City Budget

Wells Dunbar, KUT News

The Austin City Council kicks off another three-fer this week – two work sessions and a full Thursday meeting – that will set the ballot for November’s city charter and bond elections.

Today, the council holds a work session previewing its Thursday meeting. But also on the agenda are several items pertaining to this November’s election. One item would let voters approve terms under which the city could sell or lease portions of Austin Energy properties, like the utility’s stake in the coal-burning Fayette Power Plant. That initiative has already received two affirmative votes, so only one more vote is required to add the measure to the crowded November ballot.

Another item would place a charter amendment on the ballot authorizing the council to create an independent board to oversee city-owned utilities such as Austin Energy. No vote has been taken on the measure yet, and with council member Bill Spelman’s potentially decisive vote absent from the dais, it’s uncertain whether the council is ready to approve the item.

Daniel Reese for KUT News

A 2.2 cent property tax increase and additional raises to utility rates and city fees means the median Austin homeowner will paying an additional $18 each month in city fees and taxes, as laid out in City Manager Marc Ott’s proposed city budget for Fiscal Year 2013.

The 2.2 cent property tax increase is higher than the 1.8 cent increase the city originally forecast in April, when it began work on the city budget. According to the City Budget Officer, Ed Van Eenoo, the reason for the boost is a half-billion dollar difference between the Travis County Tax Assessor’s April estimate of the tax rolls, and the certified tax roll delivered in July.

The city's current tax rate is 48.11 cents for every $100 of property value . But without the increase the city budget would see a $17.8 million shortfall as currently written.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

After nearly a month off the Austin City Council is getting down to business, with three major meetings this week.

The fun starts Tuesday, as the council convenes for a work session. Instituted last year in the wake of alleged open meetings act violations, normally Tuesday work sessions are a chance for members to vet topics they’ll consider at their regular Thursday meetings. But this Tuesday’s meeting includes potential action on two long-simmering issues:

Discussion of November 2012 election matters and potential direction to staff.

This item could include matters related to the anticipated November bond election. 

Photo by Jeff Heimsath for KUT News

The city is proposing a 1.8 cent increase in property taxes. That’s just a hair under the maximum increase allowed – 1.85 cents – without a special tax election.

That’s one of the findings in the City of Austin’s preliminary, proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2013, presented to the City Council this morning.

Going off current median home values – approximately $182,000, but due to change once the county sets new property valuations – that’s a $33 annual increase.

Photo by KUT News

It turns out compiling a $1.5 billion wish list of city projects was the easy part.

Last week KUT reported about the massive “needs assessment” City of Austin departments compiled with an eye towards this November’s bond election: millions of dollars for projects including development of the Waller Creek riverwalk downtown, new police and fire stations, and open space acquisition.

Photo by Daniel Reese for KUT News

While most of the chatter over Austin’s November bond election has revolved around urban rail and medical schools, those aren’t the only potential items on the ballot. In fact, they’re only a fraction of them.

We got a reminder of that this week when city departments presented a “needs assessment” to the Bond Election Advisory Task Force, a citizen task force created to recommend what makes it onto the ballot.

What is a needs assessment? Essentially, it’s a wish list from city departments outlining projects and initiatives they would like to undertake. The proposals are then weighted by need and urgency, and also compared against a set of values (cost-effectiveness, geographic balance, environmental protection, and more). Omnibus projects like rail or a med school would be considered separately from these departmental proposals.

While there’s no guarantee any of the below projects will make it before voters in their present form,  the list offers a revealing look at how city departments rank their priorities. So what’s on this massive, $1,500,000,000 wish list? We break it down below, highlighting the biggest proposals in each department:

Photo by KUT News.

Update 10:08 a.m.

Texas Parks & Wildlife says there is a misperception that Bastrop State Park is open to the public today. The TPWD says the park is not open and will stay closed (from Gottier Trace and Park Road 1C to the west) at least through October while wildfire damages are assessed.

Disaster Recovery Center Opening in Bastrop

Starting today people affected by the Bastrop County wildfires can meet face to face with state and federal disaster recovery officials. Representatives from the state, FEMA and the U.S. Small Business Administration will help people get registered for aid. The new Disaster Recovery Center will be open every day of the week. 

Photo by Callie Hernandez for KUT News.

City of Austin Releases Budget Cut Options

The City of Austin has released a menu of possible budget cuts for 2011-2012. The items on the table include: reducing hours at the Faulk Central Library, closing some neighborhood pools, delaying the hiring of 47 new police officers, and only hiring certified firefighters to cut hiring and training time. 

Photo by Marjorie Kamys Cotera, courtesy of the Texas Tribune.

Senate Committee to Take Up Budget

The Texas Senate Finance Committee will take up the state's budget and could vote on it today. The Senate's proposed cuts aren't as deep as those approved by the House.  KUT's political reporting partner, the Texas Tribune, reports Chair Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, wants to include a measure to use $3 billion from the state's Rainy Day Fund to balance the budget if additional revenue can't be found. Once the committee votes, the budget bill goes to the full senate.