Overall, Austin taxpayers are expected to see a 2.7 percent increase in their tax bills, but the proposal raises the Maintenance & Operations rate, the portion that pays for expenses other than debt and capital expenditures, 3.5 percent above the no-new-revenue rate — the line at which the city brings in the same amount of property tax revenue as the previous year.
The new tax rate will bring in an estimated $7 million in additional property taxes not tied to new property added to the rolls.
The owner of a median-priced home of $488,000, estimated by the city, can expect to see a $111 decrease in their city tax bill than the previous year. But using Zillow’s median home value of $676,000, the proposed rates show a $160 increase in the city property tax bill.
The reason for the drastic difference in the calculations is that where Zillow estimates a 22 percent valuation increase, the city estimated only a 12 percent increase in its median home value figures. Earlier this year, the Travis Central Appraisal District estimated appraisals will increase an average of 56 percent.
Cities account for the second largest portion of annual property tax bills, a share that is still significantly smaller than that of the school district.
When elected officials make a decision on the tax rate, they have in front of them the appraisal details that show what rate, if adopted, would not bring in more tax collections.
One of the topline items on the budget is a 4 percent wage increase for all civilian employees paired with a $1,500 bonus to all city employees with at least one year of employment.
“The simple truth of the matter is that we do not currently have the staff that we need to deliver the services that we must,” City Manager Spencer Cronk said. “For that reason, and others, the core feature of our budget proposal is a renewed emphasis on ensuring that, as we move into the future, we are in a position to recruit and retain the people we need to do the job that our community expects of us.”
According to Cronk, there are 1,900 vacancies in non-police officer city positions.
Other items include:
- $3.5 million to fund the office overseeing the Project Connect railway plan, including five new positions
- $72.5 million to build and repair sidewalks in the city
- $4.2 million to fund 61 new positions at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to help with rapidly increasing passenger traffic
- $4.8 million to clean up homeless camps
- $5 million toward one-time rental assistance aimed at preventing homelessness
- $1 million to establish a trauma recovery center “to support victims of violent crime”
- $2.5 million toward the Iconic Venue Fund
Across seven categories, the city has itemized $88 million for the “Culture and Lifelong Learning” strategic outcome — the largest portion of which is allotted to the Austin Public Library.
The city lists out a whole host of items associated with its “Net-Zero by 2040, Equitably” effort. It outlines $186 million in spending across various categories, such as $120 million for bike and walking paths, $1 million to establish a new Office of Sustainability position “to address the carbon footprint of Austin’s food system, $2.2 million to develop a catastrophic event food distribution facility, and $2.7 million to finance a portion of the replacement cost of the Walnut Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant.
They also itemize $1.7 million to increase the number of city-owned electric vehicles. “To meet our emissions reduction targets, more people will need to use sustainable forms of transportation, including private vehicles powered by renewable energy,” the budget reads.
Like Texas writ large, over half of the Austin Energy electricity is generated by thermal power sources.
This year, the city is also moving its forensic lab out from under the Austin Police Department (APD) umbrella and into its own department.
In last year’s budget, the City of Austin transferred the forensic lab back under the APD — a maneuver that helped the city nominally comply with the State of Texas’ new prohibition on “defunding” police budgets.
Earlier this month, Gov. Greg Abbott pointed to that prohibition on one particularly hectic night for Austin police. “The governor‘s office will look into the Austin police funding to determine if they are in violation of the law that I signed that will defund cities that defund law-enforcement,” he tweeted.
The budget proposal increases funding for the neighborhood policing line item, as with last year’s $133 million increase for APD, but doesn’t restore staffing lost from nixed cadet classes during the $150 million budget cut and redirection in 2020.
This year’s proposal increases total APD funding by $1.8 million and the “Neighborhood-Based Policing” category by $2.3 million. APD currently has 259 patrol vacancies, or 14 percent of its authorized force. For over a year, the department has moved specialized units away from their responsibilities to fill vacant beat patrol spots. Now, according to the Austin Police Association (APA), homicide and robbery detectives will be among those moved to patrol shifts.
APA President Ken Casaday called the staffing shortfall a “dire situation.” The department has long dealt with a growing attrition problem that predates the pandemic, but which coronavirus exacerbated, along with city officials’ more prickly disposition to their police. Some political leaders have increasingly taken queues from “reimagine public safety” activists who pushed for the $150 million cut, whose influence flipped into hyperdrive after the 2020 protests-turned-riots.
Additionally, Travis County District Attorney José Garza is pursuing charges against 19 officers for alleged offenses during those riots, centered on the firing of department-approved less-lethal bean bag rounds — which defense attorneys say were defective, causing abnormal injuries.
At the beginning of 2022, the department set a goal of adding 108 more officers to fill a portion of its vacant pool. According to the APA, the department is paying double time to try to fill its nightly graveyard shifts.
The proposal authorizes only four additional sworn positions, to supplement an additional security checkpoint at the airport.
The Austin City Council will begin consideration on August 17, at which time council members may amend the proposal.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the property tax bill change for the city’s estimated median $448,000 home. We regret the error.
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Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.