Faced with historic economic and health crises that left the city's main revenue streams battered and a citizenry demanding change, budget writers on Monday proposed a $4.2 billion budget for the city of Austin for the 2020-21 fiscal year that includes $11.3 million in cuts to police services, the lowest property tax hike in 15 years, and provisions to keep the city's emergency reserves healthy.
It also proposes cutting funding for cultural arts, historic preservation, and live music by 33% to make up for a deep deficit in hotel tax revenues and increasing some fees.
While officials had imagined potentially raising property taxes by as much as 8%, the hike was kept to 3.5%—the lowest hike since the 2004-05 fiscal year, City Manager Spencer Cronk told the Austin City Council during the first public presentation of the proposal.
"Austin remains engulfed by a pandemic that has caused tragic loss across our community, upended our way of life, and triggered an unprecedentedly swift economic contraction," Cronk said. "At the same time, the City is taking new steps to confront and end the long history of systemic injustices experienced by people of color by our public safety institutions."
City leaders have grappled with a projected budget shortfall of nearly $200 million due to the coronavirus, which devastated revenue streams across travel and tourism dollars, sales taxes, earned wages and more.
"It is nearly impossible to overstate the magnitude of the challenge that COVID-19 has presented," Cronk said.
The cuts to the police department include eliminating 100 sworn officer positions and delaying a new cadet class.
While the proposed police cuts fall short of demands for $100 million in funds to be diverted from the Austin Police Department, city leaders promised it would be the first of many steps to overhaul the way the APD does business, in the wake of protests after the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Michael Ramos in Austin, both at the hands of officers. Council members are scheduled to make their final vote on the budget on Aug. 12, after council workshops and public input sessions.
The $11.3M would be redirected to several areas, including:
- $3 million to support and grow the work of the Office of Police Oversight and other auditing and rewriting of the department's general orders.
- $2.7M toward increased non-police mental health first response.
- $900k on cultural and sensitivity training as well as drug overdose treatment on-site.
- $1M to the Housing Trust Fund.
Last year, the Austin City Council approved a $4.2 billion budget for the city. Some 67% of the general fund was for public safety, which includes police, fire and EMS. The Austin Police Department accounted for $440 million.
The first budget input meeting is scheduled for July 23.
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- San Marcos favorite Industry Burger opens "mid-October" on E. 5th, featuring "low key healthy" Texas fare.
- Still Austin Whiskey Co. introduces "The Artist," its new rye whiskey.
- Domain NORTHSIDE favorites Bakery Lorraine, Grimaldi's Pizzeria, Jeni's Ice Cream and Sprinkles released their fall flavors.
- Cinnaholic at The Arboretum opens Friday, October 14, serving "create your own" cinnamon rolls and other sweet treats.
- San Francisco's Marufuku Ramen opens next Wednesday, October 12, in the Mueller District.
- Carpenter Hotel announces its popup food truck, Lil Carpenter, open Fri-Sun both ACL weekends, serving what you want, early to late, coffee to donuts, to dogs/burgers/fries/beer.
With major entertainment events slated for October, the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is gearing up for a busy month.
Artists and music lovers are set to pack into Zilker Park for The Austin City Limits Music Festival in the coming two weekends. Following that, Formula One will bring racing fans to the Circuit of the Americas.
For those two events, the airport is anticipating high passenger days with 30,000 or more people departing flights.
ABIA recommends arriving at least two and a half hours in advance for domestic flights on those days. For ACL, it's expected on both Sundays of the festival along with the Monday and Tuesday after. The F1-driven high passenger days are expected on Oct. 20-21 and Oct. 23-26.
\u201c#AustinCityLimits visitors, you\u2019re in for a weird and wild ride \ud83e\udd18\u262e\ufe0f \n\nFlying in or out of our airport? We got firm and fun tips for you: https://t.co/RawVRalOXN\u201d— Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) (@Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS)) 1664894083
F1, especially, could draw in loads of travelers as the three-day event saw 400,000 attendees last year. ABIA warns that highways leading to the airport may see even higher traffic than usual around the event and that travelers should plan their route accordingly.
Bailey Grimmett, a spokesperson for ABIA, said travel numbers come in 24 hours in advance. So, it's hard to predict if the airport will see travel volumes at the same levels that have happened around previous F1 races or if it'll top ACL's flight traffic.
Still, she says historical knowledge points to a chance for it.
“We've had that Monday after F1 break the record for single busiest in airport history," Grimmett said. "So context clues I would say yes, but I can't confirm that. But the historical background points to that."
In anticipation of the high volume of flyers, the airport received additional TSA officers for security screening through the end of October. To prepare even further, the Department of Aviation and partners hosted a job showcase and hiring fair to address the continued labor shortage the airport has experienced.
Relief from hectic travel days is on the horizon with November likely to see a slowdown.
"I don't anticipate it will be as busy as October just because we don't have as many events going on," Grimmett said. "Thanksgiving is kind of our primary holiday that we see a lot of passengers coming in and out of the airport."