Council Preview: A Plan for Better Preparedness

Council to consider a communitywide “resiliency plan”


City council member Leslie Pool (Photo by John Anderson)

City Council could take the first step toward creating a communitywide "resiliency plan" at their meeting today, May 7. A resolution from Council Member Leslie Pool would direct staff to sketch out what a comprehensive plan would look like, how much it would cost, and what can be done to better prepare systems in the city and the community at large for the next major crisis to hit Austin.

The plan would address a range of issues impacted during a crisis – financial and food insecurity, homelessness, public health support for those with chronic medical conditions – all with the goal of "building stronger communities that can survive, adapt, and thrive throughout challenging times," per a joint message board post from the item's sponsors. It would incorporate elements of the Austin Community Climate Plan and Climate Resilience Action Plan for City Assets and Operation, but would not be limited to preparing for impending climate catastrophe.

The plan could also lead to the addition of a Chief Resilience Officer, a presumably well-paid new executive position that would be charged with leading the development and implementation of the plan. That raised the eyebrows of Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza, who at a work session Tuesday expressed hesitation over new spending amid an economic crisis. But as she acknowledged, the resolution does not commit any new money, it just directs staff to come back with ideas of what the plan could cost by June, just in time to have the larger "Is this expense worth it?" conversation during budget hearings.

In more immediate crisis response, a resolution from CM Jimmy Flannigan would task staff with developing a program for the city to rapidly distribute $18 million in federal stimulus money it will get through the CARES Act. It would establish three different funds: one to provide loans to small businesses, another to help nonprofits, and another to fund child care services. The resolution lays out guidelines for how and to whom the money should be distributed. The $10 million in the business loan fund, for instance, would essentially expand the reach of the existing Economic Injury Bridge Loan Program, but another $1 million would be reserved for helping businesses comply with safety regulations before being allowed to reopen under state orders. The $1 million set aside for child care centers will be reserved for those already serving families who receive child care subsidies. And the nonprofit fund ($6 million) will be split among public charities supporting education, workforce development, health and human services, arts and culture, and environment and animals.

Staff would also work with other local governments to develop a regional "Economic Response Dashboard," which would track relief dollars at the local, state, and federal levels, along with private fundraising. Where that funding is coming from, how it is being spent, and who it is serving would be posted online in as close to real-time as possible, according to the resolution. Staff is expected to report back on May 21 on the resolution, as well as on a broader spending framework for the $170.8 million in CARES funding the city is expected to receive.

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