Staff cuts in city program could worsen graffiti in Austin

Staff cuts in city program could worsen graffiti in Austin (KXAN Photo)
Staff cuts in city program could worsen graffiti in Austin (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — An Austin program aimed at helping at-risk youth and cleaning up graffiti is being forced to cut staff. This comes at a time when graffiti removal requests continue to climb, with a backlog of over 600 service requests.

The Austin Youth Development (AYD) program was created to help at-risk youth. They’re paid to remove graffiti, and also get workforce development.

Derrick McKnight is the AYD program manager, “They’re very busy. They work Monday through Friday and about 36 hours a week,” he said.

According to a memo from Austin Public Health Director, Shannon Jones III, they will be reducing the number of youth in the program from six to four. He says their budget has remained stagnant, and due to the living wage increases adopted in 2015, they can no longer afford six positions.

“As the city is growing the graffiti is growing, so yes I’d say we are understaffed, I think it’s with anything you could always use more staffing to meet more goals,” said McKnight.

AYD is just one of several groups tasked with tackling graffiti. Entities like Parks and Recreation, Downtown Austin Alliance and Austin Transportation Department also do what they can to get ahead of the problem.

“As the city of Austin has grown I think we need to develop a true graffiti abatement program,” said McKnight.

Allendale homeowner Laura DiCarlo was frustrated to learn of the staffing cuts. She was part of a new city task force aimed at finding solutions to the graffiti problems. “This task force was created to figure out how to better deal with the graffiti we have, so lowering the number of people involved is going the wrong direction,” said DiCarlo.

She’s constantly working to remove graffiti herself. “We’ll get it all cleaned up and then the next weekend they’ll be another rash, so that has been frustrating.”

She says while the issue isn’t as important as public safety and or some other city necessities, she wants leaders to find creative ways to improve graffiti abatement.

Jones says he plans to request cost recovery for the living wage increase, so he can bring back additional youth staff members.

On a positive note, a contract to provide graffiti services was passed by the city back in April.