City Budget: Scrubbed and Squeaky Clean

The budget gets balanced, saved by the sales tax – and some scrubbing

Thanks to stronger-than-expected sales-tax income and a pronounced scrubbing, City Manager Marc Ott's proposed budget is balanced. And for the first time since 2006, a property tax increase is coming in below the rollback rate, the highest increase allowed without a special election.

After coming in negative for the previous 16 months, sales tax rebounded in February and has experienced positive growth for the past six months, swinging from a projected 4% loss in the springtime financial forecast to a 3.7% gain for the year to date. The improved revenues brought in some $10.7 million extra, enough to offset an anticipated $7.1 million loss from not setting property taxes at the rollback rate. From the current rate of 42.09 cents per $100 of assessed value, property taxes are expected to rise to 45.71 cents, bringing the monthly tab for a median-priced home from $65.90 to $70.27 a month. However, according to the Travis Central Appraisal District, the price of that median home has fallen from $187,878 to $184,484, as part of an overall contraction in assessed property values from $80.2 billion to $77.1 billion.

Savings were also realized from a scrub of city departments, creating $8.7 million in reductions. Nearly 22 vacant positions were either eliminated or repurposed to meet other needs. Also, budget officer Ed Van Eenoo said the city sought to "true up" budgeted expenses with actual expenses and trim the overlap where necessary.

General fund revenues and expenses now balance at $650.2 million; the figure includes the addition of $3.9 million in unmet service demands on which the public voted in an online poll. They mainly encompass public safety: 35 additional police officers over the 13 initially budgeted, bringing the total to 48; two new medical units; and accelerated conversion to four-person fire truck staffing. The additions also include two family advocates at the Center for Child Protection, funding for homeless services, two new branch library delivery units to address the rise in transfers, and more. (The library materials budget was also increased by $500,000). Reductions, also put to a public vote, include the discontinuation of the Travis County Fire Training Academy and the LBJ Fire Academy, eliminating family health unit supervisor and Hepatitis C nurse positions (positions Eenoo characterized as having already been absorbed by existing staff); and eliminating approximately $70,000 in unallocated funding in the city's HIV services contract.

Upcoming Budget Dates

Wed., Aug. 18: City Council work session on General Fund departments (including Public Safety, Parks and Recreation, and Austin Public Library)

Thu., Aug. 19: Council resolution setting the maximum tax rate; first public hearing on the budget

Wed., Aug. 25: Council work session on Austin Energy, Austin Water, Solid Waste Services, and Transportation

Thu., Aug. 26: Second public hearing on the budget

Mon.-Wed., Sept. 13-15: Budget adoption

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city budget, Marc Ott, Ed Van Eenoo, Center for Child Protection, rollback rate

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