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City Council Adopts $3.5 Billion 2015 Budget

Austin Monitor

This story comes to us from our city hall reporting partner, the Austin Monitor.

City Council adopted the Fiscal Year 2015 budget and tax rate Tuesday, despite Mayor Lee Leffingwell’s dissent.

Council members voted in favor of an operating budget with an $854 million general fund after approving a set of amendments this week that totaled $3.4 million. They also increased combined enterprise and internal service fund spending by $1.2 million, and critical one-time expenditure fund spending by $3.3 million.

Leffingwell objected to the operating budget and ultimately voted against it. “I think the budget process could have been a lot worse, but I think we could have done a lot better, too,” he said, before Council voted 6-to-1 in favor of the item.

Council also voted in favor of a capital budget of $731 million, after approving an additional $89.7 million in amendments. About $78 million of the additional funding was allocated toward potential home buyouts in the Onion Creek and Williamson Creek floodplains.

Council Member Mike Martinez made a motion including an option for Williamson Creek 25-year floodplain residents to opt out of a buyout, if one is offered. Council voted 6-1 to adopt that motion, with Leffingwell objecting to approving the buyout measure altogether.

“Many of those residents … aren’t impacted by flooding and simply don’t want to be bought out, and so I think we should give them that option,” Martinez said, noting that the option would only apply to the potential Williamson Creek buyout and would not affect the Onion Creek plan. “I want to make sure that they have the option to enter a buyout program or not, and not face condemnation if they don’t.”

Council voted 6-to-1 to adopt the proposed property tax rate of 48.09 cents per $100 of taxable valuation, which is 2.2 cents lower than last year’s rate. Leffingwell voted against the rate, which he had attempted to reduce during Monday’s meeting.

Among other things, Council amendments allocated additional funds toward city services and programs, including the Austin Independent School District, the Austin Public Library, flood prevention and more.

A portion of the additional funding went toward creating 41.5 full-time city government positions in addition to the 186.5 that staff proposed.

Toward the end of the operating budget discussion, Council Member Bill Spelman expressed concerns about numerous proposals that Council had not been able to fund.

“We have very little money left on the table to spend, and we have a stack of proposals that I think many of us would like to be able to fund if we had more cash available,” Spelman said.

One example Spelman gave was the school district, which is in need of funding for “valuable programs” that “kids, parents and the school district will not be getting, because the school district can’t afford to fund them and we have not been able to fund them fully.”

Spelman made a motion to cut the increase in Austin Police Department full-time positions from 59 to 46, which is the number of sworn officers that Assistant Chief Brian Manley said would go to patrol. He added that the department originally requested 126 new full-time positions.

Only Spelman and Council Member Laura Morrison voted in favor of the motion, which Deputy Chief Financial Officer Ed Van Eenoo said would have freed up about $1.1 million.

Leffingwell commented that he felt strongly on the issue. “For me, public safety is our highest priority,” he said. “I would even go so far as to say it’s our sacred duty to make sure that it’s our highest priority, and that the people in our city are safe in their homes, on the streets and in their neighborhoods.”

The budget, which totals approximately $3.5 billion, will take effect on Oct. 1.

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