Affordability; that’s the key word in the $3.5 billion dollar spending plan presented to Austin city council members Thursday.
"I'm really confident about this budget,” said City Manager Marc Ott.
It's the same amount the city approved last year - and city manager Marc Ott admits it's not a perfect plan because of pressure created by a growing city.
"Balancing them, right, in a way that has the kind of impact I hope we can have on the affordability issue, there is still work to do,” said Ott.
The tax bill for the average property owner - under the new budget- would - increase by about $40. It would be higher - except the proposal also includes a first ever 6% homestead exemption. Mayor Steve Adler was quick to note- the numbers may change.
"At the end of the day what I'm personally am going to be looking for and what I'm going to be asking for is some statement of understanding of what a typical household in Austin was paying and what a typical household in Austin will pay after this budget is done,” said Mayor Adler.
Other key elements of the proposed budget include...
- A 3% pay raise for civilian employees.
- The creation of 347 new jobs.
- Electric rates would remain steady, but water and garbage bills would go up.
- $75-thousand has also been earmarked to help city employees pay for transgender reassignment surgery.
"It was a matter that the council was interested in, and it’s something that our staff, professional staff and human resources had been looking at, a function of dialog in the organization of that,” said Ott.
He did not know how many people the budget item would serve.
Most of the $3-billion pays down debt, operates the airport, convention center, and Austin Energy, as well as fund departments that manage roads, water and garbage service. Just under a third of the $3 billion goes into the general fund budget. Public Safety continues to take the biggest bite out of the General Fund budget, 71%, and the Big 3; Police Fire EMS they're set for some increases.
Fire fighters get a built in 2.5% pay hike and a few extra tools, according to Fire chief Rhoda Mae Kerr.
"Some of the new programs we've been engaged with is robotics and UAVs and some of the others still increasing and moving forward with our wildfire program, trying to up our community outreach so that we can get down to zero fire deaths and install new smoke alarms,” said Chief Kerr.
Police- by contract- get a 1% raise. 85 new officers will be hired- but Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said there’s no money for body cameras. APD is still looking for equipment that’s compatible with patrol car dash cameras.
"So we rather have our taxpayers buy the right system than what’s just available on the market,” said Chief Acevedo.
EMS crews are also due a 1% pay raise and 12 new paramedics will also be hired.
Council members have until early September to come up with any changes.