ATXN, channel 6 on Spectrum and Grande Communications, and channel 99 on U-verse.

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