Large Austin bond proposal leaves little for first responders

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The bond proposal Austin voters could approve this November just got larger. With more money allotted for affordable housing, the proposal is now up to $925 million. But the group representing firefighters are worried about what’s not in the proposal.

The current package includes $38 million for renovations of current fire and EMS stations but Bob Nicks, from the Austin Firefighter Association, says we also need money for new fire stations that didn’t make the cut. 

“We’ve identified with the council, five critically needed stations where the citizens are not receiving service. That was our big goal. There was a point where those stations were in the bond package and they were taken off towards the last minute. So we did have some concerns,” says Nicks.

Nicks says response times on the outskirts of the city are too long. In southeast Austin, response times can be up to 14 minutes, nearly double the 8-minute average, he says.

The estimated $86 million to build the new facilities gave the council pause and Nicks agrees. “The cost is outrageous. That’s one of my issues I’ve been talking about. We need to bring these costs down before we start building them.”

While the money isn’t available yet, he’s confident it will be. In May, the council directed the city manager to build the five stations within six years. 

In June, city council approved $6 million in Certificates of Obligation – non-bonded debt for core purposes – to begin designing the stations and acquiring land. Originally, the November bond proposal included $31 million for three new fire stations but the City Manager recommended removing it from the bond proposal. Instead, city staff recommended using more Certificates of Obligations for the fire stations. 

Staff have identified how the city will design, build and pay for the first two projects, the Del Valle/Moore’s Crossing and Travis Country stations. They hope to be completed within two years. 

City Council approval for how to pay for all of the fire stations is still needed. 

There are currently no projects for the Austin Police Department in this recommended bond proposal either.

Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday says they certainly support affordable housing, but council needs to consider other needs as well.

“This council has got to place priority on public safety and the needs of the citizens of this city but these big issues continue, for the last two years, to get kicked down the road and kicked down the road and no decisions are ever made. So now even if we did pass the bond, we’re not even confident we would ever have the money because the city has proven in the past that they pass bonds and projects don’t get done.” 

In a statement, Cary Roberts, executive director of the Greater Austin Crime Commission told KXAN: 

“While the Greater Austin Crime Commission is encouraged by the public safety proposals being discussed as part of the bond package, such as desperately needed fire station renovations, the Austin City Council should also include $47.3 million for long overdue police projects, including northeast and northwest substations.” 

While public safety won’t get much, unless council makes changes before the Aug. 20 deadline, other departments will. The proposal includes $250 million for affordable housing, $184 million for flood mitigation, and $162 million for transportation infrastructure.

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