AUSTIN, Texas — On Friday, Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk presented his recommendations for the Fiscal Year 2022-23 City budget, which he said aims to address a staff recruitment and retention crisis across city government.
It also includes rate and fee hikes for Austin homeowners.
The budget proposes an across-the-board pay increase of 4% for civilian staff, marking the largest increase in over 20 years for employees such as librarians, rec center staff, utility line workers, waste collection and road repair crews, community health professionals and more. Under this proposal, the City's living wage, or the minimum payable to any employee, would rise by 20% from $15 to $18 an hour. There is also still a longer-term goal for this to increase in the future.
Cronk also proposed that all employees who have been with the City of Austin for at least a year, including both temporary and sworn public safety staff, will receive a one-time retention stipend of up to $1,500 in their pay packets next month. He said annual pay for public safety employees will continue to be determined through union negotiations.
The proposed budget would also provide a typical homeowner with a reduction of more than $100 in the City's portion of their annual property tax bill, even with the additional investments in the City's workforce.
But rate increases from Austin Energy and Austin Resource Recovery and hikes in the Clean Community Fee and Transportation User Fee will have Austin homeowners paying an average of $120 more a year. The 2.7% increase is based on a home worth $448,000. That number includes a 20% general homestead exemption.
The budget proposal comes as a recent report from the Financial Services Department showed an average City-wide vacancy rate of about 17%, with almost 1,900 non-sworn vacancies over nine months. The departments most impacted include Austin Resource Recovery, the Austin Animal Center, the Parks and Recreation Department and the Austin Public Library.
The City noted that while high vacancy rates are not unique to Austin or Central Texas at large, further action is still needed to address recruitment and retention in order to sustain and improve public services over the next year.
“In the wake of the pandemic, just like so many other organizations, our City government today faces a mission-critical challenge when it comes to maintaining our workforce and sustaining the high quality of services our residents have come to expect,” said Cronk. “The simple truth of the matter is that we do not currently have the staff that we need to deliver the services that we must. For that reason, and others, the core feature of our budget proposal is a renewed emphasis on ensuring that, as we move into the future, we are in a position to recruit and retain the people we need to do the job that our community expects of us.”
The motion to increase investments in the workforce was made possible by the "City’s dedication to prudent financial management over the course of many years," officials said in a press release. City leaders added that after a significant revenue loss following the COVID-19 outbreak, Austin is now on track to see a projected 16% increase in sales tax revenue over last year's receipts.
As for public safety, the proposed budget allows for three sworn positions with the Austin Police Department, nine sworn positions for the Austin Fire Department and zero sworn positions for Austin Travis County EMS.
Other highlights of the proposed budget include:
- $73 million in planned capital spending to build and repair city sidewalks
- $3.4 million and 17 new jobs to improve disaster response and community preparedness
- Increased City minimum wage and pay raises to address staffing shortages and sustain services
- $27 million for cultural arts, historic preservation and live music, funded by Hotel Occupancy Taxes
- $4.8 million to clean up homeless encampments in public spaces and near waterways
- 55 new jobs to improve customer service efforts at AUS airport
- $79 million investment in affordable housing to meet goals set by the Austin Strategic Housing Blueprint
- $1 million towards a Trauma Recovery Center to support victims of violent crime
- $3.6 million for wildfire prevention and education
- One-time funding of $5 million for emergency rental assistance to prevent homelessness as rents rise
- A $2.5 million investment in the Iconic Venue Fund, to help secure places of cultural significance.
- New funds and positions to promote resiliency and mitigate climate change, with investments in disaster-response infrastructure, community preparedness programs, and efforts to reduce community-wide greenhouse gas emissions.
The Greater Austin Crime Commission on Friday released the following statement, saying it was alarmed by the proposal:
“The proposed fiscal year 2022-2023 budget does nothing to solve Austin's public safety staffing crisis. It adds no new uniformed positions for EMS, Fire or Police, nor does it offer any solutions to increase training capacity to fill hundreds of vacancies.
“The Austin Police Department currently has 242 vacancies — 13% of its authorized uniformed positions. Strained patrol staffing leads to dangerously slow response times for emergency calls. Staffing shortages are reaching levels from which the police department may never recover.
“Austin/Travis County Emergency Medical Services (EMS) has 150 vacancies representing 26% of its authorized staffing. The Austin Fire Department has 123 vacancies, or 9.8% less than full staffing. Emergency Communications operates most days with 50% staffing on every 9-1-1 shift.
“Austinites deserve better. City leaders must prioritize public safety in the budget.”
A City spokesperson released the following in response:
"The proposed budget focuses on filling existing vacancies and stemming employee attrition city-wide. Adding new positions when we already have too many vacancies would do nothing to improve public safety.
“Contrary to GACC’s claim that the budget ‘does nothing’ to solve our public safety staffing challenges, it includes funding for three cadet academies which will help fill vacancies and get more officers on the ground. APD is also working on a training plan to further accelerate the pace of onboarding new cadets. 135 new sworn police officer positions are included in future years of the forecast period in anticipation of APD getting fully staffed and to implement the police chief’s staffing plan.
“The city manager is committed to working closely with all our public safety departments to increase the number of first responders over the next five years.”
The City of Austin provided the following links for more information on the proposal:
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