Austin City Council debating 2021-22 budget, includes record funding for police

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin City Council is set to approve an ordinance to adopt the 2021-22 budget this week. The item is on the agenda for Wednesday, but the final vote could be pushed as late as Friday.

As of Wednesday evening, councilmembers said the conversation would at least bleed into Thursday.

Police funding

City Manager Spencer Cronk proposed a $442 million budget for the Austin Police Department next year, a record high. It’s $10 million more than the budget set for APD in 2019-20.

That budget sets aside funding for more 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.

During the public comment process, hundreds of people asked that less money be spent on police.

“We can’t just throw more police at our problems,” one of the speakers said Wednesday morning. Speakers overwhelmingly asked city council to move the $10 million in funding that is not required to meet the guidance set by HB 1900 to other community resources.

Meanwhile, the Austin Police Association told KXAN last month it’s still worried the money won’t be enough to keep the community safe. It pointed to money that may not actually stay within the department.

“You have to look deep into the budget. There are things called transfers where money’s transferred out of the department into other areas. That’s a big concern,” said APA President Ken Casaday.

You can find the full 2021-22 proposed budget here.

History of police funding in Austin

Last summer, following local protests sparked by the deaths of George Floyd and Mike Ramos, Austin City Council agreed to divert some of APD’s funding to other areas like Austin-Travis County EMS, a family violence shelter, permanent supportive housing and workforce development.

They also planned to eventually move the 911 center and forensics lab out of APD’s control and budget.

In return, lawmakers passed and Gov. Greg Abbott signed HB 1900, which allows Texas to punish large cities that cut funding for police by capping property taxes in those cities, deducting sales tax revenue or stripping annexation powers. 

To meet that requirement, cities would not be allowed to have less staff or a smaller budget for law enforcement than in their budget the year prior.

Cronk acknowledged the reality of that during his budget proposal announcement last month.

“The goal is to keep the independence of some of these areas and to keep the momentum of our reimagining public safety work,” said Cronk. “But we know we have to comply with HB 1900, and we will.”

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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