City Closing In on Budget Approval
The Austin City Council is meeting today to discuss and possibly change the city’s proposed budget for 2013. A vote could happen as early as today or as late as Wednesday on the final slicing of the $3.1 billion pie.
Budget watchers tend to ask how local spending measures up against cities of similar size. But Austin city officials say that’s not a fair comparison to make.
“It can be difficult because the basket of services are not the same between any 2 cities,” said Ed Van Eenoo with the city’s Financial Department. “If you were to look at the size of the Austin’s budget relative to the size of its population, it’s probably a little higher than some cities, because most cities do not run an energy utility. Our energy utility alone is in excess of a $1 billion operation.”
The other $2 billion plus covers the cost of running the water department, drainage utility, police department, fire department, libraries, parks, EMS, the Convention Center and the airport, and paying for city employees.
Two thick binders dissect point by point the cost associated with each of these operations. And studying that document as a whole has prompted many questions from Austin’s newest council member, Kathie Tovo.
“How well we are funding our youth programs? How well we are funding our recreation centers?” Tovo said. “I’ve asked some very specific detailed questions about that. I’m also looking carefully at some of the Health and Human Service needs and seeing if there are ways to provide for more funding for any of those.”
Like Tovo, other council members have submitted their budget questions to the Financial Department. Some just seek clarification about some topic. But others have to do with the possibility of reshuffling money to fund projects council members see as priorities.
“There always are demands beyond what the city’s ability to fund will be,” Van Eenoo said. “That’s really the challenge of the budget process: it’s setting those priorities and trying to get a budget that, as closely as possible, adheres to the overall priorities of the community.”