Any hopes for a quick adoption of the City of Austin’s annual city budget went out the window this morning, as a proposal from Mayor Lee Leffingwell for a flat two percent cut to departmental budgets created a heated discussion among City Council members.
Citing the impact of a proposed 2.2 cent increase to property taxes – just short of the maximum increase allowed by state law without a special election – Mayor Leffingwell called for a two percent cut to most of the city’s general fund departments, which would create approximate savings of $4.5 million. A 2.2 cent property tax increase would mean an additional $18 each month in city fees and taxes for the owner of a median-valued home (approximately $186,000).
Leffingwell excluded the city’s public safety departments (police, fire and EMS) from the cuts – departments that are the biggest portion of the general fund.
Council members debated whether that requirement cast aside months of budget planning.
“If we were today to take those numbers, without any of that input or any of that process, I believe that we would be acting very prematurely,” said Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole
Ultimately, Leffingwell’s proposal couldn’t muster a second, and was tabled on a 6-1 vote.
Afterward, Leffingwell told KUT News he’d made his intentions to lower the proposed 2.2 cent property tax increase known.
“That’s what I’ve been saying for six months, is that I was going to try the best I could to keep our property tax rate as low as we possibly could, while still maintaining basic services.”
“We’re walking a fine line, it’s going to be a difficult and lengthy process,” he said of the budget adoption. “ … I am stressed, but I am not worried. It’ll happen.”
Council did reach consensus on some items early in the meeting. It approved several staff-recommended changes to the budget, including the creation of three new Fire Department positions to create a Wildfire Mitigation Division, which would work on fire prevention in danger-prone areas. Council also agreed to an $87,000 equipment purchase to fund the new division.
At this hour, council members are taking turns laying out potential budget amendments before they vote to finalize the budget. Two additional budget meetings are scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday – and at this point, council members may need the additional time.