Austin City Council Spars Over How to Spend Budget Surplus
The Austin City Council voted this morning to spend part of the city’s $14 million budget surplus on measures approved by voters in November. That includes implementing a civil service system for city employees andcreating city council districts, plus funds for maintenance of city-owned cemeteries.
But what to do with the rest of the $11.5 million that came from higher-than-expected sales tax and development revenues is still up for debate.
Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole proposed putting aside $4 million to lower city property taxes by half a cent in 2014. But council member Mike Martinez says he won’t vote for that because it would only provide 12 months of relief.
“I certainly agree that we need to talk about property tax relief. But, for me, the place to do that is when we are adopting the budget and potentially increasing taxes to cover that budget,” Martinez said.
Council members are also considering allowing the Austin Police Department to hire three forensic scientists to address a crime lab backlog. Police chief Art Acevedo faced questioning over why the department and others in the criminal justice community have suddenly made forensics funding a priority mid-year, well after the department made its current fiscal year priorities known.
“We weren’t appraised of the extent of the challenge with the lab during the budget process last year,” Chief Acevedo told the council. “We were not provided with the sense of the urgency during the budget process, and that’s something we’re addressing going forward.”
After a lunch break, the council is back and still hashing out funding priorities. You can watch the deliberations online.