NAACP crit­i­cizes Austin bud­get plan

Spend­ing pro­posal does lit­tle to com­bat in­equal­ity, leader says.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Elizabeth Fin­dell efind­ell@states­man.com

Austin’s pro­posed 2018 bud­get does lit­tle to help mi­nori­ties or ad­dress in­equal­ity in the city, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the NAACP said Thurs­day in a news con­fer­ence at City Hall call­ing on city of­fi­cials to change that.

“We’re not ad­dress­ing the dis­par­i­ties in Austin,” said Nel­son Lin­der, pres­i­dent of NAACP Austin. “The money’s not there.”

Lin­der called it “puz­zling” that Mayor Steve Adler has pri­or­i­tized free­ing up fund­ing for home­less­ness via a so-called “Down­town Puz­zle” plan to cre­ate a cen­tral city tourism district.

The staff-pro­posed bud­get draft, re­leased last week, in­cludes a $1 bil­lion gen­eral fund and $3.9 bil­lion in spend­ing, in­clud­ing all en­ter­prise funds. It pro­poses an 8 per­cent in­crease in prop­erty tax rev­enue that would add $118 to the an­nual bill of a house worth $305,510, the me­dian for the area.

It would boost fund­ing to more quickly process de­vel­op­ment per­mits, but oth­er­wise makes few changes to ex­ist­ing ex­pen­di­tures — by­pass­ing so­cial ser­vice fund­ing in­creases that some coun­cil mem­bers re­quested and leav­ing

$5 mil­lion for ex­tra coun­cil-des­ig­nated pro­grams.

“Five mil­lion out of a $3.5 bil­lion bud­get is an in­sult,” said Gavino Fer­nan­dez, a mem­ber of LULAC, the League of United Latin Amer­i­can Cit­i­zens.

City of­fi­cials should be able to find $20 mil­lion in the bud­get to fund the non­prof­its that do com­mu­nity work in East Austin, Lin­der said. Austin lead­ers of­ten talk about ini­tia­tives like the Spirit of East Austin and the mayor’s In­sti­tu­tional Racism Task Force, but that talk rarely trans­lates into ac­tual re­sults, he said.

“When politi­cians cre­ate task forces, they’re cre­at­ing po­lit­i­cal cover,” Lin­der said. “When noth­ing gets done, who’s to blame? The task force.”

The Down­town Puz­zle idea in­volves fund­ing from ho­tel taxes, which can be used only for tourism-re­lated ex­pen­di­tures, but staff mem­bers have been look­ing at whether any Spirit of East Austin ini­tia­tives can be in­cluded, Adler spokesman Jason Stan­ford said.

“The down­town pro­posal isn’t done ... and this is cer­tainly part of the dis­cus­sion now,” he said.

He added that, while progress on some is­sues can seem slow, the Spirit of East Austin goals are in­form­ing city pol­icy on hous­ing, mo­bil­ity and code rewrit­ing.

“I don’t know that we’re do­ing any­thing now that isn’t aligned with the Spirit of East Austin,” Stan­ford said. “We can al­ways do more and we want to do more and we’re frus­trated we’re not mak­ing more progress.”

The NAACP isn’t the only or­ga­ni­za­tion dis­ap­pointed by the pro­posed bud­get. The Greater Austin Crime Com­mis­sion and the city Pub­lic Safety Com­mis­sion ex­pressed con­cern that the spend­ing plan in­cludes no ad­di­tional po­lice pa­trol po­si­tions.

“The per­cent­age of pub­lic safety dol­lars has de­creased for the third year in a row, de­spite our rapid pop­u­la­tion growth, and that is not sus­tain­able for a com­mu­nity to re­main safe,” said David Roche, pres­i­dent of the crime com­mis­sion, in a state­ment.

The Austin Cham­ber of Com­merce, mean­while, voiced con­cern that the bud­get con­tains too much spend­ing. The cham­ber ap­plauded the 51 ad­di­tional pro­posed po­si­tions, paid for by per­mit­ting fees, to cut de­vel­op­ment per­mit­ting ap­proval times. But the bud­get’s pro­posed tax in­creases run counter to af­ford­abil­ity, it said in a news re­lease.

“In poll af­ter poll, an over­whelm­ing num­ber of Aus­tinites be­lieve that we have an af­ford­abil­ity issue,” the re­lease said. “Austin is atop many cov­eted lists around the na­tion. Be­ing on the max­i­mum al­low­able bud­get in­crease is not a list we should be on.”

JAY JANNER / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

Austin NAACP Pres­i­dent Nel­son Lin­der dis­cusses Austin’s pro­posed bud­get at City Hall on Thurs­day. “We’re not ad­dress­ing the dis­par­i­ties in Austin,” Lin­der said.

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