Austin (KXAN) — As Austin’s Fiscal Year 2020 – 20201 budget adoption process draws closer, city leaders are acknowledging the challenge they face addressing community demands to transform policing in the remaining time frame and within the constraints of an already complex city process.
As city council members share their ideas for budget amendments, Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison proposed a new idea to her colleagues Tuesday: approve a budget for Austin Police for six months, then return as a council to reevaluate and rollout a more informed proposal to make significant changes the department.
“This year’s accelerated budget process has really left us with little time to do the work that’s necessary to create lasting change in how our city addresses public safety,” Harper-Madison said.
This proposal, she suggested, would give city staff the time they say they need to decide how to make the departmental changes that council and advocates are calling for. It would also allow city staff time to recommend a timeline and logistics to carry out an “APD transition budget.”
“This will ensure council is in a position to vote on those items, prior to, or as a part of mid-year budget authorizations in six months,” she added.
It is up to the council to amend and approve City Manager Spencer Cronk’s proposed budget. The budget adoption process starts on August 12.
“Reimagining” public safety
Many community members in Austin have expressed their desire for dramatic changes to policing, taking to the streets in protest and filling up the queue of the city council public comment line by the hundreds.
The council has taken notice, unanimously passing resolutions on police reform and racial justice in June. Council Members Leslie Pool, Greg Casar, and Jimmy Flannigan have called for additional amendments to the police budget.
Council Members are also suggesting amendments to fund public safety in ways outside of policing including creating an Office of Violence Prevention within the city and investing additional dollars in Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services.
City staff have said they are committed to using the proposed budget to “reimagine public safety” but have warned council that some of the changes they are calling for will be difficult to make immediately and may require budget amendments brought before council continuing into the following year.
Tuesday, Austin Mayor Steve Adler said Harper-Madison’s proposal to only fund the budget for part of the year “makes sense” to him because “there is no default to let city government continue operating without having to come back and actually confront some of these ideas and suggestions. So that kind of thing coupled with a calendar [for rolling out changes] makes sense to me.”
Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza expressed more reservations, saying that she is nervous about funding the department for half a year because “I feel that we have given deadlines for things before and then we get to the deadline and many times get asked for an extension of that deadline.”
Harper-Madison also noted that while her proposal wouldn’t make all of the changes community members have been asking for to APD’s budget immediately, it would still free up dollars to be invested in other areas of public safety.
She said the audit of APD’s cadet class (which has been paused by the city) and the creation of a new curriculum for the training academy is unlikely to be completed in time for a November class.
“In which case, I recommend delaying the November cadet class,” she said, noting that funds that would have gone to that class could be reallocated to things like recidivism reduction initiatives, workforce development, and increased funding for Austin Public Health.
KXAN’s Alyssa Goard is working to update this story with the council’s recent budget discussions.