Where Has All The Money Gone?
Most of the city's General Fund is spent on things City Hall doesn't want to cut.
Police (40.4% of the total General Fund), fire (21.1%), and EMS (5.1%) make up two-thirds of the General Fund budget and consume more than 95% of the city's total sales and property-tax collections. Well over half of each department's spending (the outlined dollar signs), goes to uniformed first responders, where City Hall has repeatedly refused to cut.
Last year: Even after APD cut more than $8 million in civilian personnel and capital spending, its budget went up by 8%, mostly due to "meet and confer" salary increases for uniformed officers. Fire's budget went up 2.1%; EMS went up close to 8%, largely to open two new stations.
A 10% cut this year? Won't happen. The city is forecasting an overall public-safety spending increase of $16.6 million, not counting the operating cost for two new fire/EMS stations. "Innovations" -- like restaffing the Hyde Park and Clarksville fire stations with smaller "squad" units -- will only slow, not reverse, the spending trend.
Health and Human Services
More than half the city's HHS General Fund spending goes to low-income health care (8.8% of the total GF) -- which City Hall is both legally and morally obliged to leave untouched. (Millions more are kicked in by Travis Co., the state and feds, and Seton.) The City Council, at least, also is loath to cut social services (2.7%) and youth services (0.7%). That leaves disease prevention (1.3%), animal control/shelter (1.1%), and consumer and environmental services like restaurant inspections (0.6%).
Last year: GF spending went up less than 2%, despite a 13% jump in indigent-care costs; HHS cut 40 jobs and several million dollars elsewhere. Also, some costs were transferred out of the General Fund -- for example, Austin Energy now pays for child-care and job-training programs.
A 10% cut this year? Probably can't be done if you take indigent-health and social and youth services off the table. Of what remains, the animal shelter and health inspections would likely bear the brunt of a 10% HHS cut, or else services like rodent control or safety education would be wiped out entirely. But HHS, at least on paper, still has quite a bit of overhead in the General Fund, even after committing last year to cut 13 jobs through unspecified "efficiencies."
Parks and Recreation
About half of PARD's spending (3.8% of the total GF) goes to operations. Both maintenance (2.4%) and the Park Police (0.7%) were long viewed as underfunded to the point of crisis. Cultural arts (0.4%) doesn't include funds disbursed to artists from the bed tax. The city's new arts department will take some of this cost off PARD's hands. Some enviro programs (0.3%) have also been moved out of PARD.
Last year: PARD eliminated a whopping 15% of its (long-frozen) staff positions and cut its overall budget by more than 8%. The biggest hit was taken by maintenance, but everyone felt the pinch; the only activity to see a spending increase was senior programs.
A 10% cut this year? Council likely won't want to touch after-school programs, senior programs, the park police, or stuff like Eastside Story and the Millennium Complex; athletics (like softball and golf) mostly pay for themselves. That means park maintenance, environmental education, and aquatics would take the biggest hits.
Planning, Transportation, Development
This includes part or all of three city departments: Transportation, Planning, and Sustainability handles road and traffic projects (1.7% of the total GF) and long-range planning, urban design, air quality, and bike/ped programs (1%), while Watershed Protection and Development Review handles building permits and inspections (1.3%) and site plan and subdivision review (0.9%). Neighborhood Planning and Zoning consumes just over 1% of the GF.
Last year: Between them, the three departments cut dozens of staff positions but not very much money.
A 10% cut this year? During the campaign, Mayor-elect Will Wynn suggested that the fiscal crisis could help whip these famously unpopular departments into shape. But their poor performance can also fairly be blamed on short staffing -- the three departments combined have fewer than 400 GF employees. So either miraculous efficiencies are found, the scarce remaining low-hanging fruit -- urban design, bike/ped programs -- gets plucked, or performance gets even worse. Or all three.
About 60% of the Austin Public Library budget goes to public services (including youth services). The remainder is roughly split between materials (both acquiring and processing) and the cost of facilities and equipment (particularly computers).
Last year: APL cut 21 staff positions and more than 6% of its budget.
A 10% cut this year? Cutting the library budget always means either cutting hours, cutting the book budget, or closing a branch entirely. Of the three, cutting hours is the easiest to recover from when times get better; look for a replay of last summer's closings, with each branch being shuttered once (or even twice) a week, on alternating schedules.
HOW MUCH TO CUT?
In the scenarios she's presented to the council, City Manager Toby Futrell has suggested $24.5 million in new cuts to the General Fund, which is only about 5% of the total. (Of course, it's more like 15% of that portion of the GF that isn't being "held harmless.")
To close the anticipated fiscal 2004 budget gap without a tax increase would take far more than that -- about 11% of the total GF.
In its online budget exercise (www.ci.austin.tx.us/dollarsurvey.htm), the city asks citizens to cut 15% of the total GF. While City Hall hasn't been willing to touch public safety or public health, the survey allows you to cut both if you choose.