Austin’s proposed budget includes 3.5% tax increase, redirects $11.3 million from police to other services

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — On Monday, Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk revealed the city’s spending plan for Fiscal Year 2020-2021. The total size of the proposed budget remains largely unchanged compared to last year’s budget despite the coronavirus shutdown impacting the local and national economy. The proposal does include, however, taking $11.3 million from the police department and reallocating it to other departments and services.

The total proposed budget is $4.2 billion. Deputy Chief Financial Officer Ed Van Eenoo said that’s down 2.5% from the FY 2019-2020 budget, but the general fund will stay at the same level at $1.1 billion.

Van Eenoo explained, due to the city’s past conservative budgeting practices, they’re able to avoid substantial cuts to the total spending plan. He said they’re also expecting the sales tax revenue to bounce back even though the city has seen a significant decrease in that revenue source during the pandemic.

The proposed budget, Van Eenoo said, is balanced with a 3.5% tax increase. For a typical homeowner, that would be an increase of $19.73 a year.

City Manager Spencer Cronk said in a statement:

“Austin remains engulfed by a pandemic that has caused tragic loss across our community, upended our way of life, and triggered an unprecedentedly swift economic contraction. At the same time, the City is taking new steps to confront and end the long history of systemic injustices experienced by people of color by our public safety institutions. This budget meets these crises head-on, building on work to combat COVID-19 and help our community recover from its effects, while accelerating the process of re-imagining our public safety system to ensure justice and equal treatment for all our residents.”

‘Reimagining public safety’

After the death of Mike Ramos in an officer-involved shooting and the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minnesota, local advocacy groups like the Austin Justice Coalition and Grassroots Leaderships called for reducing the Austin Police Department’s budget.

In June, the Austin City Council approved several resolutions focused on police reform and racial justice.

One of the items directed the city manager to eliminate open positions within the Austin Police Department that APD cannot fill and asked Cronk to look at redirecting those funds to other services.

Cronk’s proposed budget calls for cutting $11.3 million from APD. Last fiscal year, APD operated with a roughly $434 million budget. Earlier this year, in April, the city proposed a $445 million for APD. After the protests and the council resolution, the latest proposed budget for APD is now at $434 million, reflecting the $11.3 million cut.

Advocates had called for cutting $100 million from the police budget.

Van Eenoo said the budget reduction reflects:

  • Eliminating 100 vacant police officer positions ($9.2 million)
  • Delaying the July 2020 cadet class ($1.5 million)
  • Delaying scheduled replacement of duty weapons ($400,000)
  • Transferring Austin Center for Events staff to the Development Services Department ($200,000)

According to the city, the money would then be reallocated to:

  • Provide staffing and resources for the Office of Police Oversight and the Equity Office ($3 million)
  • Expand the city’s contract with Integral Care, fully implementing recommendations made by the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute in 2019; includes adding seven new positions to the Community Health Paramedic Program ($2.7 million)
  • Improve APD’s records system ($2.3 million)
  • Increase the capacity of Austin Public Health’s mental health services, family violence prevention programs and immigration legal services ($1.1 million)
  • The Housing Trust Fund, which supports the city’s affordable housing goals ($1 million)
  • Fund trauma-informed response, unconscious bias and cultural sensitivity training ($900,000)
  • Support the newly formed Civil Rights Office ($300,000)

However, neither side on the budget debate is happy.

“$11 million is disrespectful. $11 million was spitting in our eyes. $11 million was telling the city we don’t take your needs or your wants seriously,” said David Johnson, Criminal Justice Organizer and Grassroots Leadership.

“It is a slap in the face,” added Alicia Torres with ICE Out of Austin.

She said more needs to be taken out of the police budget and sent to community programs.

“We’re going to be demanding more, more investment, more real solutions,” Torres told KXAN. She said the RISE Fund could use more funding. “It is something that we as community pushed for that allocated direct cash aid or help to those most directly impacted. So we need more of that.”

Ken Casaday, President of the Austin Police Associated, also expressed disappointment in the proposed budget.

“They’re going back on their word,” he said. “We had over a million 911 calls last year, and our officers had to respond to those. We expect more this year, and instead of shrinking, we should be growing.”

Van Eenoo said, going forward, city officials will review other functions APD currently performs to see if those responsibilities can be shifted to different departments or agencies. Those areas include police dispatch, forensics lab and internal affairs among many others.

Timeline for greater reform

Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk says the proposed cuts are just the beginning.

He says the community will need to determine what role police should play in Austin.

“We have not heard of what specifically we’re looking for, what our community is looking for from our police department.”

Cronk says he expects more cuts to be made over time, through budget amendments.

“It might be years before we know how to really redefine and reimagine this,” he said, “but we need to start the process now.”

$60.9 million for homeless services

Last fiscal year, the city allocated in its annual budget about $63 million to help address homeless issues. Cronk had described it as a “historic commitment” to ending homelessness.

The FY21 budget proposal includes a similar amount for homeless services. The plan is to spend about $60 million. It includes spending $16.5 million on homelessness prevention programs and $2.6 million to clean up encampments.

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