City Budget: More Cuts and Hikes on the Way

Austin Energy, Austin Water both proposing fee increases

The new budget proposes cutting hours and the operating budget for materials at Faulk Central Library.
The new budget proposes cutting hours and the operating budget for materials at Faulk Central Library. (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Once again, Travis County tax rolls have saved the city of Austin's budget, helping close a nearly $10 million gap between revenues and expenditures in the city's proposed fiscal year 2012 budget. And while the losses of neighborhood amenities that sparked protest have in some cases been reversed, there's still some pain: reduced hours at the central library and shuttering some parks programs.

PROPERTY TAX AND FEES

A 2.5-cent property tax increase is proposed, from $0.4571 to $0.4823 per $100 valuation. It's still technically at the "rollback rate" – the highest increase the city can install without a special election. But thanks to a $3 billion increase in taxable values on the Travis County tax rolls, the increase is a half-cent lower than the 3-cent increase projected during April's fiscal forecast. On a median-priced home of $182,228, the increase would be $2.97, from $70.27 to $73.24.

Pending council approval, Austin Energy will implement its long-awaited rate change, a 12% systemwide increase. Austin Water will also increase rates and institute a flat, $6 "sustainability fee" to reflect changes in its energy/cost mix.

CUTS AND ADD-BACKS

Library: Reducing Faulk Central Library's operating hours by two hours Monday through Thursday would save the city $102,000. Also reduced is the operating budget for materials, saving $243,000; however, an $800,000 increase in capital budget for materials for the new central library – which is included in the capital budget this year for construction – means those materials will be put into circulation now.

Health and Human Services: Reducing unallocated funding for social services – "left over" money after fulfilling service contracts – means $200,000 saved.

Parks and Recreation Department: Shrinking 27 supervised playground site programs to 10 would mean $184,000 saved. The city is looking at creating four new "premier sites" with expanded play and educational programs, strategically placing them across the city. While no neighborhood pools will be closed, closing Balcones and Dick Nichols pools during winter alone saves $243,000.

Public Safety: Moving the Austin Police Department's cadet academy from October to April would save $1.8 million. Also, a "true up" of the department's overtime budget saves $1 million. The budget contains funding for 49 more police officers – maintaining a staffing ratio of two officers per 1,000 residents. It also funds 18 new paramedics and further funds four-person staffing on fire trucks.

UPCOMING ACTION

City Manager Marc Ott's proposed budget was presented to City Council on Wednesday, July 27. Council members will examine the proposals in work sessions Aug. 17 and 24, with public hearings Aug. 25 and Sept. 1. Budget adoption is scheduled to occur Sept. 12-14.

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