Fun and Games With the City Budget

The city takes its budget process on the road

By the time you read this, the city will have completed three town hall meetings concerning the 2009-10 budget. The outlook isn't good: Even with a marginal property tax increase, the city's staring down a $30 million shortfall. In order to gauge the public's budget priorities, the city asked town hall participants to engage in a board-game-esque budgeting challenge: The city laid out 32 budget proposals with what it considered the greatest impact from a "menu" of hundreds ("service-level reductions we really need to get some feedback on," according to Budget Officer Ed Van Eenoo). Then, with chips next to each proposal representing its numerical value, participants had to "accept" or "reject" each, until they OK'd 13,000 points' worth of cost-cutting/fee-raising proposals. (Some proposals could be split, so participants could choose to fund the proposal in part.)

With the figures on the board calculated as thousands, this means players were essentially being tasked with freeing up $13 million (of $23 million in potential adjustments) from the budget in cuts and fee increases. In other words, this ain't Candy Land. We've reproduced a truncated list of the city's proposals below (again, the figures are in thousands; e.g., the proposal to reduce maintenance in city facilities valued at 250 is 250,000 in real dollars). What would you accept?


Reduce maintenance in city facilities - Proposal Value: 250


Increase early parking fines - Proposal Value: 270

Change current Spanish-language interpreter services - Proposal Value: 100


Reduce contribution to Austin Community College/EMS partnership - Proposal Value: 250

Increase EMS fees - Proposal Value: 3,700


Redeploy five administrative support positions to first responder operations - Proposal Value: 270

Eliminate special pay incentives - Proposal Value: 1,730

Convert two fire engines to medical response units - Proposal Value: *1,240

Eliminate LBJ Academy contribution - Proposal Value: 120

Eliminate four lieutenants in investigations - Proposal Value: *460


Use donations to fund pet sterilization/microchipping programs - Proposal Value: 200

Seek alternate funding for summer youth ­employment program - Proposal Value: 300

Close second day-labor site - Proposal Value: 200


Morning reduction in branch hours systemwide - Proposal Value: 350

Evening reduction in branch hours systemwide - Proposal Value: 350

Eliminate four vacant youth services positions - Proposal Value: *170

Reduce books budget - Proposal Value: *160

* Reduction could be made in full or by half.

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