The city is in the process of developing a budget for its new fiscal year (which starts on October 1st). The main point of debate & discussion is over the police department budget.
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So, there’s been a lot of talk about the city’s budget and the police department lately. Having trouble keeping up with what’s going on? Don’t worry. We’ve got a roundup of the latest developments for you in our latest guide.
Earlier this week, City Council met for a work session, where they laid out a whole host of proposals for reimagining Austin’s public safety system. Most of these proposals are still in the preliminary stages and might take some time to implement, but many Council members signaled they’d be interested in voting on a schedule or timeline for making these changes, so they can still be held accountable to the public.
Next week, Council will begin voting on the budget. That meeting will also be the last chance for public comment on the budget (at least for now), so be sure to tune in!
Last month, City Manager Spencer Cronk released a draft budget proposal for Austin’s 2020-2021 fiscal year, which starts on October 1st. The $4.2 billion budget included an $8.1 million cut to the Austin Police Department’s previously planned budget.
Many nonprofit and grassroots organizations (including the Austin Justice Coalition, Communities of Color United, Grassroots Leadership) are calling for far greater cuts to APD’s budget.
The Austin Justice Coalition is calling for $100 million in cuts to the APD budget this year.
Last week, they released a plan for how to get there, featuring cuts to APD’s budget & ideas for ways to move police department jobs out of APD, so they can be civilianized.
In an email sent out with the plan, AJC wrote that creative solutions are needed, “because we can no longer abide by the ‘usual.’ Just as it was bold and brazen to build systems to uplift white supremacy and benefit a single race in our city and country, it takes similar ingenuity to raze and rebuild systems to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all of our neighbors.”
Council Member Jimmy Flannigan (District 6) has put out perhaps the most ambitious/ creative plan of any of the Council members, calling on the city to “reconstruct” APD into five separate departments.
Because of the big changes it suggests, Flannigan’s plan would likely take more time to implement than those proposed by his colleagues, which Flannigan acknowledged in a Council Message Board post.
“These are not small ideas and will take time and strong commitment to implement, but I believe we can adopt this formally as a whole and/or as budget riders in parts to ensure the public knows our intent while we work through the legal and operational transition,” Flannigan said. You can read his complete proposal here.
Part two of Flannigan’s proposal is to “deconstruct” the current APD headquarters.
In a Council Message Board post, Flannigan wrote, “A community-led effort should be initiated to determine the specifics on how such a valuable property could be leveraged, and possibly serve as a gateway to East Austin.”
Council Member Leslie Pool (District 7) has also put forward a proposal that would make major cuts to APD’s budget.
In a Council Message Board post, Pool wrote, “I am excited and humbled by this journey we are on, and I would like to signal my support for my colleagues’ APD proposals, both for funding reallocations and for restructuring. I think we are aligned in our efforts… And most importantly, we need to earn the community’s trust – that we are serious about these changes, that we are listening and responding, and that we will amplify their voices and put them first in this conversation.” You can read Pool’s complete proposal here.
Council Member Greg Casar (District 4) has also put forward a proposal with big cuts to APD’s budget. In a Facebook post announcing his proposal, Casar wrote, “I’m committed to at least a $100M reduction to APD as we reduce overpolicing and reinvest into community safety.”
Nearly all of the Council members have put forward proposals for ways to spend money that could be freed up by the APD budget reductions.
Mayor Pro Tem Garza is leading an effort to bring more funding for equitable food access in east Austin. Council Member Pool has put forth a proposal to add more Community Health Paramedic staff to our city’s EMS department. And Casar has suggested that funding go toward a family violence shelter.
At Council’s work session on Tuesday, Police Chief Manley did not seem happy about the proposed cuts, calling the idea to delay upcoming cadet classes, “one of the greatest threats to the safety to our community.”
Council members were not happy with this response. At one point, Council Member Flannigan addressed City Manager Spencer Cronk directly, saying, “Spencer, I beg you to give us department heads that are wanting to partner with this Council to do the work. Because I am tired of dealing with department heads who fight the council. And at some point, it sounds like those are your words…”
Many of these Council proposals are still in their preliminary stages. Over the next few days, they’ll get more and more concrete, before Council begins voting on the budget on August 12th.
If you have any last minute thoughts about the city’s budget, now is the time to share them! You can email City Council here or sign up to speak at the August 12th meeting here (signups will not open up until August 7th at 5pm).