City Council OKs Budget for 2013
The Austin City Council approved the budget for the 2013 fiscal year on Tuesday. After all the fees, utility rate increases and taxes are added up, a median Austin home will end up paying about $18 more every month.
Getting to this point was a long and sometimes contentious process.
City staff filled most of of the seats in the City Hall chambers. Fingers frantically tapped on keyboards. Every budget proposal the council made affected city departments and programs one way or another. When money was pulled from one part of the budget, affected staff shrugged and mumbled while the beneficiaries nodded and smiled approvingly.
Tony Marquardt with the Austin/Travis County EMS Association championed adding two ambulances to high-demand areas.
“We measure how busy the paramedics are by something called unit utilization hours,” Marquardt said. “The really busy ones are at right now 0.8 — it means 80 percent of the time they are engaged in activities. The demand units that we asked for, we can use the staffing in these ambulances to pick up the workload for the rest of our paramedics.”
Marquardt got one ambulance instead of the two he hoped for.
By Tuesday, most of the city’s $3 billion budget pie was spoken for. That left a prolonged tug-of-war between council members on how to distribute about $7 million. But even that amount, small in the grand scheme of things, was too large for Mayor Lee Leffingwell, because some of it came from the city’s reserve fund. Before the budget passed, Leffingwell wanted his disagreement to go on the record.
“My intention is to vote no as a symbol, an acknowledgement that we could have done better,” Leffingwell said. “I’m not going to let this be a unanimous vote that the entire council approved this budget with a huge, a large, spending increase.”
Leffingwell asked the clerk to call the vote, but council member Mike Martinez interrupted. He was not going to let the mayor blame a tax and fee increase on the council. So Martinez offered to take a week off to go back to the drawing board and meet the mayor’s original demands of having every department except police, fire and EMS cut their budgets by 2 percent.
“At this point, I’m willing to extend this conversation if you’d like to do that, and if you’d like to engage with us about where these cuts would come from and how they impact each and every department,” Martinez said.
“Well, the votes have not been taken, so a substitute motion would still be in order,” Leffingwell replied.
None of the council members offered a motion to go back to the drawing board. Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole said she appreciated the mayor’s efforts to not raise taxes, but she said that to preserve Austin’s quality of life, we have to pay for it. We cannot have it both ways she said. With that, the budget was passed.