City Council stands pat on tax levy at 13%
Last-minute cost-saving measures voted down
In a last-ditch effort to reduce the 2012 tax levy from the proposed 13 percent increase, two Austin City Council members proposed budget cutting measures that both failed at Monday night’s meeting.
The City Council voted down three levy-cutting proposals suggested by council member Judy Enright before approving the levy at its proposed 13 percent. The levy was approved on a vote of 4-3 in which Mayor Tom Stiehm was the tie-breaking vote due to council member Steve King being absent. The 2012 budget was approved 4-2 at $30.15 million, with Enright and council member Marian Clennon voting against it.
A motion proposed by council member Roger Boughton to eliminate the city’s $140,000 contingency fund died before a vote because nobody seconded it.
In the discussion that preceded the final levy vote, Enright proposed each city department cut its 2012 budget by 0.75 percent, a move that would lower the levy nearly three percent and save the city about $105,000. The largest cut would have been to public safety at about $40,500.
Council members also voted 4-3 and 4-2, respectively, against proposals for a half percent budget cut at about $70,000 and a quarter percent cut that would save $35,000.
Council members discussed the proposals for nearly 45 minutes before voting all three down. Enright said an across-the-board cut in each department would challenge city staff to find cuts they hadn’t considered yet.
“People need to be challenged to do things differently,” Enright said. “It’s not impossible. I have confidence in them that they can find ways.”
Boughton and Clennon supported the idea, with Clennon suggesting department heads consider new forms of revenue, as well.
“We’re not asking for humongous cuts,” Boughton said. “We’re asking for three-quarters of one percent.”
However, council member-at-large Janet Anderson, along with members Jeff Austin and Brian McAlister, said they feared what the cuts could bring if they’re implemented at the last step in the budget and levy approval process.
Austin said he would be open to a flat cut across the departments in the future, but it’s a decision he wants the department managers to be involved in so it doesn’t come as a shock.
“I don’t know what affect these (cuts) would have on the citizens of Austin,” he said. “To ask (department managers) now to go back at the last minute … I don’t think is fair.”
McAlister and Anderson agreed that a flat cut would be a good option to review for 2013. At a work session after the regular meeting, the entire council agreed to discuss Enright’s proposal at the council retreat in early 2012, when they will plan their priorities for the coming year.