Austin City Council approves $4.5 billion budget, record police funding

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) – After weeks of deliberations, Austin City Council passed a $4.5 billion dollar budget for 2021-2022.

Council also voted on a 4.7% tax revenue increase from last year. City budget officials say Austin homeowners with the median home value will save approximately $17.11 on their tax bill. It’s important to note the calculation factors in homeowners saving due to the city doubling the homestead exemption from 10 to 20%.

Normally, cities in Texas can only increase property tax revenue by 3.5% a year – any increase beyond that would trigger a tax rate election. However, disaster declarations due to COVID-19 and February’s Winter storm allows cities to exceed that threshold for the next year.

The hottest topic during the city’s budget process has been the amount of money allotted to Austin Police. APD’s $442 million budget for 2021-2022 is a record high. It includes funding for two cadet classes.

Following scrutiny over the department’s training and culture, the city halted and then restarted cadet classes in June with a new “reimagined” curriculum.

One directive from council ordered City Manager Spencer Cronk not to begin the 145th Cadet Class until the evaluation and recommendations of the 144th Pilot Cadet Class have been incorporated. The 144th class is serving as a pilot of how APD will train new officers moving forward. The class is getting an overhaul in curriculum and training materials. A consulting firm, city leaders and review panels will monitor the class. APD is expected to regularly accept feedback for ongoing changes.

APD Interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon said the department has 1,809 positions and 1,650 are filled. He added that APD is losing an average of 15 officers per month.

Other budget amendments passed by council include one-time funding for park rangers, anti-displacement programs and relief money for iconic local venues. These do not alter the budget by much.

Here are some of the other highlights:

  • $79.0 million in spending on affordable housing
  • $65 million in funding for the City’s response to homelessness, including prevention, crisis response, housing stabilization, and public space management 
  • $29 million for Reimagining Public Safety initiatives
  • $27 million to construct new sidewalks and improve existing sidewalks citywide. 

Another development that evolved out of budget discussions is COVID-19 vaccine incentives for city of Austin employees. Employees who can show proof of vaccination and are exposed or catch the virus will be provided with two weeks of additional paid leave.

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