AUSTIN, Texas — The Austin City Council heard a 2020 budget proposal for the city for the first time on Aug. 5.
Cronk presented the budget at LifeWorks Sooch Foundation Youth & Family Resource Center.
Homelessness and policing were two areas of focus for the new budget.
The proposal includes a "historic investment" of $62.7 million in response to the homelessness crisis. This is a $17 million increase from the previous fiscal year budget and a "nearly three-fold increase" since the City changed to the 10-1 format for council.
That $62.7 million includes $20.4 million for housing displacement prevention, $23.9 million for crisis mitigation services, and $18.4 million for programs that re-empower families and individuals.
"I'm really excited to see what is an extraordinary investment in homelessness that this budget proposes," Mayor Steve Adler said after the budget presentation. "My hope is is that this kind of bold step will serve as a real rallying moment for businesses and faith communities and nonprofits and neighborhoods to really accelerate their efforts as well."
On Aug. 22, the city council held the first public hearing on the budget, when at least 50 people signed up to testify.
Many people expressed support for the investment in addressing homelessness. Others supported and encouraged more of an investment in public safety.
Several people testified, requesting a salary increase for lifeguards at Barton Springs Pool. Another large group testified asking the City to provide funding for access to abortion care.
The group wants the City to fund $150,000 to provide services like housing and transportation to women who want to get an abortion.
Don Zimmerman, founder of the Travis County Taxpayers Union and former Austin City Council member for District 6, thinks the increased spending on addressing homelessness is a step backwards.
"The increase is gonna make it far, far worse," said Zimmerman. "We’ve had homelessness for thousands of years – there’s nothing new about this. What’s new is the government subsidies increasing to staggering levels which enable people to live indefinitely in homeless encampments."
He also says it could negatively impact taxpayers.
"The homeless problem is getting worse because of the increased subsidies and because of these crazy ordinance changes that show favoritism to people who pay no property taxes at the expense of those who pay too much property tax," said Zimmerman.
But some council members are optimistic that the extra money to help the homelessness is worth it.
"Ending homelessness in this city is a top priority for our City Council," Austin City Council member for District 9, Kathie Tovo, told KVUE. "I'm supportive of a budget that includes a substantial increase for housing and services for individuals experiencing homelessness."
Council member for District 3, Sabino Renteria, agrees.
"If we can help these people get off the street and really give em some good services where they can be inside of a shelter – where we can work with these people and see what we need to do to get em back to productive citizens, that's what our whole goal is," said Renteria.
City manager Spencer Cronk is also creating a Homeless Advisory Council and announced that Lori Pampilo Harris will be the first Homeless Strategy Officer. She's coming from Orlando, Florida, where she served as senior advisor on homelessness and social services to Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer.
Prior to Harris's appointment with the City of Orlando, she spent nearly 14 years with Habitat for Humanity International in various leadership capacities.
In addition to the homelessness investment, the city is looking to add 30 officers to the Austin police force. They also want to add two more victim services counselors, bringing the total number to 32, as well as an additional $1 million for processing DNA evidence, including sexual assault kits.
"I think this continued investment in public safety will allow us again to take the steps that we need to, to keep our community as safe as possible. We simply no longer live in a society where police departments can protect their communities from all harms as we all saw so tragically this past weekend," Police Chief Brian Manley said after the budget presentation.
Last year, the City spent $5.7 million to bring in 33 new police officers.
"This year our mission is to build on our resources while at the same time bracing the City's budget against the future impacts of the state's decision to lower the cap on local property tax revenue growth," said Cronk.
Doing these things would afford us time to seek new revenue sources and "to have the difficult conversations as a community about where services can be reduced or possibly cut," he added.
"Although the daunting challenges posed by the revenue cap are real, we can mitigate much of the damage through careful financial management and by remaining laser-focused on our highest community priorities while continuing to create further operational efficiencies," he said.
Cronk said the initiatives were intended to develop "a long-term financial sustainability in the era of the 3.5% cap."
A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for Aug. 22 and 28. The final budget is expected to be adopted on Sept. 10.
The full proposed budget can be found on the City's website.
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