City of Austin passes $3.7B budget, taxpayers will pay more

Austin skyline (KXAN Viewer Photo/ Lamir Yaj)
Austin skyline (KXAN Viewer Photo/ Lamir Yaj)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The city of Austin has passed its $3.7 billion budget. City taxes will go up an average of around two percent compared to last year.

Council members Don Zimmerman and Sheri Gallo voted against the budget, and though Council Member Ellen Troxclair was on maternity leave, announced her disapproval of the budget.

Wednesday was the last scheduled day for the Austin City Council to discuss and finalize their budget for 2017.

Mayor Steve Adler called a special session last week, to decide how the budget will impact future jobs and how much more you will be paying in taxes. The council sifted through 15 pages of ideas to cut the city’s $3.7 billion budget. Wednesday, he said the budget balances affordability with critical needs, saying in a statement, “This Council has cut the growth in taxes, fees, and utilities by 30%. This is one way we can bend the cost curve to help you with affordability. I want to be clear that your tax bill is going up even as we are cutting your tax rate, but that’s because a booming economy and hot housing market are raising the value of your house. We’re taking an increasingly smaller bite out of a bigger pie.”

The general fund is an estimated $56 million more than last year. This is one of the reasons cited for the proposed increase of taxes for Austinites by nearly five percent.

Despite the billion dollar budget, Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo tells KXAN this year’s city wallet is tighter than previous years.

“I think the expectation we have at this point is we will maintain services and maintain jobs but we may look closely at some of the new positions that are being proposed and have a serious conversation about whether those are all really necessary right now,” said Tovo.

Included in the budget is funding for the Austin police’s DNA lab. Monday, the Austin Police Chief announced he has found $500,000 in his department to pay for untested rape kits, $200,000 would come from a grant.

The lab was abruptly closed in June after an audit determined the lab did not have enough properly trained staff. The Travis County DA’s Office has identified, so far, nearly 1,400 DNA cases since the mid-1980s that might have been compromised by how the APD lab was testing and analyzing DNA mixtures.

“That is critical for me, that whatever process they come up with number one clears the backlog, but make sure we don’t accumulate one going forward so whether that’s to create our own lab or to outsource that kind of testing, it needs to be a sustainable situation that doesn’t land us in the same place again,” Tovo said.

The city council has added $1.4 million to the general fund to re-train people, add seven analysts and one supervisor.

Among the items budgeted that weren’t there last year: funding the Homeless Outreach Street Team, which is currently a pilot program focused on helping the population downtown and in West Campus, and funding a new sobriety center with Travis County, a project Tovo says has been discussed for the past decade.

What the budget will cost you

The average person in Austin can expect to pay about $322 for their city bills each month under the new budget, according to the most recent city analysis. That includes everything from your electric bill to property taxes. That’s up from roughly $315 last year. On the list of your city expenses, only the Austin Energy bill is estimated to go down.

“We’re having discussions here on a budget that’s going to increase the tax bill and increase utility bills, this is while we are hearing very strongly from the community that affordability is an issue,” said Austin city council member Sheri Gallo, who voted against the budget. “We get up here on the dais and talk like we are concerned about affordability. When we increase everyone’s bills, are we really serious?”

“My hope was that this Council would be able to provide much needed relief by decreasing the financial demands the city places on our homeowners and renters,” wrote council member Ellen Troxclair in a statement. “Unfortunately, because this does not appear to be the case, I will not be able to support this unaffordable budget.”

Still, Mayor Steve Adler views the figures as a victory because the rise in bills is not as steep as previous years — growing by slightly more than two percent, compared to a recent high of four percent a few years ago.

“We are bending the cost curve in this city and I’m proud of that,” Adler said.

The city provided the following breakdown of bills, fees and taxes:

FY 2015-16 Monthly
Rate
FY 2016-17 Approved
Rate
Monthly Dollar Change Typical Rate Payer Defined as:
Austin Energy $92.49 $88.81 ($3.68) Residential customer usage of 895 Kwh.
Austin Water $80.24 $83.19 $2.95 Residential customer usage of 5,800 gallons of water and 4,000 gallons of wastewater
Austin Resource Recovery $23.30 $24.30 $1.00 Residential customer using a 64-gallon cart
Clean Community Fee $7.65 $8.05 $0.40 Per single-family home
Transportation User Fee $9.77 $11.52 $1.75 Per single-family home
Drainage User Fee $10.82 $11.80 $0.98 Residential customer with 3,100 sq. ft./37% of impervious cover
Property Tax Bill $90.60 $94.41 $3.81 FY 2016-17 median non-senior homestead taxable value of $256,442
TOTAL MONTHLY IMPACT $314.87 $322.08 $7.21 Combined projected increase of 2.3%

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