Friday, August 13, 2021

Austin City Council Approves Fiscal Year 2021-2022 Budget

Manager Welcomes 'Path Forward to Build on Austin's Many Strengths'

The Austin City Council has adopted a fiscal year 2021-2022 Budget.

The all-funds budget, which includes enterprise departments as well as the core services provided by the General Fund, totals $4.5 billion, and maintains high-quality services while investing in critical infrastructure. 

The General Fund budget is $1.2 billion and the Capital Budget includes $1.3 billion in planned spending. 

Council's adopted budget incorporates the bulk of the Austin City Manager's proposals from last month, while adding a number of investments ranging across childcare, public safety and homelessness. 

"Council's actions today provide a path forward to build on Austin's many strengths while addressing the challenges we face as a city," said Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk. "This Budget covers the increase in our base expenses, delivers our programs and services, and many of the critical reforms that our citizens want and that Council has prioritized, with minimal year-over-year impact on the typical Austin ratepayer." 

Budget Highlights 

The largest portion of the General Fund budget - about two thirds - is allocated to public safety. The remaining third consists of Parks and Recreation, Austin Public Health, the Library, Animal Services, the Housing and Planning Department, and other requirements.

The City continues to reimagine public safety, with new curriculum for the police academy, by responding to mental health emergencies in fundamentally new ways, and by investing in a family violence shelter.

Hundreds of City staff across 13 departments will continue the City's response to the homelessness crisis, with tens of millions of dollars allocated for this ongoing effort.

The FY22 budget also includes $2.4 million for 18 full-time employees to advance Project Connect, a transit plan that includes a rail system, a downtown transit tunnel and an expanded bus system. The team's initial focus will be on design, environmental studies, permitting, utility coordination, and other requirements for two light rail lines.

This budget provides investment in high-priority resilience projects to prepare for threats and guard against potential future emergencies. Projects include a wildfire evacuation assessment to make sure residents have safe escape routes in the event of a large-scale wildfire, a community-wide emergency preparedness campaign to educate Austinites on how to prepare for extreme weather events such as heat waves and severe freezes, a project to help secure the regional food supply chain in the face of potential disruptions or disasters, and further collaboration with community partners to explore proposals for Community Resilience Hubs, publicly accessible facilities that can provide critical emergency services to residents during disaster events. 

Impact on Taxpayers 

The approved property tax rate of 54.10 cents per $100 of taxable value is a 4.7% increase above the no-new-revenue Operations and Maintenance rate. The City tax bill for the typical homeowner - defined as the owner of a median-valued ($399,760) non-senior home – will be $1,730.16 per year or $144.18 per month. This represents a decrease of $17.12 per year or $1.43 per month. Typical senior or disabled homeowners will see a reduction of $173.83 per year or $14.49 per month. 

Under the adopted budget, typical rate payers will see no change to their Austin Energy and Austin Water bills and modest increases to Austin Resource Recovery charges and Transportation User Fees. 

Taken together, the combined impact of tax, rate and fee changes would represent an increase, for the typical ratepayer, of 0.6% - an additional $28.12 per year or $2.34 per month. 

Thursday's approval of City tax and spending plans for the fiscal year beginning October 1, 2021 comes after several months of stakeholder engagement – including an online survey

Strategic Priorities 

This is the fourth year in which the proposed budget was organized by outcome area, and not strictly by City department, to reflect the priorities of the Austin community, using Council's adopted Strategic Direction 2023 as a guide. The outcomes are Culture & Lifelong Learning, Economic Opportunity & Affordability, Government That Works for All, Health & Environment, Mobility, and Safety. 

Council began their deliberations on Wednesday working from the Manager's proposed budget, (snapshot summary here) which included the following investments, now part of the adopted budget: 

  • $79.0 million in voter-approved planned spending to reach key affordable housing goals. 

  • $65.2 million in continued funding for the City's response to the homelessness crisis, with specific funding allocated for preventing homelessness, crisis response, housing stabilization, and public space management. 

  • $29.1 million to maintain and advance progress on Reimagining Public Safety. 

  • $27.7 million to construct new sidewalks and improve existing sidewalks citywide. 

  • $8.5 million in planned capital spending on the City's Safe Routes to School program. 

  • $6.2 million to fund the 144th class and future classes of the reimagined Austin Police Department Training Academy.

After the Manager presented his proposed budget in July, stronger-than-expected sales tax growth freed up an additional $8.9 million, providing a significant boost to City revenues.

On Thursday, Council added the following commitments:

  • Nine new temporary community health workers to allow for community-facing, Austin Public Health boots-on-the-ground to quickly address vaccine hesitancy and access.  

  • Funding for new EMS equipment to help them respond to calls and keep downtown Austin safe. 

  • More than $2 million to support affordable housing projects. 

  • Increased funding for the Parks and Recreation Department's Out of School Time programs to provide affordable childcare in underserved areas. 

  • A new full-time Public Health Educator to help connect people experiencing homelessness with resources that enable them to keep their pets, decreasing animal shelter intake. 

  • Additional staff for the Homeless Strategy Office to help meet the community goal of housing an additional 3,000 people over the next three years. 

  • Extra funding for the Iconic Venue Fund to address the need to save and preserve Austin's iconic music and restaurants as valued cultural assets.

It will be some weeks before the Approved Budget document is published.