AUSTIN, TEXAS - The Austin City Council was set to take its first vote to approve the fiscal year 2016-2017 budget Monday morning. Instead, the council took no vote at all, delaying action until Tuesday.
The meeting started on a positive note with Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo announcing APD was awarded a $200,000 grant to help clear it's rape kit backlog. He also committed to finding funding in the existing budget to test the rest of the untested kits and kits that are accumulating with the closure of APD's DNA lab, taking that load off council as they finalize the budget.
City staff presented council with a $3.7 billion budget proposal to the council (volume 1; volume 2). It includes a tax rate of $0.4411 per $100 assessed value, which is slightly lower than last year's rate, but the tax bill for a median priced homeowner is still expected to increase by $3.66 a month compared to last year because of increased property values. There is also a utility fee increase of $7.08 a month for the average Austin utility customer, while the average Austin Energy bill is set to decrease by $3.68 a month. Overall, the owner of a median-priced home will see an increase on their tax bill of $7.06.
Balancing the budget has presented its challenges. The homestead property tax exemption along with programs and positions council have added over the past year that was only partially funded left the city with a $3.8 million deficit.
Then, Council spent two months going over the budget and identifying other services they want to be included, such as more staff for the DNA lab, a shorter work week for EMS and funding for social services. But the council did not indicate or vote on what items could be cut from the budget to add those services.
Council Member Delia Garza (District 2) said that was work that should have been completed ahead of Monday's meeting.
"We're still making some really, really big decisions. Of course, one that's always been dear to my heart is our health and human services funding and we have contracts in place right now that with all the proposals, some of those contracts could be totally cut. And so it's very alarming," said Garza.
"Several council members have proposed cuts, me included, and those haven't made their way into the baseline that we're working on right now. So now each of us is going to have to go through and propose a cut and have it voted on. And again, that is work that should have been done last week," she added.
Those cuts were delayed again Monday. Council instead questioned various departments about their budgets, as they have in the past two months, about what could be cut.
They will meet again Tuesday morning at 9:30 and are set to vote on cuts and approving the budget.
Because no vote was taken Monday, the council will either have to approve the budget on first and second reading Tuesday and third reading Wednesday or on all three readings Wednesday. It will also take seven votes to approve the budget instead of six. Council Member Don Zimmerman said during the meeting he intends to vote against the budget. Council Member Ellen Troxclair was absent.
The Austin Council has until Wednesday, Sept. 14 to approve the budget.
(© 2016 KVUE)