Higher taxes, fees on ta­ble

Sales tax rev­enue boost would let of­fi­cials avoid pos­si­ble cuts, add city em­ploy­ees

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Sarah Cop­pola AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN STAFF

The City of Austin would hire 88 more po­lice of­fi­cers, fire­fight­ers and paramedics un­der the less-bleak-than-ex­pected 2010-11 bud­get that of­fi­cials pro­posed Wed­nes­day.

Pro­grams that were in dan­ger of be­ing axed, such as li­brary hours, a po­lice cadet class and the Trail of Lights, would be spared be­cause of higher-than-pre­dicted sales tax rev­enue, bud­get writ­ers told the City Coun­cil.

But those pro­grams and added ser­vices would come at a cost to tax­pay­ers.

The owner of a me­dian-value home of $184,484 would pay $843 in city prop­erty taxes next year, an in­crease of $52 or 6.6 per­cent from this year. Util­ity bills for ser­vices such as wa­ter and elec­tric­ity would in­crease a to­tal of $4.94 a month for the av­er­age cus­tomer.

Con­tin­ued from A1

All city em­ploy­ees would get pay raises, 47 va­cant jobs would be cut, and 12 jobs would be turned into dif­fer­ent po­si­tions.

Over­all, it is a rosier bud­get pic­ture than last year’s, when the city cut 124 va­cant jobs, in­creased taxes and gave no em­ployee pay raises.

“We took our medicine and made a lot of tough de­ci­sions last year,” city Bud­get Of­fi­cer Ed Van Eenoo said. “We are now in a bet­ter po­si­tion than many other cities.”

The City Coun­cil will hold two pub­lic hear­ings be­fore ap­prov­ing the bud­get in mid-Septem­ber. The bud­get will take ef­fect Oct. 1.

Like other cities, Austin went through sev­eral rounds of cost-cut­ting in the past few years as the econ­omy tanked, prop­erty val­ues dipped and con­sumers spent less.

Sales taxes and prop­erty taxes make up most of the op­er­at­ing fund that pays for Austin’s ba­sic ser­vices, such as parks, li­braries and po­lice.

Proper ty val­ues have dropped 3.8 per­cent since last year. But sales tax rev­enue be­gan to re­bound this year af­ter a long slump and is ex­pected to keep ris­ing next year.

That will give the city nearly $11 mil­lion more to work with in 2010-11 than it ex­pected.

The bud­get plan in­cludes money to add 48 po­lice of­fi­cers, 30 paramedics, 10 fire­fight­ers and 72 other city work­ers, Van Eenoo said.

The paramedics would staff am­bu­lances in Avery Ranch in North­west Austin and Har­ris Branch and on Har­ris­glenn Drive in North­east Austin, and the ex­tra fire­fight­ers would ‘This is a meat-and-pota­toes bud­get,’ Austin Mayor Lee Leff­in­g­well, lis­ten­ing to the pro­posal at City Hall, said Wed­nes­day. Leff­in­g­well said he was pleased the plan pre­serves and en­hances ser­vices. help the city get closer to its goal of hav­ing four fire­fight­ers on ev­ery firetruck — a na­tional stan­dard.

“This is a meat-and-pota­toes bud­get,” said Mayor Lee Leff­in­g­well, adding that he was pleased by the pro­posal. “We are pre­serv­ing and in many cases en­hanc­ing core city ser­vices.”

The bud­get also in­cludes ex­tra money for new li­brary ma­te­ri­als, so­cial ser­vices for chron­i­cally home­less peo­ple, more land plan­ning staffers, two fam­ily ad­vo­cate jobs in the Cen­ter for Child Pro­tec­tion, car­ry­ing out a plan to in­crease pet adop­tions and bol­ster­ing the city’s three pen­sion funds, one of which has been hit es­pe­cially hard by the eco­nomic down­turn.

Five va­cant parks jobs would be turned into dif­fer­ent jobs ded­i­cated to bet­ter main­tain­ing down­town parks. Two other va­cant jobs would be changed into con­tract com­pli­ance jobs in Fleet Ser­vices, a depart­ment that’s been plagued re­cently by al­le­ga­tions of mis­man­age­ment.

The city would cut money for an HIV pre­ven­tion pro­gram, an LBJ High School academy to re­cruit fu­ture fire­fight­ers and the video traf­fic mon­i­tor­ing of stalled ve­hi­cles and car wrecks.

The money cut from the HIV and traf­fic mon­i­tor­ing pro­grams has his­tor­i­cally not been spent, and some money would re­main to con­tinue those pro­grams, Van Eenoo said. The academy has a poor suc­cess rate: Only one grad­u­ate be­came an Austin fire­fighter, he said.

The bud­get is based on a tax rate of 45.71 cents per $100 of prop­erty value, up from 42.09 cents this year.

State law would al­low the coun­cil to raise the rate to 46.93 cents be­fore res­i­dents could pe­ti­tion for an elec­tion to limit the in­crease.

Choos­ing that ceil­ing rate would give the city an ex­tra $9.2 mil­lion to work with. But three of seven coun­cil mem­bers must run for re-elec­tion next spring and will prob­a­bly be wary of choos­ing the high­est pos­si­ble tax rate.

“I would be very un­com­fort­able in­creas­ing the rate” be­yond what bud­get staffers pro­posed, said Coun­cil Mem­ber Bill Spel­man, who won’t face re-elec­tion un­til 2012. “We’re still in a re­ces­sion, and we would al­ready be ask­ing the pub­lic to pay more” at the 45.71-cent rate, he said.

Po­lice of­fi­cers, fire­fight­ers and paramedics would get 3 per­cent raises next year, as re­quired by their con­tracts. Po­lice of­fi­cers and paramedics gave up sched­uled pay raises this year to help the city save money.

Non-pub­lic-safety work­ers, who also got no raises this year and have no bar­gain­ing rights, would get 2.5 per­cent raises in the 2010-11 bud­get.

Van Eenoo said it would cost an ex­tra $2 mil­lion to give non­pub­lic-safety work­ers raises of 3 per­cent in­stead of 2.5 per­cent. A few coun­cil mem­bers expressed in­ter­est in that idea at Wed­nes­day’s bud­get pre­sen­ta­tion.

Wa­ter bills would rise an av­er­age of $3.84 a month, partly to pay for con­struc­tion projects that are planned or un­der way, in­clud­ing a new wa­ter treat­ment plant.

Cus­tomers who use the biggest of three garbage carts, 90 gal­lons, would pay $1 more a month un­der the pro­posed bud­get, and res­i­dents who use the medium-sized 60-gal­lon cart would pay 35 cents less. That change is de­signed to en­cour­age res­i­dents to trash less and re­cy­cle more.

Austin En­ergy would tack on a 79-cent fee to its bills to cover Austin’s por­tion of statewide trans­mis­sion lines that will carry wind power from West Texas.

The city-owned util­ity has not in­creased its base elec­tric­ity rates since 1994 and needs to un­dergo a long rate re­view process to do so. It will start that process this fall with the hope of get­ting new rates in place in 2012.

Res­i­dents would also pay a slightly higher fee on their util­ity bills to help the city build and main­tain roads.

For two years now, Austin has avoided some of the worst cuts that have be­fallen other ma­jor cities.

Though the city trimmed va­cant jobs last year, it avoided lay­offs and fur­loughs and kept in­tact most of the ser­vices that res­i­dents in pub­lic meet­ings said they care about, such as li­brary hours, a po­lice cadet class and youth pro­grams.

City of­fi­cials last month un­veiled a list of $9.3 mil­lion in pos­si­ble items to cut from the 2010-11 bud­get, so the pub­lic could of­fer feed­back. Wed­nes­day’s pro­posal in­cluded only a hand­ful of the cost-cut­ting ideas, to­tal­ing about $600,000.

Jar­rad Hen­der­son

Austin City Man­ager Marc Ott,

left, and Mayor Lee Leff­in­g­well dis­cuss the

pro­posal Wed­nes­day.

Jar­rad Hen­der­son

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