Live-Blogging the FY 2008 Budget

Just what the title says!

UPDATE: You can find the city's proposed budget online here.

There's no one in City Hall chambers for the budget presentation! No one! Where's Debbie Russell?

Alright, more folks have filtered in. Toby Futrell, clad in an intense purple, seems a little subdued, having just returned from the Executive Session where they discussed her replacement.

Description of how the forecast gap was closed: Ooooh, pray tell!

Staff only have four or five months of data on the financial forecast, says Futrell. "This year we closed a $27.5 million shortfall going from forecast to budget … essentially in line with the past gaps," she says. That 4% of your gross revenue is a real bitch, huh?

An extra $10.9 million from going at the higher rollback rate eats up the share of the "gap."

In summary, the '08 budget is balanced, at the rollback rate, says Futrell.

PowerPoint graphics in budget officer Greg Canally's presentation are mildly vexing, like a half-assed acid flashback. His description of the budget documents is supposed to make things clearer to us, but I find myself buried under an avalanche of wonktitude.

FYI, official title, theme of the budget: "Building a Sustainable Community." These summer sequels sure are boring …

"Community Priorities" inform the budget, Futrell says: 1) transportation mobility issues, 2) growth management, 3) affordable housing, 4) crime, et. al. Another "survey dimension" is "Customer Priorities:" there, police services rank No. 1.

Blog continues below the fold …

Tax rate is proposed at 41.20 cents – a little less than the current rate. (It still brings in more, thanks to higher property taxes.)

Overwork "can cause burnout in any hardworking staff, no matter how much they're paid," says Futrell, prefacing reinvestment in Austin's employee force. "Except me!" she forgets to add. Goal with reinvestment is to review salary one-third of workforce each year.

Now it's time for "Council Priorities." Because heaven forbid that be, you know, the entire budget. Instead, during retreat worksessions, they touchy-felt their way through four umbrella tenets ("Rich Social and Cultural Community," etc.) to address. Toby's carved out $57.8 million for them to play with.

Core Service Investments: $5.4 million for growth and internal controls funding (i.e., staff, development, permitting).

A-ha: Futrell just made an explicit shout-out to boosting neighborhood policing in Southeast Austin; they've been making big noise on property crime.

Just proposed "neighborhood ombudsman" function, where the city creates four positions to interact with neighborhood leadership, alerting them to "non-compliant" neighborhood development – like Northcross.

Alright – general budget fund highlights:

EMS: $43 million
Police: $220 million (believe she said approximately $30 million for overtime)
Fire: $116.9 million

Man, we're still on the graffiti cops? Guess so – there's over $146,000 (including four new positions) in enhancements to anti-graffiti programs.

$35.8 million for parks. Since spiraling rents are going to make them our new home any day now, shouldn't it be more?

Toby says per capita spending on the library (on books and the like) is $2.24; peer cities average is above $5. She also suggests hiring a library webmaster, to tend to the evolving masturbation needs of today's homeless.

Neighborhood Planning and Zoning: in addition the aforementioned neighborhood ombudsmen, Futrell's talking about increasing urban design staffing; budget there is $5.3 million.

We're almost there: after the IT department's request for 15 new positions, we're on the wonkier stuff: one-time critical costs, the budget stabilization reserve fund, etc.

Q & A time! But the mayor is wanting to limit it to questions mainly related to the budget adoption time frame (it won't be finally adopted until September). Jennifer Kim is peeved about the under-surveying of Asian respondents – apparently despite statistically oversampling Asian respondents in hopes to avoid said problem. Weird.

Mike Martinez's got beef with the allotment of employee bonuses for those "exceeding expectation:" budgeted at a level of bonus pay for 30%, "you put it out there and say 'it's available,' pretty much everyone's gonna succeed." Wants to see some trends over time from Futrell.

Brewster McCracken notes voters approved adding an extra penny to the tax rate, i.e., the 2006 bonds.

Prompted by Brewster, Canally says the forecast gap will be back: some $30 million in FY 2009, in Bride of the Ghost of the Son of the Budget Gap! A vision so terrifying you'll pump up your revenue projections – in your pants!

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City Council, Toby Futrell, City Budget, Financial Forecast, Greg Canally

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