Austin’s proposed 2018 budget does little to help minorities or address inequality in the city, representatives of the NAACP said Thursday in a news conference at City Hall calling on city officials to change that.
“We’re not addressing the disparities in Austin,” said Nelson Linder, president of NAACP Austin. “The money’s not there.”
Linder called it “puzzling” that Mayor Steve Adler has prioritized freeing up funding for homelessness via a so-called “Downtown Puzzle” plan to create a central city tourism district.
The staff-proposed budget draft, released last week, includes a $1 billion general fund and $3.9 billion in spending, including all enterprise funds. It proposes an 8 percent increase in property tax revenue that would add $118 to the annual bill of a house worth $305,510, the median for the area.
It would boost funding to more quickly process development permits, but otherwise makes few changes to existing expenditures — bypassing social service funding increases that some council members requested and leaving $5 million for extra council-designated programs.
“Five million out of a $3.5 billion budget is an insult,” said Gavino Fernandez, a member of LULAC, the League of United Latin American Citizens.
City officials should be able to find $20 million in the budget to fund the nonprofits that do community work in East Austin, Linder said. Austin leaders often talk about initiatives like the Spirit of East Austin and the mayor’s Institutional Racism Task Force, but that talk rarely translates into actual results, he said.
“When politicians create task forces, they’re creating political cover,” Linder said. “When nothing gets done, who’s blame? The task force.”
The Downtown Puzzle idea involves funding from hotel taxes, which can be used only for tourism-related expenditures, but staff members have been looking at whether any Spirit of East Austin initiatives can be included, Adler spokesman Jason Stanford said.
“The downtown proposal isn’t done … and this is certainly part of the discussion now,” he said.
He added that, while progress on some issues can seem slow, the Spirit of East Austin goals are informing city policy on housing, mobility and code rewriting.
“I don’t know that we’re doing anything now that isn’t aligned with the Spirit of East Austin,” Stanford said. “We can always do more and we want to do more and we’re frustrated we’re not making more progress.”
The NAACP isn’t the only organization disappointed by the proposed budget. The Greater Austin Crime Commission and the city Public Safety Commission expressed concern that the spending plan includes no additional police patrol positions.
“The percentage of public safety dollars has decreased for the third year in a row, despite our rapid population growth, and that is not sustainable for a community to remain safe,” said David Roche, president of the crime commission, in a statement.
The Austin Chamber of Commerce, meanwhile, voiced concern that the budget contains too much spending. The chamber applauded the 51 additional proposed positions, paid for by permitting fees, to cut development permitting approval times. But the budget’s proposed tax increases run counter to affordability, it said in a news release.
“In poll after poll, an overwhelming number of Austinites believe that we have an affordability issue,” the release said. “Austin is atop many coveted lists around the nation. Being on the maximum allowable budget increase is not a list we should be on.”