City Hall Hustle
4:17 pm
Wed April 24, 2013

City Hall Hustle: Hazy Outlook for Austin in 2014 City Budget

The Hustle on the city budget, Austin Energy and more

Last week, the Austin City Council got its first look at the numbers for next year’s budget.

The financial outlook? Well … we’ll get back to you about that.

The thing is, Austin’s currently negotiating its three public safety contracts – police, fire and EMS. And budget staff call those contracts a wild card in the city’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget.

The city’s cost of doing business is going up. Staff lists 29 million dollars in “cost drivers” – rising insurance and workers comp expenses, maintaining council policies and more. But factor in a potential three percent raise for Austin’s public safety responders – one potential outcome of contract negotiations – and that $29 million balloons to nearly $43 million.

Council member Mike Martinez said the budget “seems to project” a three percent bump “as if it is a starting point. And we’re already saying were going to be millions of dollars short.”

Taking up two-thirds of the $755 million general fund that covers city services, public safety draws the most attention each budget season.

Council member Bill Spelman sang a tune he's sounded at past budget discussions: while calling a three percent raise inequitable, he also asked for hard evidence to continue the city policy of hiring two officers per every thousand residents.

“The police department is the only department in the city government that actually gets an automatic increase,” Spelman said. “And it’s no surprise that they have the biggest share of the general fund increases from the last 10 years, because of that automatic increase.”

All said, an Austinite with a median value, $190,000 thousand dollar home could pay $160 more each year. That includes a worst-case scenario on property taxes – a hike to the “rollback” rate, the biggest increase allowed under state law without a special election – but also utility rate and fee increases.

The council won’t act to adopt the Fiscal Year 2014 budget until September.

Rounding Out the Agenda

In Fact Daily’s Mike Kanin comes by to talk more about the city budget, and another throwdown facing council: competing plans for an independent governing board at Austin Energy.  We go through competing plans the council is mulling, plus the power struggle over who will appoint top brass going forward.

Got the inside scoop on City Hall? Drop us a line at news@kut.org