Balance between taxes, city services topic at public budget discussion


Public meetings spread across City Council districts will allow Austinites to comment about proposed budget.

Residents can also weigh in using an online survey.

Are city of Austin taxes too high (meaning services should be cut), too low (meaning services should be improved) or about right (meaning services should be kept as they are now)?

The bars on a graph jumped back and forth Tuesday night as about 50 people inside Austin’s Central Library — and participants watching remotely — thumbed in answers to an interactive poll during one of the city’s first public input sessions regarding the 2019 budget. The third bar eventually shot to the top, with more than half of respondents selecting “about right.” Meanwhile, roughly equal numbers of respondents selected “too high” or “too low.”

Fifty is a small sample size, especially in a room filled largely with city employees and dialed-in government activists, but everyone in Austin is encouraged to weigh in on tax rates and funding priorities — online or in person — as the city holds a series of public budget meetings spread across individual City Council districts.

ALSO READ: Austin city taxes, fees expected to hit $4,032 for average homeowner

In August, City Council members will amend the budget amid public hearings on it. The council will vote on the finalized budget in September for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

Attendees and people submitting virtual questions Tuesday asked Mayor Steve Adler, City Manager Spencer Cronk and Ed Van Eenoo, the city’s deputy chief financial officer, about future police staffing, the potential for commuter or light rail lines and how the CodeNext land-use rewrite could affect tax revenue and the budget process.

City officials went over the basics of the $3.9 billion budget, which includes a $1 billion general fund to run most city operations and self-sustaining enterprise funds such as Austin Energy, Austin Water and Aviation. Public safety expenditures account for about 67 percent of the general fund budget.

On Wednesday, 58 percent of the poll respondents listed public safety funding as being too high, versus only 10 percent who said it was too low. Van Eenoo noted that the percentage of Austin’s budget spent on police, fire and emergency medical services has decreased in recent years and is pretty typical when compared to most cities.

This year, for the first time, Austin began looking at its budget by strategic outcomes — such as safety, economic opportunity and “government that works” — instead of just by department. The shift came after an 18-month process that the council approved in March. City staffers said the new approach would help in prioritizing city functions.

LAST YEAR: Approved Austin 2018 budget will bring average $151 tax, fee increase

Despite the poll responses, a couple of people asked about the possibility of more public safety funding. An online question asked if the city expected to follow a plan to increase police staffing over five years. Amanda Lewis, a member of the city’s Commission for Women, asked the council to consider funding additional victims services counselors within the Austin Police Department to respond to sexual assault victims.

Another speaker rejected the idea that more police officers would help community policing, saying: “I do not believe we should be spending more money on police. It’s not working.”

Austin is still negotiating with the Austin Police Association on a labor contract, after the City Council rejected a proposed deal in December. Those negotiations are expected to last at least several more months, according to a staff memo issued Tuesday.

“No decision has been made with the policing issues that we have,” Adler said at the forum. “It’s certainly of high interest.”

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Local

Community news: Hutto city manager not leaving, gets new contract

TRAVIS COUNTY CENTRAL AUSTIN Workshop on suicide risk NAMI Austin, the local affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, will host its monthly Mind Matters event, “Working Together to Recognize and Respond to the Rise in Suicide,” from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Monday. The free event will be at the Austin Public Library’s Yarborough...
In 1979, hard-living Oscar winner Broderick Crawford lit up St. Ed’s
In 1979, hard-living Oscar winner Broderick Crawford lit up St. Ed’s

Longtime photojournalist Robert Godwin has been going through his archives to rescue an abundance of Austin history. This arresting image catches Hollywood actor Broderick Crawford in half light: Crawford won a 1949 Academy Award for his role as populist politician Willie Stark in “All the King’s Men.” “I remember wanting to...
PolitiFact: Railroad Commission is no longer working on the railroads
PolitiFact: Railroad Commission is no longer working on the railroads

Railroad Commission candidate Roman McAllen of Denton offered delegates to the Texas Democratic Party convention a familiar refrain about the state’s anachronistically named oil and gas regulatory agency. “Finally, we have to change the name,” McAllen said. “The current one is very misleading. The Railroad Commission of Texas...
Deputies searching for shooter after man killed in eastern Travis County, officials say
Deputies searching for shooter after man killed in eastern Travis County, officials say

Deputies are searching for the shooter after a man was shot and killed in eastern Travis County on Friday night, sheriff’s officials said. Deputies responded at 8:43 p.m. to the 9300 block of FM 969 and found a man with a gunshot wound at a mobile home park, said Travis County sheriff’s officials. The suspected shooter is a man who was...
40 Texas lawmakers in favor of removing Confederate plaque; Abbott mum
40 Texas lawmakers in favor of removing Confederate plaque; Abbott mum

More than 40 state lawmakers support removing a Confederate memorial inside the Capitol that offers a debunked history lesson on the Civil War, even as most state leaders have remained silent on the issue. State Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, a candidate for House speaker, has been the leading voice calling for the plaque’s removal. He met privately...
More Stories