Naked City

Money Matters

The City Council approved the $1.8 billion fiscal 2002 budget on Sept. 10 in what most observers think is record time -- less than an hour. The actual operating budget, which usually emerges only after three days of frantic dealmaking, was adopted in 19 minutes. Since the city's fiscal outlook is so dark, the council had minimal amounts of play money, but the Parks and Recreation Dept. Roving Leader program was restored to full strength -- a goal of Council Member Beverly Griffith. The Austin Public Library got $167,000 for new technology, and the Council disbursed more than $150,000 in extra revenue to the Cultural Arts Fund. Despite the revenue crunch, the property tax rate was lowered for the fifth year in a row, to just under 46 cents per $100 valuation.

Also, the council officially resolved that Austin Energy opt out of retail-electric deregulation, as municipally owned utilities are allowed to do, when it kicks off in earnest in January. Along with that unsurprising decision, AE was allowed to keep confidential information regarding its competitive position; that info would otherwise be public record. For Griffith and other council members, this was a major sticking point. But her office says that the deal reached before the vote gives city auditor Stephen Morgan access to AE info that will help him serve as the council's eyes and ears.

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