AUSTIN, Texas - Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk presented his proposed a Fiscal Year 2020-2021 budget to the Austin City Council Monday, identifying tackling COVID-19 and re-imagining public safety as the two biggest priorities for the city in the year ahead.
According to the City of Austin, this year's proposed $4.2 billion budget is the same size as last year's, but adjusts to new constraints and community expectations, with investments in core programs and infrastructure.
In that budget, the proposed $1.1 billion general fund will support "re-imagining public safety through a reallocation of Police funding to health, housing, and other critical social services," and the Capital Budget includes $1.2 billion in planned spending.
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“Austin remains engulfed by a pandemic that has caused tragic loss across our community, upended our way of life, and triggered an unprecedentedly swift economic contraction. At the same time, the City is taking new steps to confront and end the long history of systemic injustices experienced by people of color by our public safety institutions,” said Cronk in a release from the City. “This budget meets these crises head-on, building on work to combat COVID-19 and help our community recover from its effects, while accelerating the process of re-imagining our public safety system to ensure justice and equal treatment for all our residents.”
The adverse fiscal effects of the COVID-19 pandemic is anticipated to leave the city more than $200 million, or nearly 5 percent, below budgeted projections by the end of the current fiscal year.
“It is nearly impossible to overstate the magnitude of the challenge that COVID-19 has presented, of the loss felt in our community, and of the strain it has placed on everyone’s resources," said Cronk.
According to the city, the proposed budget leverages federal funding provided through the CARES Act to help support the $272 million framework for the city’s COVID-19 response, approved by Council in June. The framework includes planned expenditures of $106 million for emergency response, $63 million for medical and public health needs, and $103 million for economic support.
The proposed budget reduces the Austin Police Department budget by $11.3 million, eliminates 100 vacant sworn police positions, delays the July 2020 cadet class, delays scheduled replacement of duty weapons; and transfers the Austin Center for Events staff to the Development Services Department.
That funding will then be reallocated to alternative public safety strategies and public health services, including mental health first response and family violence programs. Here's how Cronk's proposed reallocation breaks down:
- $3 million to enhance the work of the Office of Police Oversight and the Equity Office, rewrite the Austin Police Department’s General Orders, and conduct and implement audits
- $2.7 million to improve mental health first response by expanding the Integral Care-EMCOT contract for clinical staff and telehealth services, increasing community outreach to underserved communities, and adding 7 new positions to the Community Health Paramedic program
- $2.3 million reallocation within the Austin Police Department budget to replace the department’s 15-year old records management system, which will allow for more-efficient records keeping
- $1.1 million to increase the capacity of mental health services, family violence programs, and immigrant legal services provided by Austin Public Health
- $1 million transfer to the Housing Trust Fund to support key affordable housing goals, including preserving and creating reasonably priced housing within the city of Austin
- $900,000 reallocated within the Austin Police Department’s budget to fund targeted training related to traumainformed response, unconscious bias, and racial and cultural sensitivity, as well as training to safely administer Naloxone to someone experiencing a drug overdose
- $300,000 to support the newly formed Civil Rights Office, which is tasked with enforcement of City ordinances and federal statutes prohibiting discrimination
“To ensure our community’s resilience requires us to confront the systemic and inequitable treatment that communities of color have experienced for generations, most visibly and tragically in the name of public safety," Cronk said. "The recent deaths of Mr. George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of a police officer and our own officer-involved shooting death of Mr. Michael Ramos have amplified the call for justice in our community in ways we cannot ignore.
"The City has started down the path toward ending this injustice but we have further to go and we must stay the course to redefine public safety in Austin," he continued.
Other spending proposals:
- $60.9 million to strengthen the City’s commitment to end homelessness in Austin through housing displacement prevention, crisis mitigation, and re-empowerment efforts
- Additional $3.5 million in Economic Injury Bridge Loans to small businesses through the Family Business Loan Program
- $735,000 to enhance the City’s open-data portal, increasing transparency for Austin residents
- $1.5 million for improvements to the Asian American Resource Center, Carver Museum, and Mexican American Cultural Center
- $423,000 and 6 new positions to fully implement the citywide curbside organic materials collection program
- $14.7 million for sidewalk improvements and $2.3 million for pedestrian safety including hybrid beacons, audible crosswalk indicators, and more visible signs and markings
- $5.1 million for crisis response and victim services
Mayor Steve Adler issued a statement on the proposed budget, saying:
I appreciate the Manager's work (and note that it calls for the lowest year to year increase in fees and taxes in nearly 20 years) and I'm not ready yet to sign off. We need greater assurance that we're leveraging this moment to create transformational change.
Truly re-imagining policing will require us to first re-imagine budgeting. This budget may be a work in progress for the next so-many months and until we know where we're heading.
This budget needs to be the start of undoing generations of institutional discrimination in all we do, including but not limited to policing, while prioritizing being both a safer and a more just city.
The proposed property tax rate is $0.4377 cents per $100 of taxable value, a slight reduction from the current rate of $0.4386, says the city. The rate is 3.5% above the effective Operations and Maintenance rate – the lowest such increase since fiscal year 2004-05.
A typical taxpayer would pay an additional 0.3% for tax, rates and fees combined – equivalent to $12.53 per year or $1.04 per month. This includes a bill reduction for the typical Austin Energy customer, a freeze in Austin Water rates, and an increase in Austin Resource Recovery charges to pay for the citywide implementation of curbside organic materials collection, says the city.
The coming weeks will provide time for public input and budget work sessions. City Council will have the opportunity to review and initiate amendments to the Proposed Budget before final adoption, which is scheduled for August 12.