The city is in the process of developing a budget for its new fiscal year (which starts on October 1st). The new budget will influence everything from Austin's response to COVID-19 to police reform efforts.
Get involved in the city's budget process! Sign up to speak at a public hearing, email your Council member, or join a local advocacy organization.
Maybe this is the first time you’ve ever paid attention to the city’s budget. Maybe you’ve read a few news articles in the past, but have never really turned that interest into action. Maybe you’ve been galvanized by nationwide calls to “defund the police” and reimagine our public safety systems.
Whatever the reason, keeping track of everything going on with the formation of Austin’s new $4.2 billion budget can be super confusing, especially if you’re new to the process. That’s why, over the next few weeks, we’ll be publishing a series of Budget 101 stories (both on our website and on Instagram). Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for you to learn more and get involved in one of the most important things the city works on all year.
Earlier this week, City Manager Spencer Cronk presented his proposed budget for Austin’s 2020/2021 fiscal year. You can read his entire speech here.
The budget is broken down into City Council’s six strategic outcomes for Austin – safety, economic opportunity and affordability, a government that works for all, health and the environment, mobility, and culture/ lifelong learning.
This year’s entire budget is $4.2 billion. While this might sound a little high, it includes pretty much everything the city spends money on, including our utilities (Austin Energy & Austin Water), trash/recycling/compost pickup, the convention center, the airport, parks, and our police department.
This year’s general fund is $1.1 billion. This is the part of the budget you’re most likely to read about in the news or hear about on social media because it’s where the majority of the city’s discretionary spending comes into play. The general fund pays for the things you usually think about when it comes to the city budget – parks, libraries, animal shelters, police, fire, and EMS.
If you care about the city’s budget, this is the pie chart you want to look at.
Not surprisingly, the pandemic is having a big impact on the city’s budget this year, reducing the city’s revenues while raising the demand for many city services.
Fortunately, as City Manager Spencer Cronk explained, “Our robust reserve position accumulated through years of conservative revenue projection, responsible budgeting, and proactive financial management, has prevented the layoffs and furloughs required in other cities.”
Federal COVID relief funding ($250 million) has also helped to relieve some of the financial burden, but with tourism-related revenues down, our city’s cultural arts, historic preservation, and live music funding is taking a 33% hit.
The city’s budget document is hundreds of pages long, but some new things you can expect to see in this year’s budget include:
The creation of a resiliency position within the city’s Equity Office to help Austinites overcome short-term crises like COVID-19 and longterm stressors, like poverty & climate change
Development of a new Austin Conservation Corps to provide jobs and job skills to Austinites working on conservation projects
$1.2 million to increase the city’s electric vehicle fleet to 283
Millions of dollars for homeowner assistance programs, homelessness services, & displacement prevention
Police department funding has become one of the central issues of this year’s budget. Amid calls from activists for dramatic cuts, the City Manager’s initial proposal makes only modest reductions to APD funding, while opening the door for future conversations & bigger changes.
“The magnitude of demonstrations in support of police reform show that we have the momentum and community support to make significant changes that will improve our city and ensure that public safety in Austin reflects our community values,” City Manager Spencer Cronk said when presenting the budget. “At the same time, we must remember that this is not just a law enforcement issue. This is a public health issue. This is a social services issue. This is a social justice issue. And this is very much an issue of trust and accountability. This effort takes us further on the path to creating an Austin that is safe for all. And, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg says, ‘Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.'”
Over the next few weeks, this will likely be the main topic of conversation, as community groups push City Council to make bigger changes than what’s been initially proposed.
Here’s what Mayor Steve Adler had to say, “I appreciate the Manager’s work (and note that it calls for the lowest year to year increase in fees and taxes in nearly twenty years) and I’m not ready yet to sign off. We need greater assurance that we’re leveraging this moment to create transformational change. Truly re-imagining policing will require us to first re-imagine budgeting.”
Each year when the city sets a new budget, it impacts your property tax bill.
Recognizing the fact that COVID-19 has left a big financial hit on Austin families and that an election on the massive expansion of our public transit network in November could end up raising property taxes, the proposed budget includes the lowest tax increase we’ve seen in a while.
The City Manager’s proposed budget is not the final document. City Council will now spend the next few weeks editing and changing it before taking a final vote in August.
Have opinions about the budget or ideas for changes that should be made? Sign up to speak at one of the upcoming (virtual) public input meetings. Speaker signups will open several days before each meeting and close the day before the hearing at noon. Check this website for a speaker signup form.