City slashes funding

Published 10:33 am Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Austin City Council cut a total of $30,000 from the Welcome Center, Austin Symphony and Development Corporation of Austin in a series of recommendations Monday night that on several occasions took more than one motion to successfully pass.

The council will likely seek a 6-7 percent levy increase for its 2009 fiscal year, a request contingent on a possible new employee for the over-burdened engineering department

If it remains at the 6 percent budgeted by city staff, local taxpayers will see a 3 percent tax increase, or $103,800, next year. The second 3 percent is accounted for by local economic growth, which staff expect will remain stagnant in 2009.

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Director of administrative services Tom Dankert said the city was, regardless, forced to be more tight-fisted in its 2009 General Fund budget, which, with council approval this fall, will total about $14 million — a 1.53 percent increase.

“We had to say no to many requests,” Dankert said during the work session. “I think about $830,000 was cut or new revenue sources were added to balance the whole budget.”

The majority of its revenue derives from levy dollars and Local Government Aid, which will total $7.77 million in 2009. Dankert said revenue from the new local Wal-Mart and other projects built in the latter part of 2008 won’t be realized until 2010.

Most controversial were agency allocations to 15 local organizations and groups designated funding annually; council members cut a total $30,000 from three organizations.

The most debated was the DCA, a private industrial economic arm working to bring larger business to Mower County.

Austin typically provides $80,000 in funding to the organization, which also receives county and private funding.

“My personal opinion is I don’t think we get a strong return on our dollar,” said 3rd Ward council member John Martin, who, with member at-large Pete Christopherson, sought to decrease grant dollars to programs across the board.

Some members disagreed, saying that the DCA fills a development void in Austin, and has achieved recent success. They noted, in particular, the Smyth Cos. building at the Cook Farm Industrial site near Highway 218 North.

“I don’t know if it’s worth $80,000, but I think it’s worth a lot,” Jeff Austin, 1st Ward, said.

In the end, the council compromised at $60,000. They also cut funding in half for The Welcome Center, down $7,500 from $15,000, and the Austin Symphony, which went from $5,000 to $2,500.