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'Not Able to Keep Up:' Taxes, Fees Rise in Austin's Proposed City Budget

A proposed budget for the City of Austin has the cost of living on the rise – again.

The proposed city budget for 2014, unveiled today, would mean about a $4 monthly increase for owners of a $185,000 home. And that doesn’t include additional rate and fee changes.

The City of Austin’s proposed $3.3 billion budget is $200 million bigger than last year’s. One increase is in employee benefits and salaries. City council members voted this summer to offer new parents 30 days of paid parental leave. City employees are also getting a 1.5 percent raise.

Austin Police will get the same raise. APD is also getting 47 new officers in an effort keep up with the city’s two-officers-per-thousand residents policy. It’s one of several departments slated for new hires. Other positions include:

  • 23 new Planning & Development Review positions to expedite building and development permits, which are currently bringing the city unprecedented revenue.
  • 20 new Parks and Recreation employees to perform maintenance on Austin’s five city-owned cemeteries.
  • 7 new safety inspection positions at the Austin Fire Department.

No raises are included in the budget for AFD and Austin-Travis County EMS, as both groups’ contract negotiations with the city are still unsettled.
Council members had a somewhat skeptical reaction to the proposed budget, drafted over the summer by City Manager Marc Ott: With scores of people moving to Austin each day and development revenues at an all time high, why are Austin residents being faced with higher taxes and fees? (Factor in tax rates from the regions’s other taxing entities – AISD, Central Health, Travis County, and ACC – and a homeowner's annual bill goes up nearly $240.)

“What systemically do we have in our budget, in the way we’re doing business,” asked city council member Laura Morrison, “that means that even with all the growth in our city, we’re not able to keep up with expenses?”

Council member Mike Martinez suggested the question was greater than making growth “pay for itself.” Citing priorities like public safety and transportation, Martinez argued some forms of city expenses “will never” pay for themselves, adding “We don’t charge for fire services.”

Mayor Lee Leffingwell argued the fault for higher taxes rested with the council. “I think we ought to look at ourselves, we ought to look at our agenda every week and see how much money – how much extra money – we’re spending.” Citing the bankruptcy of Detroit, Leffingwell said “that’s not something that happens in one year or five years – its something that happens with policies established over many years.”

The Austin City Council will continue to discuss and make changes to the proposed budget. A final vote isn't scheduled on the budget until September.

What do you think of the proposed city budget? Leave a comment below and let us know.

Wells has been a part of KUT News since 2012, when he was hired as the station's first online reporter. He's currently the social media host and producer for Texas Standard, KUT's flagship news program. In between those gigs, he served as online editor for KUT, covering news in Austin, Central Texas and beyond.
Laura first joined the KUT team in April 2012. She now works for the statewide program Texas Standard as a reporter and producer. Laura came to KUT from the world of television news. She has worn many different hats as an anchor, reporter and producer at TV stations in Austin, Amarillo and Toledo, OH. Laura is a proud graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia, a triathlete and enjoys travel, film and a good beer. She enjoys spending time with her husband and pets.
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