AUSTIN (KXAN) — Calls for more efficient government spending in Austin are getting louder.
A newly-formed PAC, “Citizens for an Accountable Austin,” says it has 17,000 of the 20,000 signatures needed to put a petition on the ballot, and let voters decide if they want a third-party audit of all city departments.
Outside of the back gate to Barton Springs Pool, a young man carrying clipboards could be heard time and time again saying, “Hi guys, are you all city of Austin voters?”
He continued, “I’m trying to get some support for a city audit, we want to make sure taxpayers know where their money’s going, try to minimize waste in the city government.”
From Barton Springs to the Bullock Museum, Friday afternoon, “Citizens for an Accountable Austin” was trying to find people like Vickie Dunlevy to sign the petition.
“I think that we’re all right now distrustful of our government. Whether it’s city, county, state, national. Things have just happened in the recent past, that I think we’re all wondering, ‘Who can we trust?’ In our government,” Dunlevy told KXAN. “Every business, which the city is a business, needs to have a checks and a balance system. So if we’re not doing that, I’m really surprised that we’re not. That there’s not something external with their internal audits.”
Save Our Springs Alliance executive director Bill Bunch is one of the people behind the petition. He’s been critical of the convention center’s push for an expansion and is in an ongoing lawsuit against Visit Austin, the city’s convention and visitors bureau.
“They have been, in our view, hiding critical information about how they spend our money,” he said.
Other concerns he mentioned included a city utility incorrectly charging thousands of customers on their water bill.
“They finally came clean and said no, we had some misreads,” Bunch said. “That’s something they should have figured out months earlier.”
Bunch said the audit would provide a comprehensive look at the entire city’s operations, every department plus the utilities.
But a big question is how much an audit like this would cost.
“You know, is that expensive?” A man signing the petition outside of Barton Springs said. “That’s another question, you know, are we going to spend more money on that, the taxpayer.”
Bunch said, “We would certainly believe that whatever that cost might be, it would be a fraction of the savings that they would identify.”
The efficiency audit was supposed to appear on next week’s council agenda, but Council Member Ellen Troxclair was not able to secure enough co-sponsors to get what she calls the “important work,” supported by people on all sides of the political spectrum, started.
In a statement, she told KXAN:
The efficiency audit is a way for the City to better understand how we can provide the best services for the best price, while giving employees the tools and technology they need to excel at their jobs. This is an opportunity to free up resources to return to the taxpayers or to invest in services that have long gone unfunded, or maybe both. That’s why it’s supported by people on all sides of the political spectrum.
We all want government that works. But without the study, we don’t know what’s working well and where there are opportunities to improve. The residents of Austin expect and deserve this transparency.
Other cities have undertaken similar projects with great results. My hope was the City Council would approve the audit ordinance at our next meeting so that we could get this important work started. Unfortunately, I was not able to secure enough cosponsors to allow for the public to have the opportunity to make their case for the audit.
Troxclair’s former chief of staff, Michael Searle, is behind the petition and says this type of audit has been done several times before.
A report from a third-party audit done on the entire state of Kansas resulted in “105 recommendations that would cumulatively provide $2.04 billion in benefits to the state, over the next five years.” That’s according to a statewide efficiency review completed in 2016.
Searle went on to say other municipalities that have done similar audits are the State of Rhode Island, Louisiana, Wyoming, Detroit Public Schools and New York Public Schools.
In a statement, he told KXAN:
Citizen’s for an Accountable Austin, a broad and bipartisan community campaign, is gathering signatures to ask the City of Austin to conduct a third-party independent efficiency audit of all City departments and utilities.
Every year the City faces expanding costs to provide an increasingly wide range of services. With finite resources, a tool that has been used around the country to address these mounting pressures is a government efficiency study, helping governments to ensure that all programs and operations are operating at maximum efficiency, creating the most good for the most people.
The result of the audit would be a menu of opportunities for the City and community to consider implementing and the savings associated with each opportunity. The City would be able to improve service levels while constraining costs. Available resources could be invested in long neglected community priorities. This is a win for Austin.