Austin council OKs a $3.3 billion budget
The Austin City Council OK’d a $3.3 billion budget Tuesday afternoon that lowers the property tax rate from the one currently in place.
This is the first time in recent memory that the City Council cut the tax rate instead of increasing it.
The current tax rate is 50.29 cents per $100 of property value. The new rate will be 50.27 cents, but most homeowners will still pay more in city taxes next year because property values are rising.
The owner of a median-value home of $185,133 will pay $930 in city taxes next year — a $33 increase over this year.
City Manager Marc Ott had proposed a rate of 51.14 cents, which would’ve increased the typical household’s city taxes by $50 next year.
Mayor Lee Leffingwell had pushed for a rate at or below this year’s rate, saying Austin’s economy is booming and the city shouldn’t have to raise taxes in prosperous times.
Leffingwell said Tuesday that he was happy with the outcome and that in the nine years he’s served on the City Council, “I’ve never seen this level of scrutiny put to the budget. I’m proud of the staff for the work they’ve done and of council members for coming together and addressing this budget in a way that enables us to reduce the tax rate.”
Monday and Tuesday featured several hours of horse-trading, as the council cut some spending and added money for items they care about, including better parks maintenance, renovations to the city’s homeless shelter, youth librarians and wildfire prevention efforts.
As we explained in a story Tuesday, the council had an extra $13 million or so to work with, thanks in part to higher-than-expected revenue from construction fees and sales taxes. They used about $7 million of that to lower the proposed tax rate, then decided to spend most of the rest on other programs.
Leffingwell voted against most of those amendments, saying they were not critical needs.
The council also cut $1 million from the police department’s overtime budget to have officers patrol three hike and bike trails overnight. Leffingwell didn’t support that cut, saying the police department will still be expected to patrol the trail and will pull officers from other areas of town to do so. The council passed a policy earlier this year allowing bicyclists on the trails overnight, but officers have spotted an average of only 10 cyclists per night.
The final numbers are still being tallied, but the final budget will be about $3 billion and add about 365 city jobs, including inspectors to review construction plans and parks staffers to maintain five city-owned cemeteries. Police officers and non-public-safety employees will receive 1.5 percent pay raises, and an additional $750 will be added to their base salaries next spring, halfway through the fiscal year.
By Sarah Coppola