AUSTIN (KXAN) — City Manager Spencer Cronk said the largest portion of the City’s General Fund, which covers operational costs and maintains current service levels, could be allocated to public safety for Fiscal Year 2022-23.
The $785 million broken down by emergency department by percentage as follows:
- Police: 35%
- Fire: 18%
- EMS: 9%
The proposed budget also includes a 4% wage increase for civilian staff, which would include non-sworn public safety employees like dispatchers and 911 call-takers. In addition, Cronk announced a one-time stipend of up to $1,500 for all staff members who have been with the City for at least one year. That includes temporary and sworn staff members.
“I have committed to the chief and community and our departments that we are going to fill those vacancies as soon as possible,” said Cronk.
The Greater Austin Crime Commission said — beyond filling current positions — it wants to see more money for bigger training academy facilities and long-term grown to keep up with the population.
“We have to address the police staffing crisis, and the only way to do that is increase training capacity and lower attrition,” said Cary Roberts, the group’s executive director.
The Commission wanted to see a plan to add more positions to each emergency services department in addition to money allocated to filling the current vacancies, according to a statement released shortly after Cronk’s announcement.
“The proposed budget focuses on filling existing vacancies and stemming employee attrition city-wide. Adding new positions when we already have too many vacancies would do nothing to improve public safety,” said Cronk.
He added that part of the $785 million will go towards recruitment.
Critical staffing levels
Mieka Davenport has pepper spray and a baton behind the register at her Central Austin business on North Lamar Boulevard.
“Anything to keep ourselves safe,” she said.
She says there aren’t enough officers to respond to shoplifting and lower-priority crimes at her store.
APD confirms it has received calls from her location. In response to issues of slower response times to lower-priority instances, the department says it’s due to the combination of higher call volumes and low staff levels.
“Definitely a big city with big city problems, and there isn’t the response to meet the need,” said Davenport.
According to the Greater Austin Crime Commission, APD has 13% of its positions vacant, ATCEMS has 26% of its positions vacant and the Austin Fire Department has 9.8% of its positions vacant.
“I think people don’t understand how much crime is actually happening and how little response there is,” said Davenport.